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How to Capture Winter Scenes in Photography

Tips for Taking Snow Photos
Take advantage of the subtle colors you'll find during sunrise or sunset when you're composing your winter photographs.
Take advantage of the subtle colors you'll find during sunrise or sunset when you're composing your winter photographs.
John Foxx/Stockbyte/Thinkstock

The same qualities of light and texture that make snow so appealing to the eye also render it a daunting subject for shutterbugs. Here are some tips to help you overcome snow's challenges and even turn them to your advantage.

  • Make the most of winter's longer dusks and dawns. The midday sun's bright, direct sunlight casts everything into blinding highlights and black shadows, making overexposure likely. Conversely, the scattered light just preceding and following sunrise and sunset -- what nature photographers refer to as the "golden hour"-- suffuses everything in warm, reddish tones, reduces contrast and provides more fill light.
  • Find colors in surprising places. In winter, especially at sunrise or sunset, shadows tend to appear blue, while reflected light on rocks registers as yellowish. Take advantage of these subtleties when composing your photo.
  • Be patient. Sometimes gloomy, overcast skies are merely a prelude to a sudden azure breakthrough. Any moment now, winds may roll in to whip the sky into arresting shapes, like the roiling clouds of a gathering storm. If for no other reason, photographers must cultivate patience because it's the only chance they have of obtaining perfect lighting conditions, even if only for a few brief moments.
  • Don't fight the weather -- photograph it! Some of your best photos may include flurries, sleet or rain. Bundle up, grab some tarps or plastic sheeting to protect your equipment and go have an adventure.
  • Take precautions. Use rain covers on your camera and lenses. Don't change lenses outdoors, especially in snow or sleet conditions. Under no circumstances should you risk getting water inside your lenses: Moisture will build up, causing internal fogging or, worse, fungus. Carry a good chamois lens cleaner at all times for cleaning off exterior moisture.
  • Use caution when moving from the outdoor chill to a heated setting, such as a house or cabin. Rapid temperature changes tend to fog up lenses, so put yours in zippered plastic bags when you bring them inside and then store them in the coolest area of the house to warm slowly. Some photographers keep their lenses in a backpack or camera bag, which insulates them somewhat and slows temperature changes.
  • Bring along plenty of batteries. Remember, cold batteries drain faster -- especially rechargeables. Store unused batteries in your inner pockets to keep them warm.
  • Have a system for storing your recording media and keeping them safe. A waterproof container will allow you to stay out longer and keep your film or cards safer while you continue shooting.
  • Find a way to keep your hands warm while still being able to use your fingers. Thinner gloves or mittens that fold back to reveal fingers are both good solutions, especially if you wear liners. The important thing is to maintain access to all of your camera's buttons, dials and controls.

Much of photography is a matter of problem solving; and now you have the tools you'll need to handle most of what the great outdoors throws in your path. Winter photography may seem daunting, but try these tips for a while and you'll be surprised at how quickly they become second nature. Now, get outdoors and have some fun!

For more winter-scene photography tips and information about other related topics, follow the links on the next page.