Winter is a Great Time to get Outside to take Photos

Admittedly, I have a number of friends in warmer climates that have a hard time believing that winter in Minnesota is one of my favorite times of the year to be out taking pictures. While there are certain challenges with winter photography, there are also several advantages to shooting at this time of year. In this article, I will discuss some of these advantages and follow up with a couple of tips to help you capture some fantastic winter scenes.


Winter Advantages:

Here are some of the things I really like about shooting in cold temperatures:


Clean Air:

The colder the temperatures, the less moisture is in the air. At zero degrees Fahrenheit, one cubic foot of air can only hold up to .001 ounces of water to achieve 100% saturation. Compare this to when the temperature is 80 degrees. When the temperature is 80 degrees, one cubic foot of air can hold .022 ounces of water to achieve 100% saturation. That is 22 times the amount of water in one cubic foot of air. The result is much clearer and sharper images.


Low Sun Angle:

In the winter, the further north, the lower the sun angle throughout the entire day. This means that the "golden hour" lasts much more than just an hour. In fact, during the middle of winter in Minnesota, you can shoot all day. Let's compare January 1st to July 1st. At noon on January 1st, the angle of the sun is 22 degrees above the horizon. At noon on July 1st, the angle of the sun is at approximately 63 degrees. It isn't until 6:45 PM on July 1st that the angle of the sun is 22 degrees.


Color:

Colors can really pop when surrounded by snow and ice. Why is this? White is defined as the absence of color. This makes any color really stand out. Since the angle of the sun is also at a low angle, using a polarizer can really make the colors pop.


Black and White:

Paradoxically, winter is also a great time for creating black and white images. There are a couple of reasons for this being the case.

  • First, many winter scenes tend to be rather monochromatic, especially on cloudy days.

  • Second, it is easier to set areas of the photo to either pure white or pure black allowing for the creation of strong contrast.

A Few Tips:

When shooting in the winter, there are some challenges that need to be dealt with that we typically don't have to worry about at other times of the year. Here are a few things that I do when shooting winter scenes.


White vs. Grey Snow:

One of the biggest challenges is getting the snow to look nice and white without being blown out. This is a situation where shooting in one of the programmed modes on your camera can cause some issues. Your camera will see all that bright white and try to bring it down to a light grey. To correct this, dial in a little bit of exposure compensation into your camera. This is typically accomplished by looking for a button that has a + and - symbol on it. Press this button and adjust the setting to +1.3 or +1.7. This tells that camera that you want to overexpose the photo by either 1⅓ or 1⅔ stops. The result will be white snow without the snow being blown out.


If you shoot in manual, meter off of the brightest snow. Try to meter as close to being overexposed without quite getting there, and then back down just a little bit. Why is this different than when shooting in one of the program modes. The answer is that in manual we can pinpoint the brightest area and use that to adjust our settings.

Capturing Falling Snow:

The challenge with falling snow is that our cameras will really struggle with focus. There are two reasons for this issue. The first reason is that in order for autofocus to work, there needs to be contrast. The snowier the conditions, the less contrast in the scene. The second reason is that there is a lot happening between the camera and the subject. It is easy for the camera to grab focus on snow instead of the subject.


To deal with this, oftentimes manual focus is needed or a really strong contrast element. Note that the contrast element does not need to be in the actual frame. You can pick an object that is about the same distance as your subject and focus on that object. Once the focus is set, then recompose and take the shot. I find that using back button focus really helps when using this technique.

Want to Learn More?

I have several classes and workshops coming up in January and February. You can find more information by clicking on the following links:

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