Learn why winter is the best season for photography!
As the days get shorter, we like to curl up and enjoy the comforts of home. We contemplate, consummate and commemorate.
However, now is the best time to get out and create. Winter presents some unique shooting opportunities and qualities for photographers like no other season can.
Quality of Winter Light
The angle of the sun on the horizon is smaller during wintertime, creating numerous pleasing effects for photographers, such as a prolonged period of the magic hour.
We refer to the magic hour as the time around sunrise or sunset, when most of the light is reflected and the direct light of the sun passes through a lot more atmosphere, thus filtering out the harsh neutral or blue cast.
Throughout the entire day, the sun will never reach a high zenith, always illuminating our subjects at a much more pleasing angle. Summer sun often causes extreme shadows and contrast and the lighting shifts more towards blue tones.
Due to the low angle of the sun, textures will look three-dimensional and become alive and shadows will be long and deep. We can use shadows to support our main subject, to hint at the presence of a subject by only showing its shadow or to create a sense of scale by comparing shadows. Shadows are copies of our subjects with different qualities that can greatly enhance our composition.
I live in California and most of the summer all I get is a flat blue sky. Come winter, things change. Suddenly the sky gets interesting. Finally, the setting sun has the reflector it needs to create sunsets we only see get during the winter months. The clouds reflect the sunlight and because it now travels thousands of miles through the atmosphere, its deep red light will illuminate the clouds and the landscape creating unique “scapes” that only photographers know exist and many attribute to the wonders of digital image manipulation.
Winter has many other beneficial weather patterns to offer. Nothing is as exciting as photographing a virgin snowscape in the first light of the day. When a white veil of beauty covers all the unsightly spots and the frost glistens from the trees reflecting the first rays, you know that only winter can provide such beauty.
Tips and Challenges
Here are some technical tips for those of you who need no further convincing that winter time is the prime photography season.
Cameras tend to underexpose white and overexpose black as they gravitate toward neutral grey. You need to overexpose snowscapes by up to 2 stops. If you are shooting sunrises, you will not have much time to figure things out as the light changes quickly, so it is good to know this. Always keep an eye on your histogram.
Shoot RAW at least during those times so you will not have to figure out the white balance. RAW also lets you correct your exposure somewhat.
Once your camera clips your highlights, you cannot recover them. Expose for the brightest spots that you want to be visible.
Batteries do not last as long when cold. Carry enough of them and keep them warm. I usually carry mine in the inside pockets of my jacket and not in my backpack.
If your tripod does not already have some foam around the legs, you may want to put some insulation foam on it. Avoid touching metal in freezing conditions.
When you return from a photoshoot in the cold, let your equipment get warm slowly to avoid condensation inside your lenses. I leave mine in the bag for a couple of hours before taking them out when I am inside. Resist reviewing your photos right away.
Do not miss all the opportunities winter hands you. Take full advantage of the warmer light, the deeper shadows and the favorable weather patterns and your images can look better than ever.