I am not going to lie, if I have my choice I will always (always!) choose spring or summer to shoot in. I love dusk during the peak of summer– fields of flowers, the sunset glow illuminating skin and hair and transporting me to a magical, inspiring place. BUT living in Michigan, where 6 months out of the year can be filled with snow and dreary overcast days, I’ve had to adapt and learn how to shoot in less than ideal conditions. Don’t get me wrong, winter photos can be beyond dreamy– but when I started shooting in the cold stuff, I found my photos were coming out a little flat and lifeless. And boy, did they look COLD. I felt like I could literally tell that it was 20 degrees outside just by looking at the blue cast on all my images.
Just like any other situation, there is always something new to learn and new ways to perfect and grow our skills as photographers– and I don’t have all the answers and still learn every time I go out with my gear. Here are just a few tips I have picked up when shooting in the freezing temperatures!
BEFORE THE SHOOT
1. Dress For The Weather
Do I even have to say this? Well I wish someone would have said this to me a few years ago! When I am shooting I get into a zone.. I honestly cannot feel if I am cold, or in the summer if I am overheated. I am so focused that I totally block out everything but what is happening between my subject and lens. This sounds great, except when the shoot is over and you get back in your car and realize you cannot feel your toes… and then, oh wait… I can feel them and they are on FIRE (isn’t that a sign of frost bite?!) Wear good boots. If you are going to be trekking in the snow with your clients, you’ll most likely be placing them and moving around. I learned the hard way that you can’t always judge the depth of a snowy field. Wear tall, waterproof boots so you can go where you want to go to get your shot. Bring gloves! You are going to want to keep your fingers warm so they can keep snapping away– I love mittens that pull back to reveal the cut-off fingers. It’s easy to warm back up, and then I can quickly throw them off to start shooting again. Believe me, you want to be comfortable so you can think clearly and get the photos you want!
2. Keep Your Camera Cold
Now, don’t go strapping your camera to the hood of your car on the way to your shoot! But you do want to keep it cool. Again, I learned the hard way with this one– after taking my gear out of my toasty warm car into 18 degree weather and my lens instantly fogged up. And it is not a simple fix just like wiping it off, the fog can cause damaging condensation inside your lens. And we all know water and camera equipment DOES NOT mix. You can even short out your electrical components. Arrive early to your shoot location and let your camera sit in your bag outside and slowly cool down. This has worked for me so far!
3. Keep Your Batteries Warm
Cold weather drains batteries even faster than normal, so keep extras on inside coat pockets or next to hand warmers.
4. Bring Essential Gear Only
Working in the snow is not the time to load up your Kelly Moore bag with every lens you own. Trust me, you do not want to drop ANYTHING in the snow… it instantly turns to water and you obviously wouldn’t want that to happen.
DURING THE SHOOT
5. Shoot in RAW
White balance can be whack– there is so much white, a lot of natural reflection is happening so you’re going to pick up color from anything the snow bounces back. Cold weather tends to look blue (especially if there isn’t any sun) and the only way to correct that in post is to shoot in raw so you have complete control over the temperature of your image. I only started shooting in RAW last year and I honestly don’t know why I waited. RAW has saved my booty so many times, and once you try it, you’ll never go back. Trust me.
6. Be Aware of Your Surroundings
Once I botched an entire portion of a session because I kept walking back and forth to help adjust my subject. Once I got home I noticed by horrid foot prints all around them and then had to spend over an hour cloning in snow to hide it. Our main goal should be to create images in camera as close to perfect as possible to eliminate the editing time. So take the time to be aware of the entire frame you are capturing. Making a 5 minute adjustment during a session can save your HOURS later.
7. Shoot in Manual
I don’t think I really have to say this one but just in case– shoot in manual, always. Really, there isn’t any situation you should be defaulting to auto or other modes in. Shooting all white snow is tricky as it is, so you need to have complete control over every setting so you aren’t blowing out areas of your image. If you shoot in manual, in RAW and use your histogram (or light meter if you have one!) you will have control to tweak in post, which you definitely want to be able to do!
8. Custom White Balance
If you notice your snow or the whites are looking a little gray, set a custom white balance (your camera manual should have instructions for this, and all you need is a cheap white balance car. I use a small reflector like this one and it works great for me). Custom white balance was another game changer for me in 2014. It helps you get that much closer to correct color and temperature which is less time editing! Newer digital cameras have pretty spot on white balance capabilities (like the Mark 3) but with my Mark 2 we ALWAYS have to custom white balance or every other image is yellow or blue cast.
9. Warm Gear Slowly!
Again, we want to avoid condensation. Can I tell you a horror story? I left my beloved Contax in my car overnight (-2 degree night) and the next day my husband found it and brought it back inside without my knowing. About 45 minutes later I walked into our dining room and found it on our table DRIPPING wet. I almost cried. Miraculously it survived but BOY I learned my lesson about that! I place my camera back in my bag after a shoot and let it slowly warm back up there… usually I won’t blast my heat when I am driving home so it has time to adjust.
10. Post Processing
I always find that my winter images look flat. The usually overcast skies, stark whites and atmospheric haze from snow and condensation makes the images look colorless and slightly fuzzy. The easiest fix for this is to increase the blacks if you are using a program like Lightroom. Talk about an instant life-breather. I usually will also up the clarity and play with vibrancy if I feel like the colors aren’t popping.
These are just some of the things I have learned that have helped me shoot in the colder weather. What about you? Any tips to add? I am ALWAYS looking for ways to shoot smarter so please share!