5 Tips for Better Winter Landscape Photography

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Born and raised in Norway, my opinion might be slightly biased but winter is my favorite season for photography.  Sure, it’s a cold and harsh season but there are so many opportunities to capture beautiful winter landscape images both during the day and night.

I haven’t always been a fan of winter photography, though. In fact, it took me several years after purchasing my first camera before I brought it with me on skiing and hiking trips. Needless to say, it didn’t take many trips before I was hooked and began looking forward to next winter. I quickly realized that photographing during winter is in many ways different than any other season.

There are several new challenges you need to handle and, quite often, everything is white. How do you handle that? Here are five tips to capture better winter landscape images.

5 Tips for Better Winter Landscape Photography

1 – Look for Color Contrast

After a few days of heavy snowfall, the landscape here in Norway is completely white. White trees, white lakes, white mountains and normally a white sky. When everything is white, it’s quite challenging to find a focal element as nothing really stands out.

During days like this, you should be searching for elements of color that stand out in the otherwise white landscape. Here’s an example of a house captured the morning after a heavy snowfall.

5 Tips for Better Winter Landscape Photography

The red cabin is what makes this picture interesting. Without it, the scene lacks a focal element and the viewer’s eyes have no place to rest.

I find red to be a particularly pleasing color in situations like this but search for any dominant color. Perhaps there’s an autumn leaf laying on top of a thin layer of snow, or maybe it’s a few skiers wearing red jackets. Just find a dominant color in the otherwise white landscape and use that as your focal element.

2 – Bright is Better than Dark

When you’re not able to find a colorful focal element that stands out in the frame, overexpose your image. If it’s snowing and there’s no contrast in the sky, winter images can often benefit from being a stop or two brighter. Just avoid clipping the highlights.

5 Tips for Better Winter Landscape Photography

This isn’t something I always do but whenever it’s a whiteout I tend to lean that direction. The slightly overexposed image enhances the whiteout and helps convey just how cold you were when taking the picture, yet it still shows a sense of calmness.

3 – Choose a Cold White Balance

You can either choose White Balance in camera or in post-processing if you’re photographing Raw, a cool color balance is often the most suitable for winter scenes.

Unless it’s a colorful sunset, there’s no reason to use a warm White Balance. Snow is white and the shadows are cool. Using a cold White Balance will help enhance the winter mood while keeping the image more realistic.

5 Tips for Better Winter Landscape Photography

4 – Photograph During Bluehour

Winter is a season with lots of opportunities throughout the entire day; even a sunny winter day is worth taking your camera out for. However, during the last years, I’ve begun to appreciate the blue hour more and more.

The moments before the sun rises or after it sets creates a magical, soft light in the winter landscape, especially near the mountains. This is a time where you should be out with your camera. Even if it’s freezing cold and you’d rather stay at home underneath a blanket, you’re doing yourself a favor by going out with the camera at this time of day.

5 Tips for Better Winter Landscape Photography

If I was only able to choose one time of the day to go photographing during winter it would be the blue hour (well, night-time and aurora chasing might be preferred…)

5 – Bring Extra Batteries and Keep Them Warm!

The last tip is perhaps the most important when it comes to photographing cold climates in general – bring extra batteries. Batteries drain much quicker in winter and if you’re like me and use Live View for most shots, you need to bring at least a few extra batteries – just in case.

I tend to keep at least one spare battery in an inner pocket of my jacket to keep it from draining or failing in the cold temperature. I’ve also found that doing so will result in the battery lasting longer when you do start using it.

5 Tips for Better Winter Landscape Photography

A self-portrait I took on a hike in rough conditions last winter

Lastly, related to keeping the batteries warm, you need to stay warm as well. Always be prepared and rather bring a layer too many than too few. You always want to have the opportunity to dress down, especially if you’re going on a hike.

Over to you

Do you get winter weather where you live? Get out and take some winter landscape shots and share them in the comments below. We’d love to see them.

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Christian Hoiberg Christian Hoiberg is a full-time landscape photographer who helps aspiring photographers develop the skills needed to capture beautiful and impactful images. Visit his website to get a free download of his eBook 30 Tips to Improve Your Landscape Photography.

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