Winter photography tips: essential kit for working with winter light
During the winter months, many casual walkers retreat to the comfort of their warm homes. Photographers, however, keep a camera bag packed, waiting for the stunning scenery winter has to offer. Once the low-kelvin colors have faded from the landscape, it’s time to adjust our shooting approach and shift our focus to capturing sparse scenes and crisp detail.
Each time of year presents its own set of unique creative challenges to identify and overcome, but winter seems constant in its ability to confuse even the most seasoned photographer. While summer lighting is harsh and care must be taken not to push the exposure out of dynamic range, the intensity is clearly apparent, so we keep that in mind.
Spring, on the other hand, is an intermediate season, often devoid of intense colors. This can lead to some hiccups in the image-making process, but the dramatic time often experienced serves as a constant reminder to focus on the changing character of the environment. At the other extreme, fall is all about color – and while it’s easy to get carried away and produce photos without a clear subject, even the worst images often fall into the “beautiful” category.
Winter is different, however. Landscapes are defined by their lack of detail. It is the rarity of the scenes that gives them their character. Combined with the extreme changes in light we experience during winter filming, this season is most likely to surprise us in terms of composition and exposure. Let’s shoot all day to learn the best ways to use winter lighting to our advantage…
Prepare for your shoot
If you live in an area where snow is sporadic in nature, it can be an exciting time when you look out the window and see the first squalls begin to settle on the ground. It can be tempting to grab a camera, lens, or whatever coat is handy and go on a shoot. After all, thin layers of snow may not stay long.
However, arguably more than any other season, planning is key for winter shoots. It’s not just about making sure you get the images you’re looking for; during months when the weather can change rapidly and the temperature can drop to dangerous levels, your safety is also a consideration.
In terms of shooting and lighting, the shortness of the day means the shot is compressed. The sun rises late and sets early, calling on your ability to work quickly. Planning where you need to be and when is key to increasing your success rate, because stumbling around a snowy field in semi-darkness, trying to find a good composition at sunrise is as bad for your wallet as it is for your level of stress. !
Predicting where the directional light of a winter sunrise will fall allows photographers to plan the layout of our shots and therefore the basic equipment we may need to allow. This increases the efficiency of a shoot, producing more “keepers” and minimizing our time in the field, buffering any sudden changes in conditions.
- standard-zoom – A 24-70mm or 16-50mm lens for full frame and APS-C respectively provides usable range, reducing optical shifts
- Two cameras – Two camera bodies, with different lenses attached, mean less lens changes are needed, keeping the sensor protected from the elements
- Second objective – A wide zoom or telephoto lens mounted on your second camera covers the expected extremes of the required focal range
- Multiple batteries – Low temperatures drain the batteries faster, so having more than one on a full day of shooting is a must
- Tripod with legs – Sturdy tripod with non-slip feet will help reduce costly accidents as well as “creep” during long exposures on icy terrain
- Polarizer – An essential filter for deepening contrast in winter landscapes, especially in afternoon light where blue skies dominate
It goes without saying that you need to protect your hands from the cold, but in the age of touch screens, your fingers need to be available. While some gloves are touchscreen compatible, the fingerless types are more tactile.
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Not only is it essential for security if you’re traveling alone, but it’s also ideal for triggering your camera remotely. Downloading your camera’s brand app often enables wireless shutter release and review, which is useful for tripod work.
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The best hits are always in the trickiest places, so tough shoes will allow you to stand up in deeper snow without water penetration. This is essential if you’re filming all day, as wet feet can quickly lead to hypothermia or even frostbite in extreme cold.
Coat with hood
A good coat is a given, but a coat with a large hood helps keep you warm, while making it easy to review your footage. Shiny snow creates reflections, which can be blocked by using the coat as a lightweight hood.
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Weatherproof camera bag
A bag with sealed zippers keeps moisture out and helps reduce temperature changes inside. This is perfect when you need to warm up your camera slowly, after your shot, to prevent condensation from forming on the body and lens.
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