The Christmas holidays are gone for the most part. Milwaukee has had less than 2 inches of snow this season during a month that normally averages about 9 inches. This is great for not having to drive in it or shovel it but many Milwaukee photographers are anxiously awaiting snow flakes to awaken the sleepiness of their cameras and lenses, especially those that may have come newly wrapped under the trees this year. In preparation of those snowy days comes a few helpful hints to assist in getting perfect, enchanting snow day photos.
As in any other time of the year, one of the main keys to photography is ‘timing is everything’. Two of the best times of the day to shoot anything outdoors are during the morning hours and late afternoon, dusk hours. This is particularly important on bright sunny days with the bright white snow. The low angle of the sun in the early morning and late afternoon dusk hours casts enchanting long shadows adding interesting contrasts to subjects of all kinds. Watch for the shadows of tall trees cast on the blanket of snow which add lines and texture to your winter landscapes. Keep the sun at a right angle when it is low and directly behind you when it is high in the sky. Try some night photography when the moon is full. The wonderful blanket of white snow acts as a reflector with the light of the moon.
Keep in mind that when metering your scene during Milwaukee snow days, which means a lot of white, your camera’s automatic metering is going to read that white stuff at an 18% gray tone. This, of course, means a resulting shot of ‘gray’ snow and other objects being black. A simple adjustment to compensate for this would be to over-expose by one or two stops. This can be done by opening your aperture up one or two stops to let in more light, slow your shutter speed down thus allowing more light in, or setting your EV up by +1 or +2. You can use your automatic exposure compensation settings to have this adjusted automatically if this option is available on your particular camera. For the first couple of shots, you only need to review and see which one you like the most and set the parameters for future shots accordingly. Of course, if you change your composition up at all, further adjustments may need to be made.
Look for objects of interest with some color and or texture to add interest to your otherwise plain winter landscape shot that might be filled with just snow. Utilize a graduated filter to add some color to an otherwise gray wintery sky. Watch for patterns and textures that are created when the ground is not completely covered by snow. Remember to recompose often. Move around and find a different perspective. Take the shot from a higher or lower perspective than normal.
Using a slow shutter speed during snowfalls will add a dreamy effect to your landscape photos. Use settings similar to shooting waterfalls. Focus on the main subject. Use a smaller aperture (higher fstop) and slow the shutter speed down. Be sure to keep in mind that you want to overexpose a little bit so as not to underexpose your main subject. Fill flash can be used to fill in shadows and back lit subjects in the foreground or to add some magical sparkle from the winter snow.
Winter photography provides an additional benefit for landscape photography when photographing subjects at a distance or doing long range landscapes covering a large area. The winter air is normally much cleaner as pollution particles are cleared out temporarily thus providing shots that are clearer and crisper than other times of the year.
Use a tripod as much as possible. Winter days can be overcast and gray requiring a slower shutter speed and larger chance of camera shake. A good tripod also comes in handy for those moonlight or late evening shots.
Prepare yourself and your camera for the cold winter day photography. Snow days are right around the corner.
(Resources include New York Institute of Photography, Shutterbug, Newsweek, personal experience)
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