Winter can be a great time for outdoor photography, but there are some things you need to consider that you don’t have to worry about during the rest of the year. Here are some tips to make your winter shooting successful.
1. White Balance. Most of the time the camera will be able to determine the correct white balance or color cast to apply to your photo. Snowy conditions can fool the camera and make that more difficult. Try manually setting the white balance to “sunny or daylight”, “cloudy”, or “shade” depending on the conditions. If you shoot in RAW mode you will be able to adjust the white balance later using a photo editing package.
2. Exposure. Modern digital cameras want to set the exposure so that the scene averages to a mid-gray tone. When much of your photo contains bright white snow, the camera will lower the exposure to make that white snow gray. Use spot metering and measure something other than snow or use exposure compensation to add one to two stops (EV) of light. Most cameras can do this. Check your manual for specific instructions. Be sure to watch your tone curve to know if you are exposing correctly. A properly exposed photo with lots of snow will have a tone curve that is bunched up on the right side.
3. Flash. If you use your flash when it’s snowing the snowflakes will show up as bright white spots. You can avoid this by turning off the flash, using a tripod, and taking a long exposure. Depending on your exposure time the snow will show up as streaks or not show up at all with a very long exposure, like the photo to the right. Experiment with the shutter speed to get the effect you want.
4. Condensation. When you bring a cold camera inside a warm building or car condensation may form on the lens. If you take that camera back outside that condensation may turn to ice! You can avoid the condensation pitfalls by avoiding taking your camera between warm and cold environments. If you’re getting in and out of your car, keep the car interior temps cool. If you want to take it inside a warm place try sealing the camera and lenses in a big zip lock bag while you are still outdoors. That will keep the warm moist air away from your camera until it warms up.
5. Batteries. Cold temps can zap a camera battery. They will function better if they are kept warm. Keep your spare batteries in an inside pocket where your body heat will keep them warm until you need them. Make sure they are fully charged before heading out into the cold.
7. Shoot during “The Golden Hour” just before sunset and just after
sunrise. The low angle of the sunlight will emphasis the texture in the
snow on the ground. It you shoot near noon then the snow may appear to
be solid white.
6. Fingers. Pressing little buttons on your camera can be nearly impossible when it’s very cold. Either your fingers are numb and you can’t feel the buttons or your bulky gloves make it very difficult to hit the right button. You might try special gloves that allow you to stick your thumb and forefinger
out of the gloves to shoot then pull them back in. A couple examples are Pho-Tog Gloves or Shooting Gloves. Check out the Adorama buying guide.
Of course, you need to be safe while out shooting in the winter. Make sure you layer up to stay warm. You'll want to have good water proof footwear to keep your feet dry and warm. Last year I purchased at set of Yaktrak to add to my boots when hiking on snow or ice. Winter is also a great time to use hiking poles for extra stability.
With a little preparation you can have a great time photographing in the winter.