A Photographer’s Guide to Winter

snow-1563653This post is written specifically to those who live in cold and seasonal conditions. They are the ones who brave the cold to get outside and shoot. They are the ones with frozen faces and fingers but still smile because they love being outside shooting.

This post is NOT written to those who live in tropical climates or climates that don’t get below freezing. They know nothing about the cold!

I want to shed the thought that cold weather and winter don’t yield great photos. That is one hundred percent false. So, don’t take any advice from the bears who hibernate all through winter.

Don’t let your camera hibernate. Keep it working all winter long!

Here’s a photographer’s guide to winter photography and knowing how to take great photos in the cold.

Remove Clutter

Apart from learning to use your camera in manual mode, the most important concept to study when you are taking a photo is composition. Your decisions of whether or not to include or exclude elements of a photo can either make the photo great or make your photo fall flat.

Winter is full of clutter because trees can be dead and ugly. Random, dead limbs cluttering up your photo is one of the biggest challenges in winter photography because they can easily distract from the subject of the photograph.

Here’s how you can do it…

Whenever you’re composing a photograph, try to identify what your subject of the photo is. Then, take a photo and review what is taking away attention from the subject. Whatever it is, find a way to re-construct the shot and remove it. Do this a few times to really get down to what the subject of your composition is. It will help you take more thoughtful photos that won’t disappoint.

This is a tip that Michael Frye shared in his podcast interview, and one that completely changed the way I go about constructing a photograph. It is truly one of the single most important things I’ve ever learned in photography.


Ummm… I have a confession. I do not like snow. BUT, it makes great photos in winter. So, whenever it does snow, I put my big boy pants on and get out in the white powdery stuff to go shoot.

The winter ground without snow looks really gross a lot of times (except if you’re shooting on boulders or rocks) because it’s just brown and dead. That doesn’t make for a great photo. But when there is nice, untouched snow on the ground, it makes the landscape look one hundred times better. In turn, that makes your photographs in the winter look one hundred times better. Funny how that works.

So, whenever it snows, get outside.


Birds, Birds, Birds

I’ve already said it a couple of times in this post, but when the weather turns deathly cold, the leaves fall to the ground. I used to get really disappointed in that because I still wanted to shoot the amazing fall color that once was. However, when I changed my thinking, I got a little more excited about shooting in leafless trees.

You can photograph birds more easily in winter because there are less leaves blocking your view. Smaller birds are pretty fun to photograph, but I really enjoy photographing the larger birds of prey like owls, eagles, and hawks.

Whenever I go driving down the road, I keep my camera with me in the car because I can easily see directly through all of the limbs to where a hawk might be hiding.


Star Trails

There are two ways to shoot star trails. 

I’ve experimented with both ways, the first being the single long exposure image. I set up on a cold winter night and locked my cable release for 45 minutes to track star movement throughout a single shot. The image was awesome, and I was really excited show the world! That is, until I pulled it up in Lightroom and saw how much image noise was in the photo.

You see, the longer the camera is working, the hotter the sensor gets. When the sensor gets very hot, it creates image noise in the dark areas of the image. Of course you can see a lot of noise in night photos because the whole image is dark. A safe time limit to decrease the amount of noise in a photo is around 4 minutes.

You can’t really get a good photo of star trails in 4 minutes, so that brings us to our second technique of shooting star trails. Instead of taking one long shot, divide your photo up into multiple (I mean like 60 photos or more) quicker photos of 30 second exposures that are shot one right after another.