In the days of film there was more to think about when taking pictures in a snowy landscape. Fiddling with exposures as you shivered in the cold was standard stuff to keep your whites white, while colour compensation was beyond the realms of the amateur. Though the extreme brightness of a snowy landscape is still a challenge when using a digital camera, it is now possible to tweak your images in the comfort of your home, sitting at your computer with a hot cup of tea. But here are a few things you should still consider when outside in winter, taking pictures.
1. Keep warm!
That might sound obvious, but the shot you thought would take seconds can easily take minutes, so dress appropriately. Good gloves are essential. I like to wear a ‘lobster claw’ glove – it has a thumb and first finger and the rest of your fingers are kept cosy in a mitt. It’s important to keep your spare batteries warm. I usually put them in an inside pocket of my jacket. Consider using snowshoes to stay up on top of the snow rather than sinking in up to your knees (or further).
2. Look after your camera
You may want to keep it in a plastic bag if it’s snowing, particularly if you’ve just come out of the warm. Most importantly when you return home, allow the camera to warm up slowly – don’t rush to get it out of your bag as a sudden temperature change can result in condensation forming on the inner workings of the camera and lens.
3. Best to shoot in RAW
This gives you the maximum data to work with when you’re back at your computer. Any post-production tweaking, such as ‘colour temperature’ or exposure, works best with a RAW file rather than a jpeg (which has already been compressed and reduced in size). Starting with a RAW file from a reasonable camera will give you the best results to print to hang on your wall or to make into next year’s Christmas card.
4. Capturing snowflakes
When it’s snowing you need a fast shutter speed if you want to ‘freeze’ the flakes as they fall. But, if you don’t want the distraction of the falling snow, you can edit them out by using a slow shutter speed, ideally using a tripod or putting the camera on something solid.
A low winter sun is the photographer’s friend, and why January is my favourite winter month for taking pictures. As the sun gets higher, play with capturing the sun behind trees as the snow drops off in showers. And don’t be afraid to shoot directly towards or into the sun for a snow-sparkling foreground and dramatic sun bursts.
Winter wonderlands are magical, especially on a sunny day. But if it’s grey, you can add interest to the otherwise monotone landscape by adding an object or a person wearing a bright colour. Something like a red painted bench or an orange jacket is perfect. If you’re on your own don’t worry. Set the camera on a tripod and using either a self-timer or remote release device, you can shoot a self-portrait – footsteps in the snow are a great way of leading the viewer into the picture. Which brings us to point 7…
7. Don't spoil the view!
The magic of snow in an image is its perfection. A sheer expanse of ‘clean snow’ can look wonderful though sometimes it can be improved or accentuated by footsteps – of an animal or a person, or the tracks of skis… What seldom works (even if it’s entirely natural) is lots of tracks and ‘messy’ snow.
Roll on winter…