Living in New England, I am blessed with opportunity to shoot my favorite landscapes in all four seasons. Winter is my second favorite season mainly because of juxtaposition from the other three seasons where scenes overflow with color, winter instead has stark, minimalist look that provides an entirely different opportunity in landscape photography. The point of interest in an image becomes much more important. Foreground and background elements that play a big role in your composition often change radically or even disappear into a blank white canvas. The upside is that many views that are obscured in the other three seasons now present themselves. In this blog, I don’t try to cover all the equipment, clothing and preparation needed for long hikes to do this type of photography, but instead my view of the important points for those that want to do cold weather photography without suffering too much the downside of the weather.
Weather – I love cold weather photography and my work is mainly short hikes in conditions that are not too cold or windy. I look for days that are around freezing with little or no wind. Not only is this more comfortable weather, but I find this improves the photography as well. The snow is usually wetter and clings better to the structures and trees and any lakes and ponds are usually smooth if they have not frozen over yet.
Landscapes – Familiar landscapes can look totally different in cold weather when the trees are bare, the grass is covered, and the sky can take on different tones and the light can be coming from different angles. That is what makes it so interesting.
Gear – I use the same gear for cold weather landscapes as I do for any other season. These are a few tips on how to handle the gear a little differently:
- Keep Your Camera Gear Cold – I put my gear in the trunk or back of the car to keep it closer to the outside temperature to prevent fogging the mirror and the lens when brought outside.
- Keep Your Batteries Warm – Batteries drain faster in colder temperatures so keep them in a pocket or inside your coat, closer to your body heat, until they are needed.
- Pack Your Camera Bag for Accessibility – Decrease the exposure of your gear to the elements and increase your ability to find what you need with the snow flying by arranging your bag in advance.
- Lens Hoods and Umbrellas – Carry your lens with the hoods already mounted and carry an umbrella to shield the camera from falling snow.
- Warm Up Your Camera Slowly – To prevent condensation on all of your equipment, place your gear back into your bag and close it up before bringing it in and allow it to sit for a while before opening it.
Shooting Techniques – I don’t do a lot of things differently while I am shooting, but there are a couple keys that I would recommend getting the best RAW file to take into post-processing:
- Because your camera is set to read 18% gray, I will usually set my EV (exposure variable) to 1-1/2 to 2 stops overexposed to push my histogram as much to the right as possible.
- Pay special attention to your shutter speed depending on what you are trying to achieve:
- If you want crisp snowflakes, look to shoot at 1/250 sec. or higher to freeze the snow.
- If you don’t want to see the snowflakes, but more of a snowy haze, set you shutter speed at 1 sec or slower so that the individual snowflakes do not appear as foggy streaks.
- If there is wind, try to shoot so there is a cross wind to give the streaking snow a sense of movement.
- Shoot with a larger aperture than normal so that any random snowflakes closer to the lens are in focus.
- Use your histogram versus the image on the LCD. Histograms are really the key to effectively getting the correct exposure in snowy scenes. Continue to shoot the scene until the majority of the histogram is on the right half of the graph without touching the right edge.
Compositions – there are a few differences when shooting in cold weather, here is what to pay attention to:
Most of the “natural” framing may be gone, especially foliage on trees so pay close attention to your point of interest and how branches or ground cover impact the scene.
Wet snow will stick to most everything giving you an entirely different look and one that may create a reason to include more of the surrounding trees and bushes than normal.
There can be a very barren or desolate look that can turn an everyday scene into a compelling shot. Be careful not to leave footprints where you don’t want them.
Color or Black & White – There’s often little to be gained by snow pictures in color.
On the other hand, something red in a snow scene is gorgeous, too.
Post-Processing – Here are a couple suggestions that I follow in processing my images:
- I always calibrate my monitor using the Datacolor SpyderX
- If the majority of my histogram is not on the right side, I will push the exposure up to a halfstop to get it there
- I push the “blacks” slider a little deeper than normal to accentuate the dark areas against the white background
- I use the clarity and dehaze sliders to achieve the level I like in the haziness of the snow and how crisp the background elements stand out
- I use the new masking features in the brush and pull-down filters to add emphasis to the sky or surrounding vegetation
- I like my snow “white”, so I desaturate the blue out of it in the HSL panel
- I add saturation selectively to buildings, trees and brush using the HSL panel
- I use Content-Aware-Fill in PS to clean up telephone poles and wires, objectionable foreground elements and unruly snowflakes that are streaking or blobbing the image
About the Author – David Long
I live in Massachusetts and have been doing landscape photography professionally for the last ten years. I run workshops throughout New England and publish e-books in each area that I run tours. If you are interested in more information on these, please visit www.bluehourboston.com/workshops.