Winter Comp 1
E-M1 Mark II, M.Zuiko Digital ED 7-14mm F2.8 PRO, ISO640, 3.2s, f/3.2

I have a love-hate relationship with winter. I won't get into why I hate winter (too cold, short days, high heating bills, driving sucks... okay, so I got into it a bit). For photography however, I love winter. Once the autumn leaves hit the ground and everything looks dull and grey, I find myself dreaming of winter. There's nothing like a fresh blanket of snow to brighten up a landscape scene. And that same landscape can look quite different from day to day considering how variable the weather and lighting can be during the winter. 

Is winter photography really any different from that of other seasons? Yes, and no. The basics of landscape photograph apply regardless of the season, but my approach and preparedness can be different in the winter. Here are some tips that might help you improve your winter compositions:

1

FOCUS ON WINTER'S UNIQUE FEATURES

Winter definitely has elements that no other season has - mainly, ice and snow. Incorporate them as key subjects in your compositions. Sometimes those ice formations may not look all that impressive from the height of a 6'2" photographer like myself. That's when I get in close, shoot low and use an ultra-wide angle lens, making them look larger and more dramatic than they really are. By getting in close you can also take advantage of how nicely some ice features can transmit the light.

Arch
The height of this ice arch was just over two feet, but by placing the camera low, angling it upward and using an ultra-wide angle lens I was able to exaggerate the appearance and give it a more dramatic look. (E-M1 Mark II, M.Zuiko Digital ED 7-14mm F2.8 PRO, ISO200, 1/200s, F6.3
branches
Only a few, lower branches on this tree were covered with icicles so I opted to focus on a small section rather than the whole tree. This shot was also focus bracketed in order to maintain clarity in the icicles and softness in the background. (E-M1 Mark II, M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm F2.8 PRO, ISO200, 1/800s, f/4.5)
shrubs
These frost-covered shrubs were less than a foot tall so I dug a small hole in the snow and placed the camera in it with the lens angled upwards which allowed the branches to rise above the horizon. (E-M1 Mark II, M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm F2.8 PRO, ISO400, 1/40s, f/9)
2

PLAY IN THE SNOW

I have to admit that I don't like photographing in the rain. My gear can handle it, but I'm not at all thrilled with working in wet weather. But the snow? Bring it on! I love what heavy snow can do to the look of scene, especially when the background fades away due to reduced visibility. No photograph is worth your safety, so only go out in nasty conditions if you are comfortable with it. Use a lens hood and keep the lens cap on until you are ready to shoot to keep unwanted snowflakes off the lens element. If you want to 'freeze' your snowflakes in place select a shutter speed of 1/125s or faster. Slower than that and your flakes will 'streak'.

Snow
E-M1 Mark II, M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm F2.8 PRO, ISO2000, 1/80s, f/5.6
Mill
E-M10 Mark III, M.Zuiko Digital 17mm F1.2 PRO, ISO800, 1/320s, f/7.1
Horses
E-M1 Mark II, M.Zuiko Digital ED 40-150mm F2.8 PRO, ISO400, 1/320s, f/6.3
3

LOOK FOR COLOR CONTRASTS

As much as I like that white blanket covering the landscape, it is rather monotonous. Spice it up by looking for any splash of color. I always shoot RAW, but when color is important I will also shoot jpeg using the Vivid color mode. This can be particularly useful when shooting on an overcast day.

+ 1.0 EV
These two red barns stood out quite nicely against the snow-covered field. (E-M1 Mark II, M.Zuiko Digital ED 40-150mm F2.8 PRO, ISO400, 1/125s, f/7.1)
chairs
These colorful chairs seemed quite out of place on the shore of an ice-covered bay and gave a summertime feel to this winter scene. (E-M1 Mark II, M.Zuiko Digital ED 7-14mm F2.8 PRO, ISO200, 1/400s, f/6.3)
4

SHOOT AT THE BOOKENDS OF THE DAY

Speaking of color, winter sunrises and sunsets can be fantastic and you don't have to get up as early or stay out as late to capture them. Get lots of depth in your photos by including some foreground interest. A good graduated neutral density filter can also help balance your exposure and keep that ice and from looking too dull.

ice chunks at sunrise
The chunks of ice made for the perfect foreground while a medium GND filter helped control the overall exposure. (E-M1 Mark II, M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm F2.8 PRO, ISO200, 1/4s, f/18)
Sunset
Ice can provide some interesting textures, but you have to get close in order to capture them. With the front lens element only a few inches away from the ice, I used focus bracketing to help maintain clarity throughout the image. (E-M1 Mark II, M.Zuiko Digital ED 7-14mm F2.8 PRO, ISO200, 1/200s, f/6.3)
5

CONTROL THE BLUES

Now, I'm not talking about your mood here. Although I have to admit that photography helps keep my winter blues in check. I'm talking about a bright blue sky. Typically, I avoid shooting during the midday, but with limited daylight hours and a sun that never climbs too high in the sky I find I get great results long after golden hour. However, a plain blue sky can be just plain boring so add some interest to that sky by using some type of natural frame. Snow-covered branches can be the perfect fix for the blues.

