Winter is a fantastic time to shoot scenics. Yeah, you’re going to be cold, but that’s why they sell fleece. Yeah, you’re going to look 50 pounds overweight with all the layers, but it’s not YOU getting photographed. Yeah, you fear getting snow in your shoes, but that’s why you buy high boots and gaiters... and that’s why you buy chemical warming packs for your hands and feet … and that’s why you put insulating pads around your tripod … etc. etc. etc. So no whining, and use the suggestions found below to make some great winter scenics.
There are many positives with regards to photographing winter scenics. You get to sleep in later than if you were to photograph in the middle of June. In that photography is “all about the light,” shooting in the winter has a huge benefit, as the angle of the sun is a lot lower. This allows you to make pictures for longer periods of time. Contours of shadows and highlights remain long after the sun rises. Finally, in that many photographers continue to remain fair weather shooters, should you decide to get out there in the winter, you’ll have a lot less competition—this is huge!
Regardless of the time of year, the time of day is critical. Be at your destination before the sun comes up and stay until after it sets. Dress in layers, as dawn and dusk will be brisk. Layers work better than one heavy coat. You can more efficiently adjust your comfort level to the outside temperature by removing pieces of clothing. If all you wear is a heavy jacket, you limit how you can adjust to the ambient temps.
The head, hands and feet are the most critical body parts to keep warm and comfortable. Silk liners accompanied by an over-the-calf fleece sock and insulated boots should keep your feet warm. If your toes easily chill, chemical pack toe warmers add comfort. If your quest for a great photo brings you through snow, get yourself a pair of snow gaiters that place a protective barrier over your pants and boots so snow can’t enter. For your hands, your first line of defense is a pair of glove liners. Around them, wear a pair of mittens that fold back exposing your fingers so you can use the controls of the camera. Use glove liners thin enough to allow this. Heavy gloves make it difficult to press buttons and turn dials. If it’s very cold or if you’ll be out for a long period of time, use chemical warming packs in the mittens. For your head, wear a thick fleece hat that covers your ears and back of the neck. Carry a balaclava that goes around the face just in case it gets very cold. Keep batteries warm, as the cold robs them of their power. Carry lots of spares, and keep them in a warm pocket close to you rather than in an outside pocket.
To create the best winter scenics, here are the key factors: shoot at sunrise and sunset for the best possible light / watch how the shadows and highlights play off each other and exploit them to their fullest / check your histogram to make sure you don’t blow out highlights in the snow. Do this sparingly as you’ll quickly use up the power in the batteries / check the white balance so the snow doesn’t look too blue. With this in mind, shoot in RAW, as you can fix errant white balance after the fact / shoot with the sun to your side, as it produces images that show texture— sidelight plays upon the subject. Stay warm, have fun and return home with some great images.