The basic principles of landscape photography remain the same all year round, whatever the weather: frame up your shot properly, add foreground interest, and use the Rule of Thirds to place subjects within the frame… but there are some specific steps that – if followed – will make shooting winter landscapes easier and more enjoyable.
Plan your shoot
Put the hours in at home and you’re guaranteed to notice the difference when you’re out in the field. Planning your time will ensure you make the most of the beautiful light while it’s available, and have even more chance to capture your best ever landscape work.
Firstly: where is the sun coming up and setting? If you already know the scene you want to shoot, a quick look at a site or app like The Photographer’s Ephemeris will show you where the sun’s rays are due to rise and fall, so you can predict the way light will interact with the subjects before your camera – and, crucially, know what time the Golden Hour is due to kick off. This should save you hours of waiting around in the cold: particularly welcome during the pre-Christmas rush when your time is even more precious than usual!
Carry the right kit
Many photographers subscribe to a bag packing philosophy that’s best described as: “take the longest lens you have so you don’t come up short” – which does mean you’re always prepared, but can mean you’re carrying heavy optics with you.
If you’re troubled by heavy loads then you could consider switching to a mirrorless system like the Olympus OM-D or PEN series, or Fujifilm’s X cameras, which would enable you to take an entire range of lenses along for the ride at a fraction of the weight of the DSLR equivalents. Alternatively, a new bag could be the answer: getting one which spreads the weight across your back can help you feel better on long landscape excursions.
Make sure you pack a wide-angle lens to ensure you can capture the entirety of a scene: a telephoto can also help you crop into a shot to isolate details. A tripod will also come in handy to enable you to get your framing just so: ensure it’s light enough to carry but also quick to set up and stable enough to fully support your camera.
Get up earlyish (or stay up later)
Even though winter means sunrise hovers at around 8am and the sun dips at 4pm for most of us in the UK, an early start will give you more chance to get into position nice and early so as to make the most of the changing light. Check the weather forecast before you head out: don’t subject yourself to a rainy day if you can avoid it, and don’t miss those stunning frosty winter mornings!
If you’re lucky enough to be looking at a white Christmas then you’ll need to approach your picture-taking with even more care. The vast swathes of white snow can cause some cameras to over- or under-expose images, so watch those histograms to make sure you’re capturing as much detail as possible. White balances can also be confused by snowfall: experiment with different settings until you’re sure you’ve captured a true-to-life scene. And watch where you’re walking! Photographers strolling around while planning their photos can often realise too late that their tracks have disrupted the un-touched snow…
Keep your gear cosy
It’s not just you who needs to wrap up warm: your kit needs to be kept snug as well. Store spare batteries in your pockets to ensure they don’t lose their charge, and protect your kit from the harshest conditions with a weatherproof bag.
To help stop lens fogging and condensation when coming back in from the cold, ensure your kit’s zipped up in a bag and leave it alone for a few hours to gently and slowly come up to room temperature. Add an extra layer of protection by wrapping your camera in a plastic bag before coming back into the warm.