Winter’s frigid temperatures, early sunsets, and desolate landscapes. Winter makes me want to hibernate inside, count down the days until spring, and drink my body weight in hot chocolate!!!
However, this time of year actually holds many unique opportunities for photos and making memories. Whether it’s the beautiful bokeh of Christmas lights, a quiet snowfall, or holiday traditions, don’t let your camera collect dust during these colder months. Let these ideas inspire your winter photos.
The end of the year is filled with photo-worthy family traditions! Baking cookies, lighting candles, decorating the Christmas tree, exchanging gifts, or reading by the fireplace are all great opportunities for taking out your camera.
Make a list of some of your family’s favorite winter activities. Create a list of some key moments you want to capture. Add variety to your photos by getting in close for detail shots and then stepping back to capture the whole scene.
It wouldn’t be the holidays without strings of lights. They adorn Christmas trees, rooftops, shopping centers, and parks and lend a special magic to any scene. These lights give the perfect opportunity to create fairy bokeh – blurry, unfocused circles of light.
You create bokeh using a narrow depth of field with a large aperture. Set-up your photo with lights far off in the distance behind your subject or in between the camera and your subject.
Bokeh can also be the subject! Switch the focus on your lens to manual and twist until you get the desired blurry effect.
For additional fun, create bokeh shapes! You can make bokeh hearts, stars, or crosses with your own DIY filters.
All you need is black poster board, scissors, and a craft knife. Trace your lens cap on the black poster board, and cut out the circle. Draw your desired shape in the middle, and use the craft knife to cut it out. Hold your filter up to your lens and watch how the light molds into your shape in your pictures!
Extra-magical golden hour
Shooting during the magic of golden hour is a revelation for any photographer. With the sun lower in the sky, the light becomes softer, warmer in color, and beautiful from every angle.
The great news about winter is that, depending on where you live, many will experience a longer golden hour because the sun moves through the sky at a more oblique angle. The more northern your location, the longer the sun will hover around the horizon.
Use this opportunity to experiment creating silhouettes against a colorful sunset. Or perhaps you can capture the golden light sparkling on freshly fallen snow. You can even throw some fresh snow up in the air to make your own golden glitter!
For kids, there’s nothing like the excitement of waking up to a blanket of snow on the ground and no school. Capture the first footsteps in the fresh snow, tongues catching snowflakes, snowball fights, the pile of kids at the bottom of the sledding hill, and rosy pink cheeks.
Are the kids too little or the temperatures are too cold to go outside? Bring a few buckets of snow inside and let them build their snowman in the bathtub!
Exposure and white balance can be tricky when shooting with snow. Keep an eye on your camera’s histogram and turn on the highlight alert feature to make sure you aren’t blowing the highlights and losing details in the bright snow.
Snow will reflect colors. Sometimes this is desirable such as the reflection of a warm golden sunset. But in general, aim for white – not yellow or blue – snow. You can set your white balance in camera or adjust it in post processing.
Flowers usually get the spotlight when it comes to macro photography. But don’t have to away your macro lenses in the winter! Frost-covered branches, snowflakes, frozen spider webs, and even frozen soap bubbles can keep you busy all winter. No fancy macro lens required – macro filters and mobile macro lenses offer simple, inexpensive ways to play along.
When shooting outside in cold temperatures or snow, be sure to protect your gear from the elements. Rain covers will help shield your camera against moisture. I’ve even used an umbrella during a snow storm. Before you return to the warmth of inside, put your camera in a large resealable bag. Allow your gear to come to room temperature before taking it out of the bag to keep condensation at bay.
Without spring blossoms, summer greens, or fall foliage, winter landscapes and cityscapes may seem pretty bleak. But I think you should embrace this!
Winter’s harsh landscape is a great opportunity to focus on texture, light, composition, and mood. Look for interesting architectural lines, shapes, and textures in the city. Get up early to capture the foggy sunrise over a frozen pond. Capture the silhouettes of barren trees along a winding road. Use pops of color against the neutral palette of white snow and grey city streets. Or accentuate the textures and lines by experimenting with black and white edits.
The possibilities for winter landscapes are endless. Even better, they will allow you to see the beauty in what can often seem stark and lifeless.
The magic of winter isn’t confined to the outdoors. Once you’ve had your fill of snow and cold, tell the story of getting warm and cozy inside!
The piles of wet snow boots and dripping mittens, steaming cups of hot chocolate, and crackling fireplaces all provide moments to get in close and capture memories.
Don’t let winter give you the blues this year. Stay inspired and get creative with all of the different shooting techniques and unique subjects that the winter months have to offer!