The winter landscape begs for attention …. clean white snow, icicles, simplified scenery, later sunrises and earlier sunsets, and much more. Lucky for us in New England that winter lasts as long as it does. Winter does require, though, additional preparation, especially if you’re leaving the asphalt and heading towards a waterfall or summit. Take the time to get both yourself and your gear ready and you’ll have a safe and productive session.
Getting yourself ready means wearing the right clothing and carrying the extra you’ll need in an emergency. Multiple layers (NOT cotton!), head to toe. Backup base layer and socks just in case. A second mid-layer too for your torso. Gloves, glove liners, a hat and a balaclava. All of this has negligible weight … and carrying it certainly beats hypothermia or frostbite. There’s a winter hiking checklist here: REI Cold-Weather Hiking Tips. Getting yourself ready also means having the right food. During the winter my day’s rations are 50% carbs, 25% protein, 25% fat, and I drink a lot of water and hot chocolate. The idea is to (almost) continually consume calories; like regularly putting wood in a stove to stay warm you need to ingest calories to burn to keep your internal temperature up. If you’re out just for a day, some great ideas for what snacks to bring are here: Winter Snacks For Day Hikes.
Now, to the photography …. the basic ideas we’ve all learned still apply … an image should have good composition, good use of available light, and something interesting (timing/a story). The difference is it’s really cold, the wind may be howling, and there’s a lot of white on the ground fooling your camera and changing the scenery. Some tips to compensate ….
Overexpose to compensate for the snow. Use your histogram.
Keep your batteries warm. I keep spares in a pouch hung around my neck. I also rubber-band hand warmers to my camera body sometimes.
Use photo-friendly gloves … the mittens that flip back to expose your fingers, textured glove liners that allow you to swipe your phone.
At session’s end put your data cards in a pocket (while still outside) … ‘cause if you take a camera body chilled to 0 F out of the bag once inside the house, it’ll get covered with frost. Keep your camera in the bag until tomorrow morning.
Avoid primes …. using zoom lenses will reduce the amount of lens changes.
Try underexposing to create drama for B&W photos.
Look for and incorporate color.
Get out for sunrise. Look for snow glow on trees.
Freeze snowfall with high ISO and slightly longer shutter … try starting around 1/15 sec.
Concentrate on details … frost, icicles, wind sculpted snow.
These are just some basic thoughts … with a little reflection and an outing or two you’ll probably add a half dozen or so more. Don’t let the difference of a few degrees in temperature (or several inches of snow) keep you indoors ... take advantage of the unique opportunities presented by winter in New England. Get prepped, get out and you’ll have a great winter season and stunning images for your portfolio.
Final Note: At -25 F your fingers will eventually become frozen clubs. They’ll be too cold to swipe your phone to time a minutes-long exposure. Use your nose … it might look funny but it will work.
Be well and stay safe.