Winter Photography Tips
Winter is always an exciting time to get out and take some pictures. The beautiful white backdrop gives everything a completely different perspective than the rest of the year. In winter photography, we deal with environments that we do not normally encounter. The various environmental factors can also affect how our photos turn out. At the same time, we want to be able to capture those beautiful moments without harm to our gear. This post will serve to give a few tips on how to help your winter photography.
Focusing and metering
The environment plays a major role in how we shoot photography. This is one reason why you should learn how to operate your camera in manual or priority modes if you have them. Autofocus will occasionally have trouble during periods of falling snow, fog, and overcast. In automatic focus, your camera will look for contrasts. In these conditions, the lens may keep fluttering while it looks for a focal point. Sometimes, your camera may find a focus point, but it keeps finding the wrong point. Switch over to manual mode during these conditions.
Another issue some people have is that their photos turn out gray in the snow. The automated middle gray is great for normal conditions but in the snow it usually is not the effect people like unless you are looking to add a little drama to the photo. An easy fix for most people will be to adjust the exposure compensation by 1/3 to 2/3 to add more light into the exposure. The better route would be to use aperture priority mode and matrix metering, which will not be covered today for sake of brevity. Also, shooting in raw format over JPEG will allow you to better adjust your pictures in Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop CC or your other favorite photo editing software.
Protecting your camera from the winter elements
Some photographers have recommended people lose those lens caps. Many of them do not photograph in the elements. When you are not using your camera, put the lens cap back on to help prevent smudging, fogging, or water drops. If you do get smudges or water on your lens, be sure to use a microfiber lens cloth or lens brush. Do not blow on the lens as it could cause fog. If it is raining or the snow is wet, use a camera rain cover to protect it from the elements. While cameras such as the Nikon D7200 and Nikon D810 have weatherproof housing, they should never be purposely left naked to the elements. Camera covers come in plastic disposables to more durable covers. The two below are a couple of examples.
If you are a backpacker or camper, you should also have a dry bag just for your camera equipment. Our cameras are a very expensive investments that should be adequately protected.
Cold is another major issue for shooting in the winter. The cold can affect the mechanical operations of the camera and the battery life. Do not leave your camera out in the cold when you are not using it. Put it back your bag or pocket. Your camera will be less likely to have problems (battery, LCD, or mechanical.) if put up when not in use. While most cameras on the market can operate at 32 degrees F and lower, you should consider using a more rugged camera for areas that see extreme cold. Be careful with storing the camera close to your body under your coat as the heat and sweat could form condensation. Here are some specific points and tips.
The cold causes batteries to loose capacity, but they can regain power when warmed. Keep spare batteries. Put them in an inside coat pocket or other warm place. Alkaline batteries are the worst performing in cold weather.
Be careful with plastic in the extreme cold as it becomes brittle. When you open battery and memory doors or flip LCD screens, open carefully to avoid breaking them.
One thing to remember is that LCDs may become sluggish or gray out. When the camera warms up, the LCD returns to functioning normal but know that your on-screen color may be affected while it is cold.
Most quality memory cards such as the Sandisk Extreme Pro usually do not suffer from cold weather and are waterproof.
When returning indoors (or a heated vehicle), the camera can develop condensation because of the warmer environment. Remove the batteries prior to going inside and do not replace them until your equipment has warmed. Prior to going inside, place your camera in a sealed bag with outside air (such as a freezer bag).
Wearing proper attire in the winter
Last but not least, it makes little sense to protect your photography equipment if you are not protecting yourself from the elements. Avoid cotton at all costs if you are going to be in the elements for any amount of time and especially if you are camping, hiking, or walking long distances. Cotton retains moisture. If you are simply going outside to take pictures of the kids, this does not really matter as much. Use synthetic garments, wool, or wool blends.
Layer your clothes as follows:
🔹Base layer: This is what touches your skin aka underwear. This could be briefs or panties and a shirt or bra to long underwear. All of this depends on how cold it is and what you’ll be doing. Again, try to avoid cotton.
🔹Middle layer: This is the insulating layer. This could be a fleece, synthetic blend, wool or wool blend top. These come in light, mid, or heavy depending again on your activity level and temperatures. Consider convertible zip pants for bottom middle layers.
Choose appropriate gloves or mittens and head gear such as a fleece or wool skull cap. For a more detailed post, see “How to properly layer for your winter backpacking trip.”