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How to Take Great Shots in the Winter

This week we have a guest post from John Stuart. He works on behalf of londonschoolofphotography.com in outreach and content creation. He creates engaging content that help businesses connect with their audience and stand out from the crowd.

Sunset

Winter may not be the best season for outdoor photo-shootings. Harsh weather conditions, poor light, white everywhere . . . doesn’t sound like the best scenario for photographers, but who said it was easy? It’s challenging to take photos when it’s freezing or snowing and you’re too dressed up to move freely, but still, you can take some amazing photos if you know how to do the trick. Winter has its beauty and offers spectacular landscapes, so why not take advantage of it? Here are some tips to help you improve your winter photos.

1.     Dress appropriately

Maybe the most important and the easiest thing to do is to get dressed accordingly.  If you’re not comfortable, there’s no fun. Take good care of your feet and hands because if you suffer from cold, you’ll lose concentration and you’ll soon get tired, which will be reflected in the quality of your photos. You can find special photo gloves in most photo or hunting shops that will help you fully control your camera.

2.     Protect your gear

Without your equipment, there’re no photos, right? The batteries of your camera have a shorter life when it’s cold outside, so make sure to take with you some spare batteries and keep them in your inside pocket to keep them warm. Cold isn’t your camera’s only enemy. The sudden changes in temperature also affect your gear causing condensation, just as it happens to glasses. If you get out of the car or from a warmer room you should keep the camera in its bag until it reaches the outside temperature and vice versa.  Condensation not only ruins your photos, but it can damage your camera. Don’t try to wipe the water or snow off as you risk pushing it inside to the electronic components. Also, you’d better not blow off snow with your breath because you risk condensation. When you get home, wrap a dry towel around your camera and let it sit for a bit as the towel will absorb all the moisture. If you are out in harsh weather conditions, like heavy snow and wind, then maybe a good idea would be to invest in a special snow cover for your camera.

Winter Tree

3.     Use the right camera settings

Getting the desired result in winter photos is a matter of using the right settings.

  • Aperture

Choose Aperture priority mode (A on Nikon and Sony, and AV on Canon) especially if you are shooting a landscape. The camera will meter the scene itself and select the shutter speed accordingly. Also, set an aperture value between f8-11.

  • Exposure compensation

How many times did you try to take photos in the snow and they turned out gray or blue? If you leave your camera on automatic mode and don’t apply any exposure compensation, this is pretty much what happens. One of the most important rules in winter photography is to adjust the exposure compensation to +1/3 or +2/3, depending on how much snow is in the frame and whether or not you’re shooting on a sunny day. Otherwise, the snow will turn out gray, instead of white because your camera doesn’t know to make the difference between snow and light and will underexpose.

  • Histogram

The histogram will help you get your exposure right, so use it. It will show you as well the level of adjustment you need to make while shooting in manual mode.

  • RAW format

Try to shoot in RAW format if your camera has this option. This will give you the possibility to fix any problems in the post-production process. So even if you’ll not get it entirely right in the beginning, the RAW format gives you certain flexibility, unlike the JPEG format.

Horses

4.     Look for colors

Winter may seem monotone because it doesn’t offer so many contrasting colors. You just have to seek them out. It doesn’t have to be all white or grey. The trick is to take shots at sunrise or sunset. Why? Because those are the coldest parts of the day when you get the most beautiful warm colors, preferred by most of the photographers.  If you understand how natural light works, you will see that the colors are reflected differently throughout the scene depending on:

  • The quality of the light: on a sunny day, you’ll get warm colors where the sun hits the snow; where there’s shade the color will be blue because the snow is highly reflective and will reflect the sky
  • The direction of the light: at dusk or dawn you should keep the sun at right-angles to your subject: trees, persons, buildings, etc in order to have a better scene exposure

Finally, don’t forget that a correct exposure will offer the prettiest colors.

5.     Experiment with shutter speeds

What better moment of playing with shutter speeds if not capturing snowfalls? They can make your winter photos truly impressive. To get the best shot, try to use a wider depth of field and a contrasting background. Your shutter speed affects the snowfall photography since it’s a moving subject. If you use a fast shutter speed (1/400 of a second or faster), your image will be sprinkled with flakes, since it freezes the action, like in the photo below. However, if you leave the shutter open too long, your snowflakes will appear as lines or streaks. Flash might also be a good option if you try to capture individual snowflakes, but this depends on your personal vision. Here it’s only about your creativity and the story you want to tell.

In the end, here are some small tips you should keep in mind:

  • Be comfortable
  • Protect your gear from cold and condensation
  • Adjust your camera accordingly
  • Take shots at sunrise or sunset to get the warmest colors
  • Look for a contrasting background
  • Slightly overexpose to get a white snow
  • Be confident

…and take as many shots as you can. Winter offers much more than it might seem, so don’t let your camera hibernate until spring, especially if you’re lucky enough to be in or visit a place where there is snow. A good snow picture captures the real feel of winter, so in the end you’re telling a story with every photo you take.

Many thanks to John Stuart for the article.  Be sure to check out londonschoolofphotography.com.

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