Chip Phillips: 5 Tips for Photographing in Winter

We love Chip Phillips’s winter photographs. He has some stunning photos from the Rockies that just make us want to go out and photograph winter landscapes no matter how cold it is out there. So when we invited Chip to become a contributor to Visual Wilderness, we thought it would be a good idea to start out with an article on tips to photograph winter landscapes.

I’ve done a lot of winter photography in the Canadian Rockies, the Tetons, and various mountains in my home state of Washington and it’s one of my favorite times to shoot. Ice and snow can convey so much drama and color, and create really beautiful and unusual opportunities for composition. It does, however, come with its own set of challenges. Here are some tips that I’ve found helpful along the way.

Mount Kidd Reflecting Pools Winter-Horizontal

Tip #1: Dress warm.

As we all know, landscape photography involves a lot of standing around and waiting for the light. When the temperatures drop you can get cold fast. Dress in layers to keep your body warm. I use a SmartWool mid-weight base and layer up with fleece and a down jacket. It’s also essential to keep your hands warm. I use two pairs of gloves – one pair of heavy mittens and a pair of lightweight gloves that I keep on and can still operate the controls on my camera. I use hand warmer packets in both my shoes and my mittens. Get these heated up while you’re still indoors so they’re warm when you step out. I also keep my face and ears covered with a balaclava (ski mask).

Frozen Pond, Jasper Alberta

Tip #2: Bring the snowshoes.

You know when you step in snow and you sink down to your waist? Walking any distance in that kind of snow is exhausting and takes forever. Bring snowshoes or cross country/back country skis to get away from the parking lot. Even snowshoeing a short distance from where you parked can give you countless more photographic opportunities; you don’t necessarily have to go far. Quite a few of my winter shots were taken while wearing either snow shoes or back country skis. I picked up a cheap pair of snowshoes at an REI “scratch and dent” parking lot sale.

Jasper Sunset

Tip #3: Use the snow to reflect colorful light.

White snow is a wonderful canvas for colorful light. Choose compositions that include fresh snow in the foreground to make use of light during the golden hours.

Abraham Lake Icescape

Tip #4: Prepare your equipment.

Taking warm equipment directly out into the winter cold can cause problems. Condensation can form and your lenses can fog up. While it is not a good idea to leave expensive equipment in the car overnight, try to store your equipment in a cool dry area before heading outside. Batteries also don’t like the cold; they can die more quickly. If your battery is old and it’s extremely cold, it can die instantly. Keep one or two spare batteries in an inside pocket to keep them warm.

Snake River Winter, Grand Tetons

Tip #5: Just do it.

Just get up and go… even if it’s miserable out. How else can you get a stunning photograph? With the right collection of gear and the right techniques, winter photography can be breathtaking.

We are looking forward to more articles from Chip Phillips on Visual Wilderness. In meantime check out some stunning images and post processing tutorials on Chip’s website.

About Author Chip Phillips

Spokane, Washington based photographer Chip Phillips began his relationship with photography in 2006 when his father gave him his old Pentax Spotmatic film SLR camera. Chip was immediately hooked, and soon made the transition to digital. Given his lifelong love of the outdoors, he naturally made the progression to focusing on landscape photography. A professionally trained classical musician, Chip performs as Principal Clarinet with the Spokane Symphony Orchestra, and is Professor of Clarinet at Gonzaga University. Chip’s images have been published in various books and magazines, including Outdoor Photographer, National Geographic, Popular Photography and Imaging, Digital Photography, Digital Photo, and Digital Camera Magazine. In 2009, Chip won first and second place in the landscapes category of Digital Camera magazine's Photographer of the Year contest. Chip is proud to be a founding member of PhotoCascadia, a group consisting of some of the top landscape photographers in the Pacific Northwest.