With winter well underway we thought it was time to put a few tips together for anyone looking to go out and shoot in the colder months. If you get a chance to take photos in the snow (for the lucky few that actually get snow in this big old country of ours), there are a few things to keep in mind. Below are a handful of things I discovered while walking the streets of Europe during the coldest months and dealing with snow, sleet and rain.
The first thing anyone will tell you is that keeping your camera’s batteries warm is a necessity. This is spot-on as the cold temperatures can dramatically reduce the performance of your batteries. When possible, keep your batteries housed within an internal pocket so that they are warm and retain their charge better. Make sure they are fully charged at the start of each shoot and have a spare one handy as batteries lose charge quicker in cold weather. Always be ready to shoot!
Pay careful attention to your exposure. Some scenes that are predominantly white may cause confusion to your exposure metering system and attempt to underexpose the photo, giving a greyish look to the snow instead of a crisp white. If this is happening you can either set your exposure manually to get the result you want or overexpose the photo by 1 to 1.5 stops on the exposure recommended by your camera.
Be mindful of where you step to ensure you don't leave footprints throughout the scene. An ideal solution is to wake up and trek out early before the snow begins to melt and before people walk around, leaving footprints everywhere. I was lucky to be in Hyde Park, London where it had snowed the night before and made it to the park first thing in the morning. I captured some great shots of the park while it was almost deserted with a thick layer of snow on everything. By around 10:30am it had reduced to a snowy mush and looked decidedly less photogenic.
If you choose to shoot in JPEG then make sure your white balance is set to daylight so the snow will appear white. If you know how to set a manual white balance in your camera then this could also be done using a photo of the snow although in theory this should give you the same white balance setting as the 'daylight' option. If you shoot in RAW then disregard this advice as you will have a colour balance option during your RAW conversion. I always shoot in RAW as it provides maximum control during post-processing.
If your camera has no weather seals then take precautions to keep it dry. My Canon 5D MKII DSLR is weather sealed and has survived through rain, snow, sleet, and hail with zero adverse effects. I hate passing on photo opportunities and some of my best shots were taken during difficult weather scenarios. Make sure you check for snow or water drops on your lens that will show up in the photo. If moisture is present, ensure you dry it as soon as possible! If your camera is not weather sealed then be extra cautious when water is present as cameras and water generally don't go well together and water damage is not covered under manufacturer’s warranty.
If you wish to shoot portraits in the snow then consider encouraging the subject to wear a bright, bold colour in order to draw attention to them so that they don't get 'lost' in the frame. Red generally works quite well.
Dress appropriately for the weather. Think warm. If it’s going to be windy then keep this in mind as the temperature can drop rapidly due to the wind chill factor. One of the coldest days for me was in Edinburgh when the temperature was approximately 2oC but then the wind picked up and it felt like I was in a deep freeze with the wind punching through every tiny gap in my clothing. I don't normally wear gloves while shooting but on occasion it has been necessary. This is when being experienced with your camera and knowing where all the buttons are is handy so that when you can only feel them with limited tactile feedback, the task is no challenge for you.
Acclimatise your camera when you go back inside. I keep mine safely housed in my camera bag and under no circumstance will I ever remove the lens from the body until I am certain that the camera has reached the room’s ambient temperature which typically takes at least half an hour. If you don't take this precaution then condensation may form inside your camera which can only lead to undesirable outcomes.
Finally, as with any form of photography, be on the lookout for any kind of photo that may present itself from macro to the grand-vista.
If you do get a chance to shoot some winter photos then share your pics on this blog or with our Facebook community for live feedback and prize giveaways! We LOVE seeing photos taken by our talented customers and community fans!
Good luck and stay warm this winter!
- Marc @ DCW