5 Tips for Winter Photography

 Spring Ledge Point Light - Portland, ME Temp:   -9° F ISO 500 - 120mm - f9.0 -  1/640 sec

Spring Ledge Point Light - Portland, ME
Temp:   -9° F
ISO 500 - 120mm - f9.0 -  1/640 sec

Winter photography in New England can be brutal, but the results can be spectacular if you are willing to brave the elements. Some of my most memorable excursions have been when the weather was at its worst, and certainly in New England, our weather between December and March and be “the worst”.  Still, if you are willing to take on winter photography, it can be incredibly rewarding.  

This past week has been especially cold in New England with a week of sub zero mornings, photographers from the area have been braving the early morning frigid temperatures to capture the amazing phenomenon known as "Sea Smoke".  But, it's also been a time to remind ourselves of how to best shoot in the extreme cold. 

Here are a few tips:

Power Up.  The batteries that power our cameras don’t like the cold.  In fact, they lose their charge very quickly in extreme cold temperatures, often diminishing results by as much as 75%. Keep a spare set near your body to keep them warm and exchange them as needed.  The warmth of your body will provide extra life to your batteries on brutally cold days.

Fog Alert!  Exposing a cold camera to the warmth of your car will immediately cause condensation to form on your lens.  This, at times, is unavoidable, but plan extra time for your camera lens to adjust to varying temperatures.  Stay in the cold as long as possible once your camera acclimates.  It’s also best to put the lens cap on and place the camera in its bag prior to getting into the warm car to help insulate it from the extreme change in temperature.  

Bundle Up.  This is pretty obvious of course, but it’s important.  Unless you are covering a sporting event, you are more than likely going to be standing still for some time in the cold, and wind, and snow, don’t compound it by dressing poorly.  Layers are a must and this includes on your hands.  I wear two pairs of gloves when I shoot in the cold, a thin inner layer combined with a thick outer glove allows me to have the dexterity to manage my camera settings, yet fully fully cover up when needed.  

 New Castle, NH at Sunrise Temp:  3° F ISO 200 - 135mm - f/18 - 1/160 sec      

New Castle, NH at Sunrise
Temp:  3° F
ISO 200 - 135mm - f/18 - 1/160 sec



 Exeter, NH

Exeter, NH

Magical Light.  One of the benefits of shooting in the winter is that the light at sunrise and sunset can be amazing.  Couple the later sunrise times with the early sunset times, and getting out when the light is best is easier in the winter.  Additionally, because the sun does not rise as high in the winter months, it takes a shallower angle across our horizon, which means that the magical light that comes at sunrise and sunset lasts longer, so dress warm and take advantage of that time.  

Over Expose.  For those of you who know how to manage your camera settings, its best to overexpose by roughly one stop when shooting snow.  Your camera will struggle to expose correctly otherwise.  Not doing so will result in a grey, drab image because your camera can’t meter the bright white snow properly.  

What ever you do, don’t allow the challenge of winter weather to keep you from shooting. Winter, as long and demanding is it can be in New England, is also a unique time of year to experience the outdoors.  Be sure to get outside and take advantage of the numerous photographic opportunities that the winter season can provide.  


Gear used for these shots
Camera:  Canon 5D Markiii
Lens:  Canon EF 16–35mm f/2.8L III USM Lens
Tripod:  Manfrotto MT055CXPRO4 055 Carbon Fiber 4-Section Tripod with Horizontal Column
Tripod Head:  Really Right Stuff 055 Ball Head
Camera Bag:  Pro Trekker 450 AW Camera Backpack From Lowepro
Filters:  LEE Filter System

Shoot for Joy

I recently had the opportunity to listen to and shoot with Bryan Peterson at the Out of Acadia conference in Maine.  During his talk (and subsequent excursions out in the park), Bryan talked about the difference between shooting for satisfaction and shooting for joy.  According to Bryan, a "satisfactory image" is the bucket list image, the one you can buy at the gift shop.  For landscape photographers, satisfactory images are often those iconic locations you have to shoot, the ones that everyone shoots (postcards) but you need as part of your portfolio to legitimize your portfolio. 

But, "joyful" images are those you create and thus are unique to your portfolio.  They are, in a way, discovered by you and in his talk, Bryan challenged us to discover more joy in our photography because, as he explained, what drives photographers are not the satisfying shots, it’s the joyful shots.  

(Side note:  Dean Shareski has been writing and talking about the importance of joy in education for a long time.  His TED Talk on this topic can be found here)

 Vermont Sunset Stowe, VT

Vermont Sunset
Stowe, VT

After his talk I thought quite a bit about my portfolio, I found a lot of truth in Bryan's words.  Of all of the images I have created over the years, there is one that is undoubtedly my most talked about.  It's also an award winner.  

This cow was not bringing me joy when I first saw her.  I had positioned myself in a field in beautiful Stowe, VT, using a meandering fence as a leading line toward Mount Mansfield with a beautiful summer sunset overhead.  While waiting for the light to be just right, dozens of cows came running across the field, right up to the fence I was using in my shot.  Curses! They were now in my shot.  Cows in the foreground are not iconic!  I picked up my gear and starting moving around, looking to somehow engineer a composition that excluded the cows, but wherever I went they all followed.  They simply wouldn't get out of the way!  After ten minutes, the number of cows mirroring my every moment had dropped to