7 Tips for Better Winter Landscape Photography
What makes photographers leave the comfort of their homes to go outside where they are likely to encounter rain or snow? It’s the thrill of the chase for the perfect photo…it’s the challenge of working out how to set their cameras for low light conditions so they can shoot moody exposures without blur. And it’s the satisfaction of capturing atmospheric images created through their photographic expertise!
Winter changes your familiar landscape into a mysterious and sometimes dangerous new world. With its unique lighting and variable conditions it offers a new set of challenges for even the most experienced photographer.
To help you take advantage of these opportunities while they last, I’ve put together the following tips for you and your camera.
01 – Look for impressive clouds
Landscape photography isn’t just about the land, it’s about creating a dynamic balance between earth and sky. Sometimes the ground is the most important part of the shot, and at other times the clouds take over. During winter, look for storm clouds that can provide a great backdrop for ruins, trees, mountains, and seascapes. Clear blue skies are fairly boring in comparison to having dramatic clouds in the background.
02 – Use wind movement
Low light and windy days give you an opportunity to be creative with long exposures. Tall grass, swaying trees, snow falling in the breeze — they all provide a sense of motion that’s lacking in most photos. This is perfect for abstract shots.
03 – Fog
Mist and fog adds moodiness to scenery, especially when it is swirling eerily through the trees. This is the time to try Black & White photography, because the colors are muted anyway. Another advantage of foggy weather is that it hides objects in the background. A shot that’s normally spoilt by powerlines or buildings at the back of the scene are masked by the mist.
04 – Look after your batteries
Just remember that camera batteries don’t like cold conditions and they will become drained faster than usual, so take an extra battery when you venture out for some chilly winter shooting. Carry this spare battery close to your body to keep it warm and working at its best.
05 – Color balance
If you are using a compact camera, change your white balance to the ‘cloudy’ setting when the sun has disappeared behind overcast skies, and especially when shooting landscape photos featuring snow. Diffused light from overcast situations casts a gray/blue tone in photographs and the ‘cloudy’ setting offers some color compensation to give a more natural result. On a DSLR you may have a white balance preset for cloudy conditions, which will adjust the photograph to more natural tones. If you have to do it manually then change the Kelvin rating to 7000 to keep your snow looking pure white. If you still find your snow photos are too dull, increase your exposure compensation by one or two stops to give the scene the extra brightness it needs.
06 – Use a Lens Hood
That plastic lens hood on the front of your camera is not just for avoiding lens flare from direct light in summer… it can also help stop winter’s rain from landing on the front of the lens. It will protect that expensive lens from damage if you slip over in those damp conditions too. And take a red umbrella for extra protection for yourself and your gear — apart from keeping you dry it could become a colorful creative prop during the shoot.
07 – Absorb the Damp
Keep a small microfibre cloth in your camera bag to wipe away any excess moisture from your photography gear before you put it away. The absorbent silica desiccant packets that are found in some medicine bottles are also very handy in camera bags; after shooting on a damp day, they’ll drag away any droplets of mist that have settled on your camera. Check these little sachets every now and then though…if they split open in your camera bag it’ll be messy!
When you’ve stomped the snow off your boots on your way into your warm and comfortable home, it’s time to load those images onto your computer so you can see the results of your winter adventure. This gives you the opportunity to play with the images. Use your imagination and enhance the contrast, darken the clouds, and make those photos even more atmospheric.
Post processing with Adobe Lightroom turns a great image into a stunning one that you’ll want to display on your wall. I have developed packages of Lightroom presets that can save you time with this process. See this page for examples of how this could work for your images.
It’s tempting to stay indoors during winter, but heading outside with a bit of enthusiasm will reward you with results to warm up your creative soul.
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About the Author – Jan Erik Waider
I'm a visual artist and fine art photographer based in Hamburg. My work focuses on atmospheric and abstract landscape photography, capturing the essence of the remote polar regions. – Learn more about me and discover my fine art photo series, prints and books or download my Lightroom Presets or Capture One Styles.
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