Born and raised in Norway, my opinion may be a bit skewed, but winter is my favorite season for photography. Sure, it’s a cold and harsh season, but there are plenty of opportunities to capture beautiful winter landscape images both during the day and at night.
However, I have not always been a fan of winter photography. In fact, I spent several years buying my first camera before taking it with me on skiing and hiking trips. Needless to say, it didn’t take me many trips before I got hooked and started looking forward to the next winter. I quickly realized that shooting during winter is in many ways different from any other season.
There are several new challenges you have to handle and quite often everything is white. How do you handle that? Here are five tips for capturing better winter landscape images.
1 – Look for the color contrast
After a few days of heavy snowfall, the landscape here in Norway is completely white. White trees, white lakes, white mountains, and usually a white sky. When everything is white, it is quite difficult to find a focal element, as nothing really stands out.
During days like this, you should look for elements of color that stand out in the otherwise white landscape. Below is an example of a house captured the morning after a heavy snowfall.
The red booth is what makes this image interesting. Without it, the scene lacks a focal element and the viewer’s eyes have no place to rest.
I find red to be a particularly nice color in situations like this, but I look for any dominant color. Maybe there’s a fall leaf on a thin layer of snow, or maybe it’s some skiers in red jackets. Just find a dominant color in the landscape that would otherwise be white and use that as your focal element.
2 – Bright is better than dark
When you can’t find a colorful focal element that stands out in the frame, overexpose your image. If it’s snowing and there’s no contrast in the sky, winter images can often benefit from being a stop or two brighter. Just avoid clipping the highlights.
This is not something I always do, but whenever there is a blackout I tend to lean in that direction. The slightly overexposed image enhances the darkening and helps convey the chill you were when taking the photo, but still shows a sense of calm.
3 – Choose a cool white balance
You can choose the white balance in-camera or in post-processing if you’re shooting Raw; a cool color balance is often best suited for winter scenes.
Unless it’s a colorful sunset, there’s no reason to use a warm white balance. The snow is white and the shadows are cool. Using a cool white balance will help improve the winter mood while keeping the image more realistic.
4 – Photography during Bluehour
Winter is a season with many opportunities throughout the day; even on a sunny winter day it is worth taking out the camera. However, over the past few years, I have started to appreciate blue hour more and more.
The moments before the sun rises or after it sets creates a magical and soft light in the winter landscape, especially near the mountains. This is a time when you should go out with your camera. Even if it’s really cold and you’d rather stay home under a blanket, you’re doing yourself a favor by going out with the camera at this time of day.
If I could only choose one time of day to shoot during winter, it would be a blue hour (well, night and chasing auroras might be preferable …)
The last tip is perhaps the most important when it comes to shooting cold weather in general: bring spare batteries. Batteries drain much faster in winter and if you’re like me and use Live View for most shots, you should bring at least a few extra batteries, just in case.
I tend to keep at least one spare battery in the inside pocket of my jacket to prevent it from draining or failing in cold weather. I also found that doing so will make the battery last longer when you start using it.
Lastly, in relation to keeping batteries warm, it must also be kept warm. Always be prepared and prefer to bring a layer of more than very few. You always want the opportunity to dress more casually, especially if you go hiking.