Winter Photography Tips Part 1
Given today's weather in the Coeur d'Alene area, it seemed like a good time to say a few words about winter photography. In the first part of this two-part blog (come back Sunday for the rest!) I'll discuss techniques to improve your winter photography. The second part of the blog will be all about how to keep your camera (and other equipment) at its functional best in the cold, snowy weather.
The first thing to remember about your winter photography is that you're by-and-large going to be working with large areas of white. White snow, grey sky that is backlit with sunlight--you'll need to seek out contrast and color if you want your photos to have any definition. That's the difficult part of winter photography.
The nice part of winter photography is the natural diffusion of the sun on many days. You don't have to worry so much about harsh shadows or other aspects of shooting in direct sunlight, and you can shoot with reasonably consistent light all day long without having to wait for the perfect time.
Snow is a fantastic texture to work with, but it requires side lighting to really bring the texture out. You'll need to add that light or wait for a break in the clouds to see the snow's texture really well in your photos. If you're out on an overcast flat day, all you'll get is a dull, light-gray photograph...no matter what you do. This is when you'll have to seek out color and contrast. Photography during the winter is a challenge, for even the most experienced photographer. So don't get discouraged, keep learning from your mistakes, and keep practicing. Even those of us with years of experience find ourselves throwing out a ton of winter pictures.
One major factor in bad winter photos is underexposure. If you find yourself with a bunch of dull grey pictures, try a lower shutter speed or open your aperture bit if you want to see detail in the dark areas and convey the brightness of the snow. I recommend metering for the snow, then going at least one stop up.
If you're seeing too much grey sky in your photos, you can try getting above the level of your subject and shooting down to minimize the amount of sky. You can also try a graduated color filter to add some color to the sky while keeping your subject's colors natural.
A great way to reduce the contrast between your subject and the snow (to prevent your subject from being too dark against the bright background of snow) is to use your flash as a fill light. Be careful to have the subject set far enough back from the snow that you don't light up the snow as well as the subject!
Look for high contrast lines, objects the snow doesn't completely cover in the landscape. A tilled field, or even one with some taller plants left in it is great for adding this extra texture to your photos. Trees, fences, sculptures, natural overhangs...where you choose to shoot is a major factor in bringing out the natural textures and contrast in your photos.
It's always a nice dramatic effect to have a pop of color in your winter photography. Because of the inherent lack of contrast in much winter photography, the bright white snow and light grey sky, you lose some color saturation. Colors get drowned out a bit. This is a great time of year to focus your attention on brightly colored objects from flags to old red barns to the last autumn leaves still clinging to the trees. If you're photographing people, try to have them wear something bright that will really stand out and help bring color to their faces.
Winter is a nice time for some creative night-time photography. The snow works as a natural reflector for the moon and other lights, allowing you to capture some truly beautiful photos at night. I've had great luck taking the camera downtown and shooting the city streets lit just by street and Christmas lights. Play around with your exposure to create very surreal effects with the available light!
Shooting Christmas lights is another fun photo opportunity this time of year. I highly recommend shooting at a higher shutter speed and controlling your exposure with your aperture and ISO settings in order to get nice, crisp shots of the lights, most especially if you're not using a tripod or other solid mount. However, if you're feeling brave and want to try Light Painting go ahead and use that low shutter speed!
One final note about Christmas lights--sometimes it's difficult to capture color with some cameras, especially ones that aren't of the SLR variety. For cameras with fewer manual controls, try using the Fireworks, Sunset, or similar setting to capture the lights' colors a little better against dark backgrounds--that tip goes for shooting video of the lights too (for example on the Resort's Christmas light cruises).
Best of luck to you as you explore around and find great photo ops this winter!
On Sunday I'll post the second part of this winter photography blog and let in on some tips about keeping yourself and your camera equipment in working order out in the cold of winter.