house in snow
Mild weather followed by a good snowfall will usually lead to a nice coating of the white stuff on all surfaces. It's the perfect time to get out and capture the winter wonderland around you. (E-M1 Mark II, M.Zuiko Digital ED 7-14mm F2.8 PRO, ISO200, 1/500s, f/7.1)
Landscape with branches
E-M1 Mark II, M.Zuiko Digital ED 7-14mm F2.8 PRO, ISO200, 1/320s, f/7.1
6

PHOTOGRAPH PEOPLE

There are many landscape photographers that don't like to include people in their images. After all, we try to get away from people and enjoy the natural beauty that exists. That said, there are several reasons why I will include people in my photos;

  • to help tell a story
  • to provide a point of interest
  • to offer a sense of scale

The photos below do all three. The question I always ask however is, does including people add or detract from the overall composition. If adding the human element to an image doesn't improve the overall composition don't include them. 

hikers
While snowshoeing through the San Juan mountains of Colorado we came across this opening in the trees that provided a nice vantage point. By sending my fellow snowshoers on ahead I was able to include them in the photo thereby providing a key point of interest and a sense of scale for the scene. (E-M1 Mark II, M.Zuiko Digital ED 7-14mm F2.8 PRO, ISO200, 1/320s, f/9)
Cliffs
Without these ice climbers in the image it would be difficult to comprehend the scale of these cliffs. Can you see all 5 climbers? (E-M1 Mark II, M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-100mm F4.0 IS PRO, ISO800, 1/250s, f/6.3)
Frozen Waterfall
A fisheye lens was the perfect solution to shooting in this tight space behind a frozen waterfall. Without any other people around I opted to photograph myself. ( E-M1 Mark II, M.Zuiko Digital ED 8mm F1.8 FISHEYE PRO, ISO400, 1/20s, f/7.1)
7

MAKE YOUR OWN POINT OF INTEREST

In each of the photos in this article I have tried to include at least one key element that your eye will be drawn to. Sometimes you get to a location and there really isn't anything that jumps out at you and screams, "Photograph me!". In those situations I know I have to work the scene. That might mean manipulating the environment a bit in order to create a point of interest that will draw the viewer into the image. 

Standing ice
When I arrived at this shoreline I was greeted with a wonderful palette of colors, but no real point of interest so I flipped this piece of ice up on its edge and used it as my main subject. (E-M1, M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm F2.8 PRO, ISO200, 1/125s, f/11)
Standing ice 2
My distaste for a plain blue sky came through in this image. I anticipated some nice clouds for the sunset, but as the sun neared the horizon they had drifted off. Not willing to leave empty handed I picked up some chunks of ice and built this Inukshuk. (E-M10 Mark II, M.Zuiko Digital ED 8mm F1.8 FISHEYE PRO, ISO400, 1/160s, f/14)
8

FOCUS IN ON THE DETAILS

This strategy works regardless of the season. Rather than just looking at the big picture spend some time focusing in on the minutiae of the scene. Frost and ice can really make a plain subject pop. Areas with open water, or nights with higher humidity can create some great hoarfrost when the thermometer dips below freezing.

Chain
In order to completely separate this barbed wire from the background I used a fairly large aperture and used focus stacking, since a single image wasn't providing quite enough depth of field. (E-M1 Mark II, M.Zuiko Digital ED 40-150mm F2.8 PRO, ISO200, 1/1250s, f/3.5)
trees
In the winter, waterfalls can yield some very interesting ice features, including some very thick frost. After get my fill of waterfall shots I turned my attention to the surrounding trees. (E-510, 14-42mm 1:3.5-5.6, ISO400, 1/60s, f/11)
Window
E-M1 Mark II, M.Zuiko Digital ED 7-14mm F2.8 PRO, ISO400, 1/125s, f/6.3

Within this article my entire focus has been on providing compositional strategies without looking at some of the more technical aspects of winter photography, i.e. camera settings and the like. For that information check out my previous post on Winter Photo Tips. Of course, many of these ideas about composition can apply to any season. Perhaps the hardest part is to find the motivation to go exploring during the winter. Based on experience, the opportunities abound. We just have to go find them.

 

Republished with permission from Peter Baumgarten's Creative Island Photo blog. To comment on this article or ask Peter a question, please view original post.

ABOUT PETER

Web: creativeislandphoto.com
Blog: creativeislandphoto.com/blog
Twitter: @creativeisland4

Peter has been a dedicated Olympus shooter for nearly 40 years, and has found a way to combine his passion for photography with his love of teaching to develop photography workshops with a focus on landscape, wildlife and astrophotography. Peter’s work has been published in a number of magazines including Canadian Geographic, Shutterbug and Outdoor Photographer. He maintains his own blog with an emphasis on tutorials that assist others in bringing their photography up to the next level.

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