Tips From a Pro: Shooting Winter Photos Is a Breeze
By Nels Akerlund
Winter is the time when photographers turn into bears; hibernation kicks in, and their cameras get packed away for a long winter’s nap. Since you have chosen to live in a climate that has sub-freezing temperatures for four months of the year, it’s time to put down the Hot Toddy, get out and shoot this winter season!
The area we live in has a wealth of natural areas for you to explore and make photographs; my favorites are Rock Cut and Starved Rock State Parks. I am a big fan of shooting during the “golden hours” of sunrise and sunset. It’s usually the coldest time of the day, but the quality of light is worth it. I also like to shoot on sunny days to capture the contrast of blue sky and white snow. Overcast winter days tend to yield images that mimic my opinion of the weather (dreary).
Knowing your subject and your gear is paramount in any type of photography, but especially so in winter. When you’ve gotten up early to shoot sunrise and it’s freezing outside, you don’t want to spend a lot of time figuring out your gear or the direction from which the sun will rise. Scouting your location with a compass is a great way to be ready for the rising or setting sun. Another tip is to keep your camera cold when you are out shooting. It seems logical to tuck it under your jacket when you’re not shooting, but it will only cause condensation when you expose it again to the cold elements. The last thing you want is falling snow to melt on your camera and then freeze. On the same note, watch your breath as you exhale; the hot air will quickly turn your viewfinder into a film of ice.
Photographing winter scenes can be a little tricky because your camera tends to underexpose the bright, white snow and make it look more grey than white. A quick rule of thumb is, “if the snow is bright, add light.” What this means is that you should add 1 to 1.5 stops of light via exposure compensation on your camera to make the snow appear like it does to your eyes.
The most frequent advice I give when teaching photography workshops is to read your camera manual. It sounds silly, but if you don’t know what your camera can do, then you have purchased an awfully expensive paperweight. Photography is like learning a language: You have to study the book, practice often and make lots of mistakes before you can become fluent. I think Ansel Adams summed it up well when he said, “You don’t take a photograph, you make it.” More information is available online at www.NelsAkerlund.com. ❚