I’ll be the first to admit that I am not a “winter person”. Unfortunately I’ve fallen in love with the frosty city where I live, so 6+ months of snow on the ground every year is just a part of life. By February, I’m always really starting to miss the sight of grass and blue skies. But you know what helps? Getting outside and appreciating this beautiful season for what it is.
Whether you’re just trying to see the beauty in a snow-sprinkled landscape, taking advantage of a warmer-than-usual day to take some family portraits, or just trying to capture the fun side of winter as your kids play outside, here are some tips for winter photos that aren’t drab and depressing.
1. Don’t Miss the Light
This is the simplest but often the toughest part of getting great photos in the winter. If you’re at work all day, the sun might already be setting by the time you get home. Taking outdoor photos after dark isn’t impossible, but it’s sure a lot more difficult, especially if you are photographing people or pets (who have a tendency to not hold completely still while you try to grab a shot) rather than just landscapes. So if you’re wanting to take your little ones out to build a snowman and are hoping for some magical photos, plan for a specific time when the sun will still be up to get out there. And pack snacks, because you might need to go out before you have a chance to eat dinner!
Also, don’t shy away from sunrise and sunset hours. The light might be a little more dim, but a winter sunset can really be magical. Landscapes or cityscapes at these hours can be particularly stunning.
2. Dress appropriately (and make sure your subjects do, too)
Nothing kills a good time like being too cold to think about anything else. Make sure you bring a warm enough coat (when in doubt, wear lots of layers so you can shed 1 or 2 if you get hot), a hat, scarf, gloves, etc. Fingerless gloves can be your friend when you’re trying to operate a camera but need to keep your hands as warm as possible. You’ll also want to make sure you have good warm boots that will allow you to trudge into deep snow if necessary to get the perfect shot.
Just as importantly, make sure your subjects are cozy! Dress everyone in warm clothes so they won’t be miserable and shivering in front of the camera. If your subject would rather not be in a bulky parka for the shot, you can always have them shed a layer or two just before you snap the photo, then bundle back up before they freeze.
3. Look for pops of colour
There’s a certain beauty in the endless white expanse of a fresh snowfall, but it can look a little boring in a photograph. For winter photos with impact and visual appeal, look for bright pops of colour that will really stand out on all that white.
4. Increase your exposure
If you’re using any kind of automatic setting on your camera, it will do its best to compensate for the light available to give you the best possible image quality. However, when the entire landscape is white with snow, your camera may think there is too much light and compensate by making your images darker. This can make snow look a drab gray, blue, or purple rather than the brilliant white you see with your eyes. Check your camera’s manual for how to manually increase the exposure compensation, and ensure the snow is the brilliant white that you want it to be.
5. Protect your camera from the elements
If it’s extremely cold or snowing when you’re out shooting, take care to protect your camera. Keep the lens cap on when you’re not shooting, and carry a small soft cloth to dry the lens off if it gets wet to avoid gray blotches or blurred areas on your photos.
To avoid your lens fogging up at inconvenient times, allow your camera time to acclimatize to the cold before you begin. When you’re done, let it warm up slowly inside. You may also find your battery capacity is seriously reduced by the cold. If you’ll be out for a while, carry a spare fully-charged battery, and ideally keep it warm (like in an inner pocket on your jacket) to make sure you get the most out of it.