Winter is often a time when photographers stay inside.
This is a big mistake.
Winter can give you some of the most unique and beautiful settings for your photography. Even places you have shot before can be transformed into something completely new in the winter.
But before you head out there, be sure to pay attention to these winter photography tips to protect yourself and get the best photos possible…
Dress In Layers
You can’t create beautiful photos if you get hypothermia.
The best way to stay warm on your winter photo excursions is to dress in layers.
Layers are especially important if you’ll be outside for a long time. The temperature can change while you’re out there and you’ll need to adjust accordingly. If you’re dressed in layers, you can remove or add layers as the temperature changes.
Let Your Camera Acclimate To The Cold (and warm) Slowly
Sudden temperature changes can cause condensation to form on your lens. This can affect image quality and can even hurt your lens if you let the condensation form on the inside.
The best way to combat this is to let your gear change temperatures slowly.
Bring a sealable plastic bag with you and put all your gear in the bag before you go back into the warmth. Just remember to take your battery and memory card out first so you can recharge the battery and start viewing your photos.
Then put the plastic bag with your camera gear in your camera bag.
The extra insulation of the bag will slow down the temperature change for the camera gear and the plastic bag will keep out the extra moisture in the warm air that adds to the condensation.
Bring Gloves That Will Let You Operate The Camera
Ever try to change your camera settings with gloves on?
Doesn’t always work that well, does it?
And if you have a Mirrorless camera with a touch screen, it can be even more difficult to get the shots you want with gloves on.
So you need gloves that are designed to keep you warm AND give you the dexterity to operate the small buttons and dials on a camera.
A great way to do this is to grab a pair of gloves that let you flip open the thumb and forefinger. You can flip them open when you need to operate the camera and then close them again to stay warm. This also lets you use the touch screen effectively as well.
If you are looking for great photography gloves that let you control your camera and still stay warm, check out these gloves on Amazon.
Don’t Trust Auto Modes In The Snow
Auto modes can be useful in some situations, but the snow is not one of them.
Your camera wants to have a balanced exposure. However, if your frame is filled with white snow, the camera will interpret that as overexposed and adjust accordingly. The result is gray, underexposed snow.
There are two options for this. The first is to keep the camera on your favorite auto mode (aperture or shutter priority) and then use exposure compensation to increase the exposure. However, the downside to that is the variance in exposures you’ll get depending on how much snow is in the frame from shot to shot.
Instead, this is the time to figure out manual mode.
If you’re new to manual mode, then check out what settings look decent in auto mode and use them as your starting point in manual.
Editing Your Winter Photos
Just like shooting, winter photos often need to be edited a little differently than your average shots. Especially if there is snow in the shots.
Most photographers, tend to err on the side of warming up the white balance of their outdoor photos. There’s two downfalls to this approach with outdoor winter photos.
First, if you have snow in the picture…you’ll probably want it to be white, not yellow.
Second, outdoor winter photos should have a cooler white balance to them in general. Most people expect this and unless there is an obvious sunset adding warmer tones, you should adjust your images to be a little cooler than normal.
If you’re looking for a great starting point for editing your winter photos, check out our Winter Lightroom Presets.
Bring Extra Batteries
Batteries get used up faster in the cold. So bring extras.
This is especially important if you use a mirrorless camera. They tend to use batteries quicker than a DSLR.
You should also keep your batteries in your pocket. Preferably keep them in a pocket that is on an inner layer of clothing so that they stay warm.
If you leave your batteries in your camera bag in the cold, you might be surprised that they are somewhat depleted even without using them.
Invest In A Quality Tripod
Winter shooting means difficult conditions…so you need a good tripod to handle those conditions.
The ground tends to hold more moisture in the winter because it’s not warm enough to evaporate and you’ll also encounter snow on the ground. In addition, icy conditions make it even harder to keep a tripod steady.
All this means that a cheap tripod probably won’t serve you well and may not even make it through the winter without locking up the legs, rusting, or suffering from some other calamity.
Bring A Water Resistant Camera Bag
In case you haven’t noticed, a lot of these tips for winter photography are related to moisture (a.k.a. the mortal enemy of camera gear).
So it should go without saying that a good waterproof camera bag will be a huge benefit for winter photography.
Especially if you are out in the snow, you don’t realize that your gear is getting wet because you can just brush the snow off your bag. But lesser quality bags are not as well sealed and that snow can get in there, melt, and cause some serious damage.
Use A Polarizing Filter
Snow, ice, and any other moisture you encounter during the winter can add a lot of reflective light to your photos.
Sometimes, this can be a problem.
So you should also have a polarizing filter on hand when you are shooting in the winter.
A polarizing filter will help cut down on the light reflecting off those shiny surfaces and give you deeper and richer colors for your photos.
I use this polarizing filter all the time. After testing a lot of different brands, I found it to be the best out there in terms of sharpness and color accuracy.
If you want to shoot portraits outdoors in the winter, check out our guide to Using A Polarizing Filter For Portraits.
Use Shutter Speed To Control The Snow
Snow can be especially tricky for photography.
You have to decide how you want it to look in the final images.
A fast shutter speed will freeze the snow. This can give your image a more calm or pleasant feel to it. It will look great for portraits or more relaxed scenes.
But if you use a slower shutter speed, you’ll blur the falling snow which can add a sense of movement to the photo. This also gives the appearance of harsh conditions. It will give you a feeling of intensity or discomfort.
A good approach is to try shooting both and see which look works better for your purposes.
Keep Your Subject’s Nose Warm
If you are photographing people, you need to worry about them too!
One of the most common problems you’ll run into is red noses from the cold. This can be unflattering and often difficult to fix after the fact.
So be sure to tell your subjects to bring something to cover their faces when they aren’t in front of the camera. A simple scarf can go a long way towards helping them look their best.