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  • by Derek Leung

Tips for Winter Photography

From blossoming flowers to a fresh blanket of snow on the ground, every season has its own unique charm and beauty. With the change of weather, we must adapt to the environment around us.

Here are a few tips and techniques that will help you to capture amazing photos, and to prepare your camera for the winter months.

1. Use fast shutter speeds to capture moving snow

When you take a photo while it is snowing, adjust your settings so you can shoot with a faster shutter speed. The falling snow can actually help to create a very interesting depth of field as snow falls into the foreground or background around your main subject. A shutter speed of 1/250 is recommended as a starting point. Higher shutter speeds will produce more unique results.

2. Batteries drain fast in the cold

Try your best to keep your batteries warm when you’re in the snow, as cold batteries lose their charge fairly quickly. By putting batteries in your inside jacket pockets, or even in the front pocket of your pants, your body heat will keep the batteries warm so they last a little longer. As always, no matter what or where you’re shooting, BRING EXTRA BATTERIES!

3. Raise your exposure compensation

If you use Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, or Program Mode, be sure to raise your exposure compensation because your meter may be tricked by the snow. When shooting snowy scenes, your camera’s sensor might think your shot is too bright due to the white, strong highlights from the snow. Your camera will automatically attempt to adjust to darken the scene, making snow look grey, instead of white. By increasing your exposure compensation to between +0.3EV and +0.7EV, you’ll be able to capture the pure whiteness of your scene more effectively as it helps compensate for the brightness that is lost in the camera’s metering process. Be sure to test your shots a few times to find the right exposure compensation value. If you are shooting in full manual mode, you won’t be able to adjust your exposure compensation, however, be sure to readjust your settings so your photo is a little overexposed for the best results.

4. Protect your gear from snow and moisture

When you’re outdoors, dry, powdered snow won’t damage your camera, but be sure to wipe it off with your glove, sleeve, or a small towel. Don’t use your hands. Your hands will melt the snow, creating a possibility that water will seep into your camera.

In general, cold weather won’t affect your camera, but keep in mind the change in humidity when you’re heading indoors. You may notice that your lens fogs up with condensation when entering a warm place. Although you can wipe it off of your lens, condensation builds up inside your camera as well! This could potentially harm the internal mechanics of your camera and lens. The best solution for this is to put your camera into an airtight bag or container before heading indoors. This will protect your camera from the change in temperature and humidity. If there’s a small condensation buildup, don’t try to wipe it, as the moisture may seep into other parts of your camera. Instead, let your camera sit on a towel and let it warm up!

5. Sunny 16 Rule

Factors such as the sun, snow, and unpredictable weather during the winter months make setting your ISO, shutter, and aperture tricky. The “Sunny 16 Rule,” also known as the “Sunny F/16 Rule,” provides us with a great starting point to capture perfectly exposed images.

During a very sunny and bright day, set your camera’s ISO to 100, shutter speed to 1/100, and aperture to f/16. If you need to set a faster shutter speed to capture some fast-moving action, simply adjust the ISO to 200 and the shutter speed to 1/200 with the aperture remaining at f/16, and so on. This may sound easy, but this rule may change for winter landscapes depending on the natural lighting and the amount of snow. When you are shooting a subject or scene that is very bright and has a lot of snow, try this rule with a faster shutter speed as the snow reflects a large amount of light. Starting with an ISO of 100, shutter speed of 1/200, and aperture of f/16 is recommended.

6. Make use of leading lines

Leading lines may be a simple concept to many photographers, but when you’re trying to capture a beautiful winter landscape, leading lines become very important. Your winter photo may contain a lot of white, compositionally creating more negative space than you may want. To make things interesting, you can find either sloped lines that move diagonally across your scene (such as mountain tops) or a vanishing point (a point where two lines converge, such as a walking path). Both of these techniques will help you add depth to your photo and a point for viewers to focus on.

7. Use a zoom lens

Even though a prime lens may get you a great shot, it doesn’t offer the flexibility you need when shooting outdoors. You may need to take a macro shot of a snowflake, and then a landscape shot immediately after. We don’t recommend switching lenses and equipment too often when you’re outdoors, as the inner parts of your camera and other equipment will be exposed to the elements.

8. Later sunrises, earlier sunsets

The golden hours (one hour after sunrise and one hour before sunset) are the best times to shoot, especially for landscapes. A great thing about winter is that you do not have to get up by 4 a.m. to capture the sunrise. Keep in mind that golden hours in winter occur later in the morning and much earlier in the evening. Be sure to check your local weather report the day before to see the times for the sunrise and sunset.

9. Add contrast to your photos

With all the white from the snow, your photos may need a little kick when editing, as the colours and contrast may seem dull. Increase and adjust your blacks, contrast, saturation, and shadows to bring life back into your photo when you’re back at home editing.

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