Do you ever notice how many pictures of pets we see during colder winter months? All joking aside, winter can be a tough time of the year to photograph and we often struggle for ideas and motivation.
Let’s face it, winter skies are often gray, overcast and boring—and the surrounding landscape can be dull and lifeless at times. On top of that, winter light can be challenging to master, the days are shorter—and it’s just so darn cold (at least for many of us living in northern climates). Brrrrr!
Yea I get it. We had our big hurrah during the summer and colorful autumn season, and now it’s time to hibernate for the winter. It’s hard to think about photography when outside temperatures are below freezing and we’re snuggled underneath a fleece blanket with a hot bowl of Chicken Soup by our side.
But with the right mindset and a few ideas to consider, winter can be a wonderful season to photograph. The lower angle of the sun on the horizon makes shadows long and deep while bringing textures to life. Whether strong or diffused; hard or soft—winter light can be moody, contrasty and dramatic. Add in some snow and a dash of color, and you’ve got the makings for visual poetry.
Mind you, this is not a technical article, so I encourage you to learn more about proper winter shooting technique, especially as it relates to concepts like exposure, metering and white balance. Nothing has the potential to bring out highlight ‘blinkies’ faster than a brightly reflective winter scene. And it goes without saying that winter can be hard on both our equipment and bodies, so common sense and safety are always top priorities.
That being said, here are 25 ideas to help get you off the couch during those dreary winter months. It doesn’t take a lot to keep our skills razor sharp and our creative juices flowing—at least until our world once again greens up and thaws out.
1. Move indoors: create a cool still life or mini-world in your basement, or envision the perfect natural light portrait next to a north-facing window. Using flash to capture subjects frozen in motion can also be fun—as can pictures of holiday decorations and lights. Experimenting with macro photography, tilt-shift lenses or shallow depth of field effects (to create dreamy bokeh) can also produce some unique results.
2. Embrace frozen: close-up shots of frozen puddles, ponds, creeks or icicles can reveal amazing patterns and abstractions. Frost or fog on windows can be moody. Foggy or frosty early winter mornings can be sublime. Winter is ideal for abstractions. But whatever you do, never stick your wet tongue onto a frozen tripod.
3. Let it snow: photographing before, during or after snow storms can be dramatic. Snowy scenes (whether in urban/street or rural/landscape locations) can be breathtaking in the right light and with an appropriate subject.
4. Branch out: with their strong shapes, forms, lines and textures—trees without leaves can make bold subjects when set against a colorless landscape or featureless sky. Trees with frost or snow on them can be quite compelling. On the flipside, pine tree forests can be like a fairytale in the right snowy conditions.
5. Think in black & white: whether composing a minimalist winter scene, accentuating an interesting texture, or capturing long shadows whimsically dancing on a snow drift, the contrasty light of winter can present many creative opportunities for black & white compositions.
6. Think in color: look for color contrasts—especially color contrasted against no color. Winter scenes can be monochromatic, which is why a splash of color in an unexpected place can add a lot to our photos. Whether we’re photographing a red barn set against a snowy white landscape, or a winter sunrise (with vibrant reds and oranges) rising above a barren, cool blue landscape—a little bit of winter color can go a long way.
7. Paint with light: winter snowscapes might be a good opportunity to experiment with some light painting—especially during the ethereal “blue hour” before the light turns to complete darkness.
8. Embrace your inner Rockwell: Norman Rockwell that is, ha-ha. There are many spontaneous “slice of life moments” to be captured when the kids go sledding or get into a snowball fight. Winter is great time for outdoor portraits because the overcast light is soft, and snow acts as a natural reflector. Don’t forget about quiet moments, like a photo showing a family member warming themselves by the fire or drinking that first sip of hot cocoa after coming in from the bitter cold.
9. Go wild: break out that long lens and capture some of the critters (squirrels, chipmunks, foxes, etc.) and birds in your backyard or garden.
10. Book a future photo workshop: research and sign up for a spring or summer workshop now—it will give you something to look forward too. Nikonians offers wonderful choices.
11. Start a photography blog: winter is the perfect time to share your thoughts, ideas and experiences. You could also write an article for Nikonians.
12. Get out of Dodge: plan a simple day trip or overnight excursion a few hours away from home. Winter can be an ideal time to visit normally crowded national and state parks.
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