The cool, blue tones, the crisp morning air, the sparkle of fresh snow. There’s no doubt about it. We love winter photography. And while we’ll never get over how awesome it is, we can admit that shooting in the winter provides its own unique set of challenges. Last year, we talked about how to improve your winter photography on the technical side and this year, we’ve got even more tips to help you get the best shot possible, even when the temperatures are plummeting.
I would argue that improving your composition is the quickest way to improve your photography. We tend to shoot landscapes wide open and winter sports super tight and close, so here are my two cents on that…. switch it around!
Its the obvious shot to stand up and capture it all, with amazing views and a feeling of “this is awesome” it's hard to overcome the urge to just open the lens up wide and capture everything. I challenge you to resist that urge and focus on one element, it could be the snow blowing off the mountaintops (yep grab that 70-200mm and shoot at 200mm its fun!) or it could be a single tree against a mountain backdrop (enter #thatwanakatree)
Photo by Carl van den Boom
No doubt that whatever sport you are doing in the winter, there is an amazing story to be told. If you are skiing then you are most likely on the edge of death and overlooking an incredible view (because you are extreme!), or perhaps your kids have hit their first jump on your ski holiday, or maybe that snowball fight turned real ugly and went from one innocent throw to full-on warfare. Point being, tell the story and stop cropping the hell out of it, you can´t see anything from a skier isolated in a blue sky so get down real low, add a foreground feature and some depth of field. Magic!
Tight vs. Wide
Photo by Carl van den Boom
It *almost* goes without saying but because we like to err on the side of caution, we’ll say it again. Keeping yourself warm is the best way to set yourself up for success. You’ll never get the shot you want if you can’t stop shivering from the cold.
Photo: Nicki Antognini
Bring plenty of warm, non-cotton and insulating layers and of course, keep your fingers toasty warm with our photography gloves. If you’re not sure which glove is right for you, check out this blog post where we break down how to choose a glove right for you. When you’re dressing for the cold, you’ll want to consider two things. 1) Where are you going and how cold does it normally get and 2) What are you shooting? Will you be active, moving around, walking? Or are you going to be standing still? All of these factors play into how warm you’ll want to dress.
Once you’ve got yourself warm, you can focus on your gear. If you’ve shot in the winter before, you know all too well that camera batteries die significantly faster in cold weather. Our secret? We like to keep a few stashed in the innermost pocket of our jackets, close to the skin. When one gets too cold, swap it out. It’ll come back to life after warming up a bit.
Lighting is everything when it comes to snow photography and a cloud or burst of light can change the entire mood. All too often in winter, the masses of snow look dull and flat without any light being shed on them. If you’re not getting the right color and light in your shot, wait it out a bit and be ready for that split second of light. It might be all you need for an epic photo. Have faith and the light gods will reward you for your enduring patience.
Photo by Carl van den Boom
Set your ISO to auto and make sure you set a ceiling (it may also be called an ISO Maximum) to 6400 or less so your images don´t get overly grainy.
Use this for sports or other times when things are happening fast and as the photographer, you don´t have time to play with the settings. i.e skiing, running up and down the rugby/football field. This is a new one to me and oh damn it is a game changer!
Photo by Lukas Riedl
The theory behind this is that you can set and forget the creative settings, we are talking about the depth of field (Aperture) and motion (shutter speed), then the camera adjusts the ISO in order to get your exposure correct. This has been amazing with my snowboard photography as the action is happening quickly and most of the time I don´t get a second chance for the shot.
After a while, it’s easy to feel like your winter landscape photography is all starting to look the same. There’s little variation in the color scheme and wintry mood so if you’re feeling like your shot could use a bit of “umph” consider adding a pop of color to the frame. A bright red subject or pop of green will stand out and make your shot just a little bit unique.
And a few more which we cover in this article “7 tips for improving your winter photography”
We also go deep into ski and snowboard photography with this free 2-week email course: “The golden rules to ski and snowboard photography” so check that out and get set for your winter adventures.
I´m sure we cover this in other articles but I think its too good of a tip so ill repeat it.
You will usually hear things like “Expose for the highlights and shoot to the left.” What does that even mean? In short, it means to let your camera take its exposure reading for the brightest part of the image and then you need to keep an eye on your histogram so that it is weighted to the left.
We could go deeper into this and in fact, it may just become a new article. (Note to self; write tips on understanding the photographer's histogram.) With that said, this is a great tip for general landscape photography but winter and all the snow, whites and highlights in the image does a number on your cameras ability to read a correct exposure.
So, we would argue that you should shoot to the right (yes that is the opposite to the normal rule). This way your snow and winter colors stay bright and white, not yellow and grey and if need be you can brighten the shadows in your image in post editing: Its important that you make sure you don´t crop off the highlights on the right of the histogram.
Ok, this definitely needs to be a complete article, watch this space for a histogram lesson. But in the meantime, set your camera so that you can at least see your histogram on the LCD screen and get used to reviewing your images with it.
Header photo by Simon Markhof.
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