Marg’s Tip for November

Winter Photography Tips

No matter if your traversing glaciers, skiing the slopes, sledding with the kids, or just trying to capture the first snowfall of the season, there are some winter photography basics to keep in mind in order to get some great winter pictures with your digital camera.

winterBefore leaving the house, check your batteries are charged, you have a backpack with you to protect your camera gear, are wearing warm boots and gloves with removable fingers that give you control, while keeping your hands warm.

Baby It’s Cold Outside.

The first thing to consider in the temperature.  Sure you’re all bundled up, but what about your camera?  The batteries in your digital camera do not read well in cold, it reduces their output.  Keep your camera warm by carrying it under your coat, as close to your body’s warmth as possible, and carry extra batteries in a warm place too.  Rotate the batteries to give them a chance to warm up again. NASA recommends Lithium and Nickel metal Hybrid batteries as they operate best in cold.  Compact flash cards function well down to – 20C.  Putting a heat pack inside your gloves helps keep hands warm as does wrapping pipe insulation around the legs of your tripod.

Don’t Be Snow Blind.

Once you get past dealing with the cold, taking winter photographs is a piece of cake.  Right?  Nope, you’ve got all that shiny white stuff to deal with.  If you just “meter the scene”, your camera’s built-in light meter will read all that snow as an 18% grey tone.  The snow will look grey and everything else in the picture darker than the snow will look black.  A general rule of thumb is to compensate for the brightness by opening up one or two stops or overexposing to let in more light.  If your camera has exposure compensation you could try that also. Check your monitor to see what works for you.  NOTE: After checking various photographer’s preferences, this guide can range from increasing 1/3 stop to 2 full stops.

Of course if you are trying to photograph the people in that snow scene and use the above method, you run the risk of overexposing them as well. You’ve got to choose which is the most important part of the subject, the people or the snow.  If it’s people you’re after, then the trick is to get right in their face and take a reading off the light that’s hitting it.  Set your camera accordingly and no matter where you shoot from, you should have the proper exposure. If you can’t get an up close reading,for example, someone zooming by on skis, then take a reading off your hand.

Timing is Everything.

Good lighting is the key and the best time is often early morning or late afternoon That’s especially true in snow.  At a low angle, the sun casts long shadows and adds contrast to your subject that otherwise might not be there.  Keep the sun at a right angle to your shot early or late in the day,and behind you when it’s high in the sky.

While the idea of capturing the pristine field of snow might sound appealing, it might lead to a boring photo.  Look for objects that add colour and contrast to your scene.  Colourful ski clothes and dark  contrasty shadows abound in winter.

Because of the glare it is often difficult to see the image in your LCD display. Attaching a hood to shade the scene helps or fashioning one out of duct tape can also work in a pinch.

The biggest risk to operating your camera equipment in winter is condensation that forms when you bring cold camera or lens into a warm moist room.  If you then take the camera back into the cold the condensed water can freeze. preventing your camera from operating or worse (it can cause permanent damage).  To reduce the possibility of condensation, place your camera equipment into a plastic bag, push out most of the air and seal the bag before bringing in into a warm room.   Let the camera gear acclimate to room temperature slowly over several hours before opening the bag.  NOTE: Another photographer pops out the memory card and puts a clean white towel over everything, as all the condensation will form on the towel, and leaves the camera gear to return to room temperature.   When he is in and out of his vehicle he keeps the towel on the gear when it is out of the bag, in the vehicle.

Winter is a time when shape and tone in a landscape is often exaggerated and this can make for some graphic looking photos. In winter, nature provides us with a gift of hoar frost which can cover fences, grass and trees in ice crystals.  Other places to look for ice formations are around the edge of creeks, waterfalls, ponds and lakes.

Marg Jackman