When winter sets in the reaction from photographers can be extremely polarized. There are those who accustomed to work in winter while others pack up and go south to enjoy milder climates. Some people live in areas blessed with beautiful winter landscapes whereas others may wish for the firs spring days that bring some life back after the bleak months of winter. Not everyone can photograph the beauty of winter in Colorado or the Canadian wilderness. Many photographers look at the beautiful images of winter scenes in coffee table books of far away places and say “if I just could live ”.
The truth is that winter photography can be challenging but may not require having the Rocky Mountains be in your backyard. Opportunities can be found in one’s vicinity with a little venturous spirit. Winter may offer lovely scenery under a blanket of snow in areas that would not be picturesque in other seasons. Of course there are basic rules to follow if we want to enjoy being out in the winter cold. Good warm footwear that has good thread is just as essential as layered clothes that lock out the cutting edge of wind. A thermos with hot tea or coffee and a few nutritious trail bars may make the outing much more enjoyable and successful.
As of “good weather” for winter photography? Well, do not necessarily wish for those nice sunny days. Bright sunshine in a snow blanketed scenery may not be your best friend. Not to say though that sunshine does not have its place in winter photography. However, a snow squall or an approaching winter storm might create more unique opportunities. Hoarfrost on a pine branch can be better photographed in diffused light than in bright sun. Winter fog may create beautiful soft effects that no other season can create. These are just some thoughts, some pointers on which you may expand as you discover winter photography.
It is not only the wide scenery that we can photograph in winter. Small snippets of nature can be as interesting as the vistas of a mountain range. A frosty pine cone or a shard of ice can be as beautiful as a scenic photograph. Also, many scenes in winter lend themselves to nice B&W photographs. High contrast scenes or objects can present themselves as opportunities for a graphic B&W image. I often find that a scene which otherwise would be absolutely uninteresting can yield a good B&W image. Other scenes may be suitable to create images that resemble graphic etchings.
Then, beyond scenery, we also have some winter birds around. Many of us have a bird feeder in our backyard that attracts overwintering species by great numbers. Chickadees, juncos, cardinals and others may congregate in our yards presenting good photo opportunities. When creating a bird feeder in your yard think about its placement. Put it into a spot that you can observe from the comfort of your home and think about which direction it will be illuminated from. It is hard to get a detailed image of a junco in the snow if it is backlit. I have a feeder located in a spot that I can photograph through a small bathroom window. I slide the window open enough to get my lens through and I have a cosy blind to work from. Consider placing some logs and branches strategically around the feeder, those will act as natural landing spots. You can also attach food to the back side of those branches so that some birds can be photographed in a more natural setting as they’ll perch on those convenient props.
With the freedom of digital post processing the palette we have at our disposal is almost endless. Winter is the time when I sort through my images and archive them in various categories. I discard those ones that have no good merit for being archived. During this process I often “discover” some pleasant surprises, images that I overlooked before may trigger my interest at second look..
As of equipment there are a few basic rules. Make sure that you take a couple of spare batteries with you in your inside pocket. Batteries deplete faster in extreme cold so do not shortchange yourself on spares. Do not over load yourself wit equipment. Plan what you wish to photograph and take only what is absolutely necessary. Climbing a slope in deep snow is exhausting enough without carrying extra gear that may not be used at all. I usually take a 300mm light telephoto with a teleconverter and a 24-70mm zoom lens with me for general outings. A 100mm macro lens may get into one of my pockets if I plan to look for small details. Some long telephoto zooms, like the Tamron 150-600mm G2, are also good for close up images. Upon returning home I place my camera and lenses into sealed plastic bags before entering into my home to avoid condensation issues.
I attach a few winter images here, taken at very ordinary places away from well known spectacular winter destinations. Places and subjects like these can be found easily within a short driving distance from one’s home. Bundle up and have a good outing.