Winter Landscape Photography Tips
The weather outside is changing yet again and those cold winter months are upon us. For many, it is a time to stay inside to wait for the thaw of spring. However, for a brave many it is also the perfect time to get out and explore. With that in mind, it's Rachel with Rachel Z Photography, your San Francisco, California photography guide, and let's look at some winter landscape photography tips!
Foremost, be sure that you are taking all the safety precautions. Safety is always important for landscape photographers, especially when you are shooting in remote destinations or doing a lot of hikes or camping. But it's even more important in winter because of the added dangers that can be present because of freezing temperatures.
Be sure to have all the clothing, like a warm coat, hat, gloves, boots, and a scarf. It's also a good idea to have some blankets in the car if you will drive through any remote locations. Check the weather forecasts and avoid driving in areas that could be potentially dangerous.
Take a 4-wheel drive vehicle if needed.
When you are shooting your landscapes, you want to be thinking about shooting landscapes–not feeling distracted by anything else. That means you need to protect yourself from the elements by preparing before you go out to shoot.
Make sure that you have waterproof clothing and shoes–you can easily buy cheap coats and trousers to slip on over your clothes as needed. You also need an insulating layer to guard against low temperatures and sharp winds, so thermals are a great option to keep you warm without making you feel bulky or restrained.
A hat will help keep more of your body heat inside and divert rain or snow away from your face, and gloves are a must stop your fingers from freezing up. Try gloves designed for smartphone use, which have special pads in the fingertips, to help you control the camera easily.
Don't forget to protect your camera, too. Investing in a waterproof cover will mean you don't have to worry about rain or snow ruining your equipment, so you can just get on with it and shoot.
Have the right gear
Winter brings its own gear-related challenges as well. The cold weather drains batteries faster than usual, so take some extra fully charged batteries and try to keep them warm until you need them.
A lens hood and polarizer can help deal with an extra glare that can reflect off of the snow and ice.
It's also a good idea to have some towels for drying off your camera when you come indoors or back to your car.
Set white balance
One of the biggest challenges of shooting in the winter is getting the right white balance. Scenes with a lot of snow can trick a camera into using the wrong white balance, so you may need to set it manually. Refer to your camera's manual for instructions on how to set the white balance.
Use Exposure Bracketing
Because getting the right exposure can be a challenge with winter photography, bracketing your exposures can be a good idea. Check your camera's manual for instructions to use exposure bracketing and it will help to ensure that you get a shot with the correct exposure. It will also give you the option to create HDR images if you would like.
Prepare your equipment
Having to cut your shoot short because of an equipment malfunction will be no fun at all, so make sure that you do everything you can to stop it from happening. Especially if you are stepping into snowy conditions and freezing temperatures, there are some things that you need to do differently than normal.
One thing to be aware of is that batteries discharge faster in the cold. This means you should bring extras and try to have a warm place to put them when not in use.
If your battery dies quicker than expected, you can try holding it or putting it into a pocket close to your skin, to warm it up with your body heat.
Don't change your lens outdoors in snowy weather, as this can bring moisture into either the lens or the body. You should also be careful about how you bring your equipment back into a warm environment. Encase them in a sealed plastic bag before you enter and then leave them a few hours to acclimatize in a cooler area before you get them out.
Finally, invest in a waterproof container for your SD cards. The last thing you want is to drop a card in to the snow and watch all of your photos disappear into the snow.
Look for color
One of the challenging things about winter photography is that snow is all one color: white. Sometimes, this can create a striking photograph.
However, more often than not, it can make the landscape look uninteresting and flat. So, to solve this, start training yourself to look for color.
Color can enter the equation in several ways. One way you can do it is to wake up early for the golden hour or wait for those pink and orange tones of sunlight that we discussed earlier. Those tones can reflect from the snow, creating gorgeous imagery.
Another way is to look for features in the landscape that add that color. Perhaps there is a colorful ski chalet that stands out on the mountainside, or a hiker walking by in a bright red jacket.
If the snow has fallen early, you might find color in the plant life that sticks out above that white coverage.
Even if your winter weather does not involve snow, but only rain and cold temperatures, you can still use this technique. Rainy and overcast skies lend a gray palette to everything, so those pops of color and bright light will bring a focal point to the image and make it more interesting.
About Rachel Z Photography
I’m a 29-year-old San Francisco-based photographer, activist, tattoo enthusiast, and guardian of 2 lovely rescued birds. I adore doing portrait photography for others, whether that’s indoors or outdoors, covered in flowers and nature or covered in fake blood. My goal with my photography is to empower you by taking the essence of who you are and turning it into works of art. I want to hear what YOUR ideas are and help make them into a reality. I want you to feel powerful. I want you to feel beautiful. I want you to feel confident, because we all deserve that.