Up for Discussion: Winter Photography
Recently I put out a call for people who wanted to guest blog. I like people guest blogging, it means a day I can hand over to someone else, and it means I may learn something new too. I received an email from John Feist, and his blog John Feist Photography saying he was interested in doing a guest blog on Winter Photography. I have no experience with this, and if I live in Australia for the rest of my life I will never experience it, so this was an intriguing idea for me. So today I have a post for you from John.
by John Feist
Shooting in winter conditions poses a number of challenges that the other seasons do not. Some are physical and others technical. It also creates some beautiful and unique opportunities. The key elements of classic winter shots include harshness, cold, contrast and lack of color.
In winter the photographer needs to understand how to dress in order to stay warm and still be able to move about to capture good images. Remember, snow is water and it can melt into your clothing. Being wet in the cold is no fun. If you are not familiar with being out for extended periods during the winter, read up on it before you go.
Another temperature related concern is your equipment’s operating temperature range. In most cases, temperature is not a concern. However, if you will be working in temperatures below 0F (or -18C) some equipment may run into issues as well. Check your gear’s documentation for details.
Snow is one of the elements we want to photograph. Remember that it covers everything. This means if you don’t know the area where you will be shooting, you need to be aware that the snow may be covering thin ice on streams, lakes, depressions and many other hazards.
When it comes to actually making images, all of the rules for good photography apply. There are some “gotchas” that need special attention. The biggest concern is white balance. Shooting in the snow throws the sensors off because there is so much white. Snow is also very bright compared to most of the rest of your shot. Normally the white balance needs to be well into the blue (cool) end of the range, rarely over 6,000. Try a couple of test shots to get your white balance. It’s a lot easier to have the camera capture good white than to have to remove blue from your snow in post processing.
Consider applying a couple of stops of exposure compensation as well. This also helps to offset the preponderance of shades of white in the snow. Again, a couple of test shots can save a lot of post processing time.
Shooting in bright sunshine in the middle of the day is always a challenge. In the snow it is even worse. If you’re going to be out in those conditions, have good sunglasses for both yourself and your camera! In bright sun use the lowest ISO setting you can. Obviously, you will be working with fast shutter speeds and probably smaller apertures. This is a good time to use your neutral density and polaroid filters. They allow you to get longer exposures and give you the flexibility to change your depth of field as needed.
It is better to under expose than over expose. You can bring out details from the underexposed areas, but those areas where everything is burned out are lost. By contrast, gold and blue light in winter can be spectacular. The image at the top of this post was taken about half way through golden light.
Winter is also a great time for some other techniques. With all the differing textures in the snow, long exposures can yield stunning results… another good use for your neutral density and polaroid filters! Be sure your tripod is on a steady base and that you are not dealing with wind that can shake your camera or even knock it over!
Winter, at least in my experience, tends to have lots of overcast days. That means lots of flat light that yields soft images. This can either be challenging when it comes to the sky, or result in some interesting skies with subtle shading and transitions.
Outside of gold and blue light, winter shots tend to have a limited amount of color. Taking your images into black and white is a great way to convey the stark harshness of the winter scene.
Snow gets blown around pretty easily, and can settle into some unexpected and unusual patterns. As with all photography, it is essential to keep an eye out for these. Remember, even here, the angles make a big difference.
Snow has an interesting cousin. Ice is another component of winter photography that produces beautiful images. Ice can extend your view, create interesting patterns and reflections as well as help to convey the cold environment in which you made the image.
I know a lot of people who think of winter and wildlife as mutually incompatible. Nothing can be farther from the truth. Yes many animals hibernate or migrate with the seasons. Those that remain have a variety of survival mechanisms and techniques that make them wonderful subjects. You will need a long lens and some kind of “hiding place” to get good shots as there isn’t as much natural cover available.
The bottom line on winter photography is that it has its challenges, but with a little understanding and preparation, it can yield truly beautiful images.
I live in central New Jersey (U.S.A.). This year, we’ve been “blessed” with great conditions for winter photography. I’ve been shooting for most of my life, starting back in the film days. I got serious a about my photography a few years ago. My go to camera is a Nikon D7000 with a Nikor FX 28-300 lens. For longer shots I use a Sigma 150-500. The camera sits on a 3 Legged Thing which is light enough to carry around all day, sturdy and flexible enough to shoot in a wide variety of conditions.
You can see more of my work on my website, http://JohnFeistPhotography.com. I also have a Facebook page and blog of the same name. love hearing from other photographers. Just drop me a note to info@JohnFeistPhotography.com.
When I’m not working to support my photography or doing things photographic, I also teach yoga and make some of the best oatmeal cookies around.
Finally, I want to thank Leanne for allowing me to be a guest on her blog. One of America’s iconic artists, Norman Rockwell, used to tell people that he painted winter pictures in the summer and summer pictures in the winter. His rationale being that this way he felt cooler in summer and warmer in winter. I suspect Leanne had a similar reaction when I proposed this subject!
I would also like to say thanks to John for preparing this post for us. I don’t know if I will ever use this information, as I rarely see snow, but I am sure many of you will get a lot out of it. I am amazed at how difficult it seems to shoot in the snow, quite incredible. John also sent extra photos, so I thought I would put the above ones and the extras in a gallery for you now. John is also going to answer questions, and comments, which is lucky, I wouldn’t know how to help anyone. Thanks again John.
Don’t forget if you are interested in doing a guest post send me an email, email@example.com