What to Shoot in Winter

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When winter rolls around many photography enthusiasts pack up their gear for the season. The days are drab, the weather is miserable, and there isn't anything interesting to photograph.

Or is there?

Photography is all about finding the beauty, adventure, excitement, emotion, etc in the everyday. Who decided these moments are limited to spring, summer, and fall?

We are of the opinion that you can capture amazing images whatever the weather. However, you do have to be prepared for shooting conditions. Plus, you might have to look harder to find the beauty you want to capture. 

Thus, read on for some of our favorite ideas for what to shoot in winter!

Protect Your Gear and Yourself

Before we get started on what to shoot, let’s talk about the gear you’ll need. We don’t want you to get all excited and head out for a day of shooting only to end up damaging your camera because you didn’t protect it properly.

1. Bring a Zip-up Freezer Bag

When shooting in winter, don’t forget to bring along a zip-up freezer bag. You’ll need this simple piece of equipment to keep your camera safe from its sworn enemy — moisture.

Why?

Have you ever noticed how eyeglasses fog up when you come indoors after being out in the cold? The same thing happens to your camera.

Place your camera inside a sealed plastic bag while you’re still outside. This will trap a little cold air around your camera so that it warms up more slowly. Plus, moisture can’t get through the plastic to condensate directly on the camera. 

2. Dress the Part

No doubt you won’t forget a warm coat, snug boots, and maybe a hat to keep your ears warm. However, stop and think about your hands. You’ll need to be able to access your buttons to change your settings and bulky gloves won’t let you do this.

Try fingerless gloves or specially made photographer’s gloves that have thin thermal fabric on the fingertips. 

If it is especially cold, consider carrying hand warmers in your pocket for warming up between shots. 

3. Snuggle Up with Your Camera

Cameras, like all electronic equipment, don’t particularly like the cold. They tend to get lethargic and the batteries drain quickly. 

To that end, if you can fit your camera inside your coat, carry it up against your body when not actively shooting. You should also bring spare batteries and put them in an inner pocket where they’ll stay warm until you need them. 

If it’s actively snowing, it’s important to keep your camera covered in some capacity. Snow, like rain, will get your camera wet. If your camera does get wet, don’t wipe it as this can push moisture into the cracks. Instead, leave it sitting on a towel to air dry for a few hours.

Now that you’re ready to shoot, what is there to capture? Let’s find out!

Snow Scenes

Snow scenes can be gorgeous, ethereal, and majestic (among other attributes). No doubt you’ve seen some amazing landscape images or portraits captured in the snow. 

However, if you’ve ever tried to capture one of those photographs, you may have been underwhelmed by the results. Though the day may have been bright, your photos may have turned out rather dark and drab and the snow looks almost gray. 

What on earth!?

Well, cameras these days are pretty smart but sometimes they need a little help. On a snowy day, the light is bouncing all over the place and there are reflections galore. The camera’s metering can get confused and turn out images that are somewhat underexposed. That’s what gives the snow its dirty appearance. 

To remedy this, just overexpose slightly when choosing manual settings. If you haven’t ventured too deep into manual settings yet, this is a good time to start!

Pro tip: get to your shooting location early in the day to avoid other people leaving footprints all over your scene. 

What if there isn’t any snow? Try darkening down your exposure for a more moody ambiance. By embracing the drabness of the scene, you can create some intriguing images even with a bleak winter scene. 

Portraits in the Snow

Landscapes aren’t the only thing you can shoot outdoors in the winter. If you have some models that don’t mind the cold, it’s so much fun to take portraits in the snow!

Kids and adults alike look super cute all bundled up in hats and scarves and their colorful clothing is a beautiful contrast with the white snow. Some daring folks might even be brave enough to pose in the snow in a stunning gown or dress clothes. 

Bring hand warmers and hot cocoa to make it more festive, fun, and a tiny bit warmer. 

What if it’s snowing while you’re taking pictures? Take advantage! 

Use the burst mode to take multiple shots and give yourself a variety of images to choose from. 

To get those big, blurry snowflakes that add magic to your image, shoot with a long lens (ideally 200mm or longer). Close down the aperture as much as you can, around f/4.5 – f6.3. 

If you want blurry snow trails from the falling flakes, set your camera on a tripod and slow down the shutter speed. 

Sunrise and Sunset

Sunrises and sunsets are always beautiful to photograph but they are especially magical in winter over a snow-kissed scene. As a bonus, you won’t have to get up so early to catch the sunrise since the sun sleeps in during the winter months. 

However, it will be especially cold so be sure to bundle up well before heading out. Try closing down your aperture really small (about f/16 – f/22) to give the sun gorgeous sunburst rays as it peeks over the horizon. 

There will be a lot of bright light from the sun and strong reflections from the snow that will confuse your camera. We recommend using manual mode and choosing your own settings for best results. 

Macro Snowflake Photography

Though flowers and bugs are often favorite macro photography subjects, there is one beautiful subject that you can only shoot in winter — snowflakes. 

Photographing snowflakes can be tricky but oh-so-worth-it when you get it right! 

A tripod is a helpful tool as well as a macro lens. If you don’t want to buy a dedicated macro lens, you can get filters or extension tubes that help you get the magnification right. Close your aperture down all the way to get as much of the snowflake in focus as possible. Focus stacking may be required to get the snowflake perfectly in focus. 

To give your image contrast and make it easier to see the snowflake’s design, try catching a few snowflakes on something dark, like a black or dark gray mitten. You’ll have to work quickly because it doesn’t take long for them to start to lose their shape as they melt. 

Wildlife and Pet Photography

Winter is the perfect time to go hunting for wildlife with your camera. They are easier to see and their dark bodies against the snow provide a wonderful contrast in your images.

Brightly colored animals, like songbirds, will seemingly leap out of the image at the viewer. Make sure you bring plenty of gear to keep you warm. Sitting around waiting for wild animals to appear isn’t nearly as fun when you’re freezing to death!

You know how excited your pets get when you let them out to play in the snow? It’s a perfect opportunity for photographing their excitement or even getting images of them sitting pretty with their fancy winter sweater. The snow makes a wonderful backdrop for their Christmas pictures just as it does for people portraits. 

Seasonal Food Photography

Winter photography doesn’t all have to happen outdoors. There are lots of interesting things to photograph indoors in the winter as well.

For example, seasonal foods. Cranberry sauce, spiced pumpkin cake, hot cocoa, or a hearty chili stew are just a few ideas. Play around with different lighting setups and food styling techniques to practice getting gorgeous food photography images. 

Even if you’re not primarily a food photographer, these are great exercises for practicing photography in the winter. Start playing with off-camera flash and get an idea of how different lighting directions impact your images. If you’ve never used artificial light before, this is a great way to learn how it works. 

Holiday Subjects

Finally, there are a lot of fun holidays that happen in the winter. From harvest party decor at Thanksgiving to festive Christmas trees and twinkling lights to big red hearts for Valentine’s day, there are a lot of bright colors and scenes to photograph. 

Enjoy a fun afternoon with your family taking Christmas pictures or set up a still life scene using decorations, presents, or anything else festive that you have on hand. 

Photographing in Winter

As you can see, there are a plethora of scenes and subjects that you can photograph even when the weather is drab. Don’t let the cold deter you, take your camera and go on a treasure hunt. You never know what you will find…

Feel free to share your winter photoshoot ideas or let us know how it goes in the comments!

12 thoughts on “What to Shoot in Winter”

  1. Head to the popular sledding/sliding hill in your area. Catch the people/pets on toboggans, sleds, etc. as they enjoy the weather. If you live near a ski hill, do the same. Stroll through the woods that cross country skiers tend to frequent, you may catch some skiers while you’re there. Don’t have a dog? Head to the closest dog park and catch them playing in the snow. Do you live near a pond that freezes over? Do the locals go ice skating or play hockey there? It’s another place for action shots.

  2. Here’s a challenge that eludes me: How do you capture the “sparkle” in sunlit snow without darkening out the snow or lighting? I’ve captured sparkle with water, but the white snow makes it a challenge.

    1. David Molnar - Your Photography Mentor

      Hello Dar, this is a tricky subject. We see a lot more of the sparkles because we naturally move around, receiving the reflections each time we move our heads. The camera only receives the sparkles that enter the aperture of your camera at a specific moment. The image has to be darkened a little for that to sparkle to happen, due to the highlighted section of the image needing to have something to contrast against. Hope this helped!

    1. David Molnar - Your Photography Mentor

      Hello Sharon, my Photo Mentorship course covers all the technical aspects needed to shoot in darker settings!

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