Photographing in the cold can be quite a challenge – for the photographer, but also for the equipment. But it usually pays off to brave the snow and the wetness, because snow photos have a special atmosphere and especially winter landscapes are simply beautiful to look at – in nature and on a photo. Find here my best snow photography tips for you to master your winter photos.
Protection for your equipment
Most cameras can resist average European/US winter temperatures very well, although the recommendations of camera manufacturers suggest that cameras should not be operated when sub-zero temperatures are reached. Canon or Nikon write in their handbooks about operating temperatures of 0 – 40° – but this is probably legal protection since cameras can usually be used at slightly sub-zero temperatures.
The mostly bigger problem is the batteries because they discharge much faster than usual in cold weather. Tip: Take one or two spare batteries with you and wear them on your body to keep them warm.
If I am outside for a long time without breaks, I put the camera in my backpack or at least put it under my jacket. If I’m already wearing four layers, I want to share at least one of them with my camera.
Another challenge when photographing in winter and snowfall is the humidity. If it gets in the lens, it can end badly. So take care to protect the camera and lens from moisture. If it’s snowing thick flakes, put the camera in your backpack or under your jacket to protect it as much as possible. Be careful when changing the lens, because if moisture gets inside, it’s trapped. You’ll find the funniest rain cover constructions on the Internet and a plastic bag is usually enough. However, it is not very convenient. There are rain protection caps or protective covers that are much simpler and more reliable to use.
I recommend that you screw a UV filter onto the lens. It protects the lens and it’s also easier to use a cloth to remove drops from the filter than the lens, which should be cleaned with care. Put on the lens cap occasionally to avoid drops on your lens. It is extremely annoying to see that the lens was dirty or full of drops when you download your photos.
Last but not least, I recommend a camera backpack with built-in rain protection that can be pulled over the backpack from below to protect it from wet. When you get into a downpour and get wet from top to bottom, you’ll be happy about the cover that has made sure your equipment stays dry.
Attention: When you arrive at home or to your hotel from your photo shoot, leave your backpack with the camera for at least half an hour and give the camera and batteries time to acclimatize. Never switch on the camera immediately if you come into the house from the cold, as this can cause damage.
Clothing for the photographer
I can’t wear enough layers in winter. Layer by layer I put on to look more like the Michelin guy at the end. But that doesn’t matter, as long as it’s warm. The appearance is really irrelevant when photographing in winter. Even if thermal underpants are not super sexy, I prefer them to hypothermia. For the upper body, I recommend an angora undershirt as the first layer (of at least 4). Not the most provocative lingerie but that doesn’t matter either.
Warm boots are at least as important as the thermal basics. Once your feet are cold, the cold won’t let you go. I tested my boots at the photo workshop in Budapest in December in low temperatures and snowfall and can recommend them warmly. I had warm feet all day long and the boots also look great.
Are there gloves that really keep you warm? You always need your fingers to take pictures, so permanently warm fingers are more of an illusion. I have these winter gloves for photographers: Finger cots with fold-down cuffs and thumbs. Wear very thin silk gloves beneath with which you can operate the camera buttons. But my ultimate tip is to use hot packs. These disposable packs warm up slowly when you take them out of the box and last up to eight hours. I also tested them in Budapest – they passed my test.
To warm you from the inside, I recommend that you take a thermos mug with tea. I cooked tea in the morning and it stayed hot all day long. This mug is absolutely great!
Tips how to photograph in snow
Tip #1: White balance for snow
Snow can have a blue hue when the sky is blue and can appear grey with an overcast sky. The correction to a beautiful white can be done by correcting the white balance manually in the camera or afterwards in the image processing – assumed you photograph in RAW format.
How does manual white balance work? Set your camera’s menu to manual white balance and photograph a white area in your scenery. The white area should fill the center of the spot measuring circle and it becomes your reference for the white. Then find “Custom WB” in the menu of your camera and select the captured image which you confirm. In the menu, you have to change the white balance to “Manual”. More precise is the manual white balance with a gray card of 18%.
Don’t forget to reset the white balance when conditions change or you shoot in a different environment.
Tip #2: Exposure compensation
The exposure meter of the camera is a little tricked by the lighting conditions and the snow. Set the manual exposure correction to +1 and take some test shots. You may need to move up one step (or third steps). However, set the overexposure warning to avoid clipping. Clipping refers to black or white areas that no longer have a drawing. Also, check the histogram and make sure you don’t have any outliers on the far right and far left.
Tip #3: The Whites slider
Sometimes it’s enough to move the white slider to the right in your photo editor. But again, make sure that the white areas still have a drawing.
You’ll probably find lots of amazing visuals in winter. The best time to take pictures in the snow is when it’s fresh, clean and free of tracks. Then the clarity and purity of the white splendor will unfold and nothing will stop you from taking beautiful winter photos.
If you’re wearing good clothes, sit down in the snow to avoid roads and paths in the foreground.
If you’re lucky enough to be in a city when it’s snowing, be quick, because usually the snow doesn’t last long or it’s crushed and dirty very quickly. Find a colored background or accent to have a contrast in your scenery.
Especially photos taken in the city can look great in black and white. If you have low contrast, convert the image, or if you’re not shooting in RAW, set the camera to monochrome.
If you’re more experienced, you can also play with HDR. I always make sure the results look natural because with HDR the border to overdoing the photo is very thin.
Waterfalls are also great in winter. But be careful, because it might be very slippery near waterfalls.
In order to capture the snow falling, choose a short shutter speed. In this case I shot the photo with 1/800 sec. Choose a darker background in order to get the snow flurry in focus.
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