Text and photographs by John and Arlene Neilson
For many, the idea of photographing outside in winter is not very appealing, yet winter photography has much to offer. For starters, most serious outdoor photographers cherish the light of early morning, just before or immediately after dawn. The warm light of this time of day, coupled with any mist or fog, can make for stunning images. The advantage of winter photography is that these golden rays occur at times when most people are awake and ready for action.
Another advantage of winter from a photographic point of view is that snow covers a multitude of visual sins. You can achieve clean and tidy images without the distractions that can intrude when the ground is uncovered. In short, the snow of winter can provide a pleasing backdrop that can be hard to come by at other times of the year.
To be certain, winter has its challenges. Cameras and film work reluctantly in cold weather, to say nothing of photographers. Cold film must be handled carefully as it is prone to breakage, or worse, static electrical discharge which causes unwanted distortions in your photographs. Cameras, and particularly their batteries, also do not take kindly to the cold. To avoid these problems try the following:
- Keep a spare set of batteries handy and warm in an inside pocket.
- Avoid rewinding film when it is cold or do so manually at a slow speed.
- Wrap your camera and lenses in watertight plastic bags when coming in from the cold and keep them there until they warm up. This prevents condensation that can damage photographic gear.
- Keep your camera dry in rain or freezing rain conditions with a waterproof cover. A plastic shower cap does a fine job.
- Insulate your tripod legs to save your hands from the numbing cold of handling bare metal. Dress warmly, particularly paying attention to your feet and hands.
- Try to avoid breathing when you are composing a shot nothing is more distracting than a fogged viewfinder.
Underexposure is another problem common to winter photography. Many winter scenes are inherently bright due to the snow and, consequently, camera exposure meters compensate by reducing exposure. For this reason, the photographer should, more often than not, take steps to increase exposure, particularly when the viewfinder shows a lot of snow or light tones. For those cameras with exposure compensation or a manual exposure setting, this is not difficult usually increasing exposure by one stop will improve matters. Cameras lacking such features may have a backlight option that will provide a similar correction.
In wintertime, the attraction of birds to feeders can create some wonderful photographic opportunities. When setting up your feeder, keep in mind your needs as well as the birds. Try to arrange it so that the area behind the feeder is as non-distracting as possible - preferably sufficiently far from the feeder so that it can be thrown out of focus. A setup that allows the photographer to shoot through a window is ideal in that it provides both a blind and comfortable working conditions. A long (300 mm or longer), fast (f4 or faster) lens is a virtual necessity for bird photography. Assuming natural lighting is used, one should select a film which is fast enough to ensure that shutter speeds can be at least 1/250th of a second for the anticipated lighting conditions and lens apertures.
With a bit of planning and creativity, winter is an ideal time for getting some unique and possibly stunning photographs of nature. Brace yourself against the cold and see what you can accomplish.