Winter has it’s challenges, especially when you are a photographer.
It means shorter days and lack of light, and for some much, colder temps.
It can be hard to stay motivated when it’s dark by the time many of us leave work, and even harder to get outside and shoot when it’s below freezing. We all experience winter in one way or another. Whether you live in a warmer climate and find the shorter days challenging to pick up your camera daily, or live in a colder climate that not only experiences shorter days, but inclement weather as well.
Here are some ways to stay motivated, no matter the light or weather.
I’ve lived in Michigan my entire life, and while our winters may not be as harsh as some, we still have days where schools close because of the cold and blizzards can bring white out conditions. Our harsh winters are something I have grown accustomed to, and have grown to embrace and enjoy. Sure, I might not LOVE the -20 degrees with windchill, but there is magic in snow… especially that first snowfall.
If you have ever experienced snow as a child, you know what I’m talking about. I think somewhere along the way as we get older, we slowly lose that sense of wonder. As a child those heavy snowfalls often meant a possible snow day, but as an adult it often means something entirely different. Many of us have to figure out childcare for the day before having to trudge through the snow and bad traffic to head to work. I think these responsibilities that fall on us as adults change the way we see things, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
There is magic in snow: the way it softly falls, the way it piles itself on pine trees bending their branches to the ground, the way our children eagerly put on their layers and layers of clothing to dive into the freshly fallen piles and build snowmen, forts and have snowball fights. Let’s not forget that sound either… that sound when you are out in the woods while the snow is falling and everything is quiet except for the soft patter of snow hitting the trees and ground.
Why do so many of us find it challenging to to pick up our camera when there is all that magic going on outside our home?
It’s cold! I think one of the hardest things is getting motivated to undertake the process of getting ready and taking that first step outside. It’s similar to waking up first thing in the morning to head to the gym. The hardest part is getting out of bed and getting ready, but once you are at the gym you don’t regret it. So what do I recommend?
Give yourself lots of time to get ready!
Just like in the summer, I prefer to shoot during golden hour in the winter outside. However, unlike summer, it can easily take 30 minutes to warmly dress all three of my young boys and myself (picture the mom from A Christmas Story getting her boys ready for school… that’s what I look like). Therefore, it’s important to allow yourself lots of time to get ready.
Check the temperature and dress for the weather. We wear multiple layers to make sure we are comfortable… whether we are spending 15 minutes outside or two hours. It’s a simple thing, but it makes a big difference.
Care for your gear
Be prepared for your camera to freeze up on you, especially when it’s well below freezing. I’ve found my camera starts to freeze when the temps are close to the single digits. I’ll often try to press the shutter and nothing will happen. It can be frustrating especially when trying to capture a fleeting moment.
Just remember to be patient, and carry a camera bag with you to store your camera in when you are not using it. This will help keep it warmer. Also, make sure to bring extra batteries with you. Colder temps will often drain your batteries faster. The cheap hand warmers that are air activated can help keep your hands, camera, and gear warm if spending extended time in the cold.
Not only is it a good idea to keep your camera in your camera bag if you are not using it outside, but if it’s snowing it’s a good idea to also have a cover for your camera to protect it from getting wet. I purchased my DSLR rain cover from Amazon for $15 and it’s come in handy for any sort of inclimate weather.
Underexpose in the snow
Photographing subjects in snow scenes can bring different challenges. I often intentionally underexpose in camera. The intent is to make sure I’m not blowing any of my highlights. It’s easy to do that with lots of white snow in the frame since light reflects off white. Therefore, I make sure to have my blinkies turned on in camera (this feature tells you when your highlights are blown by flashing black on your LCD screen), and then when editing I will often raise exposure solely on my subject if needed.
Make the snow stand out
If you happen to be out with your camera when it’s snowing, one way to make falling snow pop is by finding a dark background to place your subject in front of. The dark background will make the freshly falling snow pop and easier to see. I often love to find woods or pine trees for my subject to be in front of if it is snowing.
Stay motivated when the days are shorter
One of the challenges with winter that we all face is the shorter days and lack of natural light. I’ve found that many of us (including myself) find it challenging to stay inspired during the winter, but in many ways, there is no better time for personal growth than the winter. If your family is like mine, summer is a busy time. It’s often packed with trips and schedules are always hectic.
However, in the winter things slow down for my family. That’s when I have found it’s a great time to push myself creatively and take online photography workshops or read a great photography book. The shorter days allow for more time to study, learn and be inspired.
Push yourself creatively
Winter is a perfect time to also push yourself creatively. It’s a time when I like to experiment with things like artificial light, freelensing, getting in the frame with my children and self portraiture.
I recently purchased an Ice Light and have been using it when I feel I’m not getting enough natural light on my subject… which happens a lot in the winter. I often place the light in a window closest to my subject to add contrast. Sometimes the natural light is practically nonexistent and the only light illuminating my subject is from my Ice Light.
Don’t be afraid to bump up your ISO when working with low light situations. You are going to have less noise in your image if it’s properly exposed with a high ISO than if it’s underexposed and you have to bring up exposure in post.
Explore your home
Not all of us are fans of snow and sometimes the weather can be too extreme for us to get out, so we end up getting stuck inside. There have been times where I felt like I was going crazy photographing the same thing over and over because my family was stuck inside from bad weather.
Winter is the perfect time to explore your home. Carry your camera with you throughout the day and capture your everyday routine. For example: making breakfast for your children, pretty light falling on a pile of dirty dishes, getting your children dressed for school, and so on. Study the light in your home throughout the day. Watch how the light falls and changes in each room from dawn till dusk. You might be surprised to find new and beautiful areas to shoot in.
There is no better time to grow in your photography journey than the winter. Take advantage of the slower schedules and push yourself creatively. Set an attainable goal for yourself. Get outside and explore.