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Winter season photography - why is it the best time to shoot?

Why winter is the best season for photography?

Winter and bad weather in general create unique photography opportunities like no other season can provide. The angle of the sun is different during winter and the magic hour is longer.

Throughout the day, and because of the diffused light the clouds create, our subjects are embraced with soft illumination. Unlike summer times when the sun often causes hard shadows and the light shifts more towards blue tones. Clouds will diffuse the sun and provide even lighting. The sun can have a peeking effect from the clouds and act as a spotlight. Rain will create reflections, and foggy conditions can reduce contrast creating completely different atmosphere to a scene.

The sky and its colors, tones, and cloud formation gets more interesting, snow covers the hills and valleys, and the frost will hang from the trees and winter houses in the mountains will provide such unique subjects for photographers that only winter can provide.

What basic tips you need to know?

As most DSLRs understand only tones of grey, the camera tends to underexpose white and overexpose black as they move to neutral grey. So if you are focused on and are metering from white snow beds, you need to overexpose your camera by 1 to 2 stops. If you are shooting in aperture priority, use that exposure compensation feature and if you are shooting in manual mode, move that needle 1 to 2 stops to the right. As a general rule, make it a habit to consult your histogram after each photo.

Always shoot in RAW but if you are a JPEG shooter, winter is a tricky thing when it comes to choosing that white balance. So why bother, instead of figuring out the best setting for white balance, shoot in RAW and correct later in post-processing.

Expose for the brightest areas and meter from there because when your camera clips any highlights, you may not be able to recover them – even in post-processing. Make it a habit like me to always under-expose by 1 stop.

Also it is a well-known fact that batteries don’t last long in cold weather, so consider investing in a backup battery and try to keep it warm (inside your pockets).

Bad weather is time to go out

Overcome your fear from menacing weather and leave home. I know, you may sound unexcited about leaving your warm couch and cup of tea, but those are magic times for your photos. The patterns, the quality of light and the saturation of the landscapes all are worth it. Having said that, don’t take unnecessary risks or put yourself or your family in danger.

Failing to plan is planning to fail (that sounds exaggerated a bit…)
Don’t pray and hope that God will provide you with a great shot today. Getting a great shot requires planning. Performing a little research will not harm you. Being in the right place at the right time is like playing bingo. You need to look at photos taken by others in the same location. Get yourself familiar with the locality before photographing it in bad weather. This will allow you to get the best composition quicker. Make use and consult those weather channels. I use accuweather.com and I have installed their fantastic mobile application so I can monitor the weather conditions on hourly basis.

Hey! What about protection?

Plan to have the right gear for the job. Consider equipping yourself with a GPS (most smart phone nowadays come with built in one), umbrella, heavy cloths, additional dry cloth, camera protection bag, etc. Please don’t get back hope sick. Even if it isn’t cold or raining when you are at the site, the weather can change abruptly and you should be ready for it. Wear waterproof wear and a hat. A good pair of hiking shoes is a must too specially if you are out to the mountains and rocky terrain.

Now that you are protected, you should protect your gear. Choose a tough camera bag that also offers a built in rain cover. For your lens, invest in a UV filter. It is not expensive but it will shield your glass from things blowing in the wind.

If it is raining and you must take that shot, take a clear plastic sleeve that envelops your DSLR. If you don’t have one, borrow that shower hair cap from your wife!

It is said that when you get home, fight that urge to review your photos or to import them into your computer. You have to leave your camera in its bag for five to 10 minutes in order to acclimatise it. This avoids warm air condensing into mist as it meets the cold surface of the lens. And always keep silica gel sachets in your kit bag, as they help absorb excess moisture.

Winter photo projects to consider

  • Raindrops (plants, windows, houses, trees, etc.)
  • Windstorms (freeze the trees blown in the wind or the leaves, lawns, stormy seas and splashing waves, etc.)
  • Lightning and thunderstorms (Be patient, switch to manual mode, and pack a tripod)
  • Rainbows (capture a story with the foreground and use a polarizing filter, it does a great job of strengthening the colors in a rainbow)
  • Fog and mist (have to use post-processing to increase vibrancy and sharpness)
  • Water reflections
  • Street photography (people with umbrellas, reflections on pavements, etc. )
  • Gloomy landscapes
  • Snowfall (find a dark background for contrast and to offset the white)
  • Sunset after storm (at winter sunsets, the colors are the most vibrant)
  • Open skies and clouds formation (use a polarizing filter) 

A simple search on 500px.com reveals amazing bad weather photos. I have selected a few below for your inspiration and motivation... Photographers' names are shown below each caption.

Search for "Storm" on 500px.com

Search for "Snowfall" on 500px.com

Search for "Lightning" on 500px.com