Tips for Winter Photography

To me, winter photography is one of the most rewarding types of photography. While photographing in cold weather may be challenging, there is a true sense of accomplishment after shooting in extreme weather. And, if you are located in higher latitudes, northern hemisphere photographing in winter is often rewarded with warm light or sightings of Aurora that produces stunning photos.

The Canadian Pacific Train along the Bow River in Banff, Alberta

The Canadian Pacific Train along the Bow River in Banff, Alberta

Here are few tips to help you get started in winter photography…

Stay Warm

My primary recommendation for winter photography is to stay warm. There is nothing more frustrating than being cold to the point where you cannot stand it any longer or, even worse, experience frostbite. If space allows, it is better to pack too much than not enough. Normally, I dress in three layers. A wool base layer, a middle layer, and the outer shell. For my feet, I have a set of wool winter socks and winter waterproof hiking books.  Also, I have a set of crampons/ice cleats for my boots. For my hands, I wear a pair of base layer gloves along with mittens; the mittens provide more warmth because they keep my fingers are together. For my face/head, I have a balaclava face mask and a winter beanie. Lastly, I have hand and toe warmers.

Once I am warm, I can focus on my photography.

A proper northern light welcome show with the starry night in Alberta, CA

A proper northern light welcome show with the starry night in Alberta, CA

Special Considerations

Depending on the extremity of the weather, there may be some special considerations to take into account:

  • When temperatures fall well below freezing, the breath you exhale freezes. It also freezes on the camera, such as on the LCD screen. Your breath can also put a coat of frosting on the lens, so never exhale on the glass.
  • Camera batteries lose their normal output in colder temperatures. One method of prolonging them is to stick a hand/toe warmer on the outside of the battery compartment. Also, the extra batteries can be kept in pockets closer to your body.
Shooting the reflection at Bow Lake

Winter Photography – Shooting the reflection at Bow Lake

Safety

Winter weather can create unsafe conditions. Starting from the basics of transportation, if you are renting a vehicle, make sure it has winter tires. A 4×4 is even better. Also, have appropriate tools in the car for snow/ice removal.

When hiking in snow and ice conditions, your crampons provide extra grip to help with slip and falls. If you encounter a frozen lake, be sure it’s solid before walking on it. Lakes go through stages of freezing and you need to be sure the ice is thick enough to support your weight.

Winter scene over Hamnoy, Norway

Winter Photography – Hamnoy, Norway

Equipment

I shoot with the Nikon D810 and for landscapes, I primarily use the 14-24 lens. I also carry the 24-70 and 70-200. I have a Manfrotto tripod, but lately have been using an Induro GIT504 tripod that a friend let me test. I have a Lee filter system with a 10-stop, 6-stop, graduated filters, and an intervalometer. I house all of this in my Fstop Tilopa backpack. Other items that I carry in my pack include: headlamp, snacks/protein bars, microfiber towel, and a camera shell for shooting in the rain.

A proper northern light welcome show with the starry night in Alberta, CA

A proper northern light welcome show with the starry night in Alberta, CA

This photo above is special to me because it was the first time I ever saw the northern lights. This is at Lake Minnewanka in Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada.

The exposure settings for this photo were:[email protected], ISO 2500. I was shooting longer here because the lights were a bit faint. I set it up with a little bit of water in the shot and the main peak in the center to give the image balance. After taking a few shots, I had the vision to combine the Northern Lights with star trails. So I hooked up my intervalometer and set up a program to take 200 continuous shots, one second apart, and with a 30-second shutter.  This gave me the final result with the circular star trails.

Lying on a frozen lake staring deep into space.

Winter Photography – Lying on a frozen lake staring deep into space.

Above is another shot from Banff National Park. This is a picture of me laying on a lake, staring into the sky and the Milky Way. I had shot a few different compositions, but then slowed down to take in the surroundings and to enjoy the moment. I then had the vision for this shot. I set up the composition by aligning the Milky Way and myself in a way that would create balance. I had the camera set up on the tripod and my settings were the following: Focal Lenght: 14mm, Exposure:[email protected], ISO 2500. Normally when I do shots of my self, I turn on the time lapse mode so the camera can keep shooting continuously. However, my friend was there so he pressed the camera trigger for me. That’s how I was able to capture this winter scene.

In summary, winter photography is simply awesome. The different elements of weather make it more unpredictable which creates opportunities for being more spontaneous.

About Guest Author – Mital Patel

Mital Patel

I got my first camera, a Canon AE-1, when I was 12. It was a gift from my dad. He was our family’s official photographer since before I was born. We’re big on tradition, so as my parents’ first born I was next in line for the duty. I learned how to use a camera shooting my family and our community. But it was when we traveled that I found my passion for landscapes.

Online connections led to real-world creative exchanges in cities and remote regions of North America, where we find perches to set up our cameras and be humbled by the epicness of the natural world. I’ve spent hundreds of hours gazing at stunning expanses of earth, sea, and sky and trying to relay those memories to a broader community through my photography. It never gets old, and I always have a new destination in mind.

  • Deepa

    Amazing! It is nice to know about the winter photography. Thanks for posting

  • Jorge

    Awesome shots! I also have a D810, do you get hot pixels with exposures of 30sec? how do you handle that? LE noise reduction on?
    Thanks!
    Jorge