Winter Photo Tips: Part 3 — Taking Photos

December 19, 2023  •  Leave a Comment

RMNP_winter_landscape_2019_1RMNP_winter_landscape_2019_1A winter landscape in spring in Moraine Park in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. Now that you and your car have everything needed to stay safe and warm when outdoors this winter, let's talk about how to take those stunning winter images. 

Most people actually prefer landscape images of spring through fall. Winter can give a feeling of cold in a home and many people don't visit places in this season so it makes sense that these images don't come with the attraction of the other three seasons. 

So, find a way to make those landscape images feel warm. Look for scenes during the blue hour when even the slightest color of sunset or glowing light in a building will complement the blue tones in the sky.

Continental_Divide_pano_RMNP_2022_1Continental_Divide_pano_RMNP_2022_1A panoramic view of the Continenta Divide in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado at sunrise after a fresh snow. Another option is to photograph wildlife. White animals on a white landscape are some of the most intriguing and stunning photographs of animals. Another benefit of photographing wildlife in winter is that animals pop out on a white landscape. A coyote that blends into the tall, brown grasses in late summer all of a sudden becomes a distinct character on the white landscape. A bull elk walking through a meadow freshly dusted with snow creates an environmental portrait even the most hardened cringer of cold temperatures will appreciate. Finding an animal peaking over a snow bank can create an ethereal scene of soft snow framing your subject.

Arctic_Fox_2Arctic_Fox_2An arctic fox (Alopex lagopus) lies on a snowy rock while licking his lips near Churchill, Manitob, Canada.

Winter, especially in Colorado, really requires finding snowy landscapes. Without the fresh white blanket across a scene, the image can look dull, overly brown and uninteresting. Plus, those scenes can feel like they lack life because the trees are leafless, grasses are dull and lifeless, and flowers are just seed pods. 

But winter can also bring more wind so the best time to head out is immediately after a snowstorm. 

Bison_YNP_2016_7Bison_YNP_2016_7A bull bison (Bos bison) walks through the deep snow in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Watch the weather forecast, looking for a day when the storm subsides overnight. This clearing weather, just like any other time of year, can provide beautiful clouds at sunrise. Remember to look at the weather to the east of where you want to shoot too. Weather patterns move west to east, so if the storm hasn't moved out far enough, the clouds will block the light from reaching your western skies. 

Winter also provides a different color palette, especially on particularly cold mornings. In summer, there may be more reds and oranges, but in winter, when the cold temperatures create more frozen particles in the air, the colors turn more to pastel pinks and blues. This is especially noticeable at sunrise when the alpenglow on the snow-capped mountains makes some of the pinkest scenes I have ever seen.

Pano_Lake_Estes_winter_2017_1Pano_Lake_Estes_winter_2017_1A panoramic photo of Lake Estes and downtown Estes Park looking east as the sun crests the mountains.

Finally, winter weather arriving on the shoulder seasons can create interesting ice formations. Before water freezes and as it starts to thaw, the rise and fall of warm temperatures in late fall and spring or on sunny days can warm the water. Warm water free of ice can create surface fog if the temperatures drop low enough. That fog can condense on surfaces, coating trees, leaves, grasses and other natural elements with rime ice and hoar frost. Places like Caddo Lake on the Texas-Louisiana border, Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico and even Lake Estes in Estes Park where the flowing river and power plant keep the water moving, preventing ice from forming, all have open water and drastic temperature changes for those foggy morning scenes.

Brown-capped_rosy_finch_MVC_1Brown-capped_rosy_finch_MVC_1A brown-capped rosy finch (Leucosticte australis) looks right at the camera while foraging for food on a snowy landscape in Colorado State Forest State Park near Walden, Colorado

To photograph white winter scenes, keep in mind that the camera's automatic exposure will want to create an 18 percent gray scene. That makes snow dull and underexposed. To overcome this, set the camera for one to two stops of additional light to make the snow brighter white. Just watch the histogram and highlight alerts to make sure the whites do not become overexposed and turn to pure white. Losing that detail in the whites is unrecoverable in post processing. 

And when looking at the histogram, you will want to shoot for a bell curve that sits pretty far to the right but doesn't spike out — spikes show blown out highlights. A lot of white in a scene will create a histogram curve that appears overexposed, which is what you want to avoid the gray snow. 

Have fun playing in the snow. 

This post doesn't include any affiliate links but if you would like to help support my work, you can buy me a coffee for those cold Colorado days.


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