Beautiful scenery doesn’t always make for an easy photo trip. Capturing winter landscapes can be challenging
– freezing temperatures and deep snow aside, the tricky lighting can wreak havoc and the sub-zero temperatures can affect your camera gear. That’s not to say that a well-composed photo of a glistening white-covered landscape can’t be made into a work of art.
Setting your camera to capture photos in RAW rather than JPG will offer greater flexibility when it comes to making adjustments to your images in post-production.
When everything is covered in snow, our cameras really struggle to figure out what colour the landscape should be. JPG shots won’t allow you to make amendments to the colour your camera chooses, which means you’re likely to end up with a blue-hued photo. In RAW files, however, the white balance (WB) can be adjusted in editing programs, and make snow look like, well, snow.
Nail the exposure
Getting the exposure right can be tough, but thankfully, most cameras offer various modes, which can help. When it comes to all-white, however, you’re limited to manual mode. The camera will struggle to pick up and filter the light, so manual will give you more control over the amount of light let in. I recommend keeping the light meter on +1 or +2.
If you have a camera with an electronic viewfinder (EVF), you’ll get a real-time preview of the image, which will make setting adjustments easy. Keep in mind it’s always better to overexpose winter landscapes.
I use the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, which has built-in EVF and takes the guesswork out of exposure settings.
Let it rain
If your winter comes wet, rather than pretty and white, make sure you have a weather-sealed camera, like the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II combined with a PRO lens. With this setup, you’ll never have to think about the weather. You can simply go out, layer up and shoot the shiny reflections and moody atmosphere a cold, rainy day offers.
There’s no point venturing outside in the depths of winter only to find yourself chilled to the bone. Capturing good winter photos starts with the right clothing. Sticking to the path and under cover isn’t going to get you the best shot, so be prepared for anything. Rain, hail or shine, you want to make sure you’ve packed more layers than you think you’ll need; that way, you’ll never miss the opportunity for a good shot.
Keep the camera cold
Cold temperatures can put a lot of pressure on your camera gear. Not only does it bring down the battery life, but sudden changes in temperature between your camera bag and outside can cause your camera to fog up. This can be avoided if you keep the camera in the same environment as the one you’ll be working in.
As an extra tip, in extreme cold it’s best to remove the battery and keep that in a warm place (like your pocket). This will help you get more out of your battery life. Don’t forget to pack spares.
With or without a trace
Winter landscapes can be delicate, especially when there’s snow involved. It’s always a good idea to stop and plan what you’re capturing before you take the snap. The path ahead might look beautiful and smooth, but once you’ve driven or walked through the snow, you’ll be leaving a trail of tyre marks and footprints on your canvas. It’s not always a bad thing – sometimes your tracks can add interest to an otherwise plain white layer.
Don’t forget the detail
Did you know that every snowflake is unique? Winter is as much about the details as it is about the big views. If you want something a little different to the rolling white hills and forests dusted in snow, then grab a macro lens and try some up-close photography.
The M.Zuiko 60mm f/2 Macro lens by Olympus is ideal for close-up detail shots and it’s also weather-sealed, so you don’t have to worry about frost or moisture seeping into the lens.
Keep the scale
If you do want to shoot the bigger winter landscape, then all regular photography rules apply. Find a foreground that can relate to the background (remember those footsteps?), and then keep in mind repetition, rule of thirds, contrast and the rest.
Winter landscapes can sometimes seem empty, quiet and, from a compositional point of view, rather boring at first sight, but you can use this to your advantage. Minimal and abstract photos can be really interesting, especially when you can create a warped perception.
Make the most of it
Most importantly, snap it all. You don’t know when you’ll get to experience a dreamy white landscape like this again, so don’t be afraid to experiment and capture as much as possible.
Chris Eyre-Walker is a member of the Olympus Visionary Program, a team of award-winning photographers supported by Olympus.