With winter hanging on hard this year throughout much of the US and Canada, many of us are still faced with winter conditions if we want to shoot outside. Cold weather photography brings its own set of challenges. As long as you are prepared and know what the challenges are, you can easily take stunning portraits, landscapes or environmental photos. All of the pretty white snow, frost, ice and the freezing temperatures are just begging to be captured.
1. Correct exposure in snow
Snow is your first challenge. You might often find, when taking winter photos outdoors, that your pictures come out underexposed. You need to get it to look white, not grey or blue.
To set your white balance, use a lens hood, and be a “chimp” (check the back of your camera often) in your test shots. Snow tends to fool your camera’s sensor, telling the sensor that everything is overexposed and telling you to darken the shot, and that is why you see blue or grey snow. A lens hood will let less light into your camera, allowing you to get the shot you wanted more easily.
The lens hood also offers a couple of other benefits. It will protect your lens somewhat if you slip or find a wayward branch too close to your lens. It can also keep falling snow from landing on the glass.
If you can, meter your shot from a branch or clump of grass, not snow. You will probably need to correct your exposure compensation by overexposing at least 2/3 stop.
2. You should also be aware of diminished battery life.
In cold weather, your batteries can drain more quickly than normal. It’s a good idea to carry a spare battery in an inner pocket where it will stay warm and charged.
3. Don’t get steamed up.
I have taken portraits in cold weather; it brings a whole new set of issues into the photo. Do you know how many really weird looks I get from clients when I say “1, 2, 3: now, don’t breathe!” When it’s 36 below outside and you exhale, that poof of breath obscures the person’s face. Don’t forget to tell them you have the shot and they can breathe again.
I also hold my breath; I don’t want that little poof going in front of the lens between me and the subject I’m shooting. Please have warm place for your subject to warm up, but do not take the camera inside to warm up. The lens will fog over.
When you do finish your shoot, there are just a few things you should do. Do not put your lens cap on right away. It needs to “unfog”. It’s also a good idea to take your lens right off the camera body and any filters you may have used. This allows all moisture to dry from the camera; moisture will damage your equipment over time. Normally I let the camera body and lens sit for 30 minutes or so. My preference is also to let the batteries warm up before recharging them.
Don’t let cold weather stop you from getting great shots!