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How to Capture Winter Scenes in Photography


In the winter months, photographers have fewer daylight hours in which to shoot. Sometimes getting just the right shot can be downright nerve-wracking.
In the winter months, photographers have fewer daylight hours in which to shoot. Sometimes getting just the right shot can be downright nerve-wracking.
Goodshoot/Thinkstock

Ah, winter: The brief days and endless nights, the fog of breath hanging in chill air, the silent serenity of a gentle snowfall -- it's like trekking to a strange and far-off land without ever leaving your own back yard. Familiar places assume a magical quality; the world feels renewed. What better image to capture on camera than a trackless expanse of brilliant hillocks, or the tableau of brightly clad children at play in scenery of purest white?

If only capturing a winter scene were as simple as grabbing your camera and clicking away, every day would be Christmas for the amateur photographer. Alas, even setting aside winter's unique demands, landscape photography, which Ansel Adams once called "the supreme test of the photographer -- and often the supreme disappointment," comes with a sleigh-load of challenges. Landscape photographers must capture the grandeur of nature in a square frame, retaining depth and directing the viewer's eye despite flattening the world to two dimensions, all while contending with ever-changing lighting conditions and the elements.

Taking pictures in wintertime adds an additional layer of troubles, which can weigh on the photographer's mind like a heavy snowfall on a creaky roof. Automatic exposure settings reduce bright snowscapes to a drab gray muddle; amid so much smooth whiteness and darkness, color and texture grow elusive -- robbing the shutterbug of important compositional elements. With fewer daylight hours in which to shoot (since the sun spends less time in the sky and the air remains overcast much of the time) getting just the right shot can be downright nerve-wracking.

Add to the list the hurdles of dealing with alternating extremes of warmth, cold and wetness, and their effects on your equipment, and you might well decide you're ready to toss your camera into the nearest snow bank.

But don't give up just yet. The rewards are more than worth the trouble. Once you understand the origins of some of these problems, you can overcome them with relative ease. In the process, you'll have a chance to learn some of your camera's more advanced settings (don't worry--we'll walk you through them) and you might even find that some aspects of winter that you once thought of as obstacles will turn out to be advantages.

Keep reading and let's see what develops.


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