How to shoot winter landscape photography

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Winter is here again, and with it come fresh opportunities to take beautiful photos. If you’ve always wanted to capture the majesty of snow-covered landscapes, keep reading for these simple photography tips. 

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Photo by Thomas Lipke

01. Keep your equipment safe

The cold temperatures of winter can be harsh on your equipment. Since snow can easily wet your gear, consider buying a waterproof bag to keep everything safe and dry.

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Photo by Sead Dedic

A drastic change in temperature can also cause lens fogging—even when your camera is in your bag. To avoid this, place it inside a ziplock bag, and make sure to remove most of the air before sealing it. Doing so prevents moisture from getting in and causing condensation. If you want to be extra-careful, you can even place silica gels in the ziplock bag to suck out the remaining water particles.

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Photo by Jakob Owens

02. Bring extra batteries

Batteries lose power quickly when it’s cold. One way to help solve this problem is to place a hand warmer near where you keep your batteries. Doing so keeps them warm and prevents them from running out of juice too quickly.

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Photo by John Brighenti

However, even if you keep your batteries warm in your bag, they’ll still start losing power as soon as you take them out into the cold. The most practical solution for this problem is to pack more than you think you’ll need.

03. Use exposure compensation

For the most part, exposure meters in modern cameras are highly accurate. But even high-end meters can get confused when it comes to photographing a scene that’s mostly white. That’s why when you try to capture snow in Auto Mode, it often looks greyish, rather than pure white.

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Photo by Natasha Vasiljeva

So, how do you make sure the snow looks white in your images? The simple answer is to use exposure compensation (the button with a +/- sign in most cameras). This increases or decreases the actual exposure value of your image by 1 to 2 units.

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Photo by Nordli Mathisen

04. Snap on a polarizing filter

When you go out in the snow, sometimes the glare is so bright that you need sunglasses to see properly. That’s more or less what a polarizing filter does to your camera sensor; it allows it to capture a scene much more clearly.

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Photo by Simon Matzinger

Polarizing filters come in different sizes, so if you’re thinking of buying one, always make sure that it matches your lens' diameter. 

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Photo by Nathan Peterson

To use the polarizing filter, simply twist it until you get rid of the glare and achieve vivid colors. Just make sure that you don’t shoot directly in front of the sun, otherwise, this could diminish the effect of the filter and produce weird colors.

05. Use a small aperture

To make sure everything in your photo is sharp, stick to a small aperture (somewhere between f/8 to about f/22). Since these values have a large depth of field, everything from the foreground to the background will be in focus.

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Photo by Camille Brodard

In most situations, you don’t need to go beyond f/16. Using the narrowest aperture, such as f/22, can sometimes create blurry results due to diffraction. In other words, when the lens opening is too small, it bends the light waves so much that it creates distortion.

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Photo by Nicolas Leclercq

To keep things simple, use Aperture Priority and let your camera adjust the shutter speed for you.

06. Prioritize composition

Before you press the shutter, think like Ansel Adams and visualize what you want to see in your final photo. Would you like to include the mountains in the background, or do you want to keep them out of the frame? Whatever you choose, make sure that’s exactly what you see in your viewfinder.

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Photo by Pablo Guerrero

To emphasize the snowy landscape, place the horizon high in the frame. Remember that the sky should help enhance the mood of your image, but not dominate it. In the end, the scenery should still take center stage.

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Photo by Les Anderson

07. Look for color and contrast

Sometimes, snow turns everything so white that it’s hard to distinguish the different elements in the landscape. If you don’t want to end up with featureless images, train yourself to start looking for contrast. It could be anything from exposed greenery to colorful rooftops of houses.  

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Photo by John Westrock

The point of adding color and contrast to your images is to give your viewers a point of focus. If everything looks too white, it could take a while for people to figure out what they’re looking at. And if you don’t grab their attention in an instant, there’s a good chance that they'll quickly lose interest in your photos.

08. Shoot in different conditions

The mood of a landscape can change dramatically throughout the day. To evoke different emotions in your images, try capturing sceneries at various times of day and in different weather conditions. Ideally, you’d want to take photos when there’s fresh snow, but that doesn’t mean you should only wait for this one moment before you start clicking the shutter.

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Photo by Kai Krog Halse

You’ll be surprised at how scenic a place can appear if you catch it before sunrise. Similarly, capturing a landscape when it’s overcast provides a completely different atmosphere than when the sun is out. Challenge yourself and learn how to take photographs no matter the condition. You'll be rewarded with a beautifully diverse collection of winter photos.  

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Photo by Lighscape

Winter is such a magical season for going out and shooting winter landscapes. Of course, taking these types of photos can require some technical skills. For the most part, however, it’s all a matter of preparation. Once you're sufficiently prepped for the outdoors, you'll be ready to grab your camera and start exploring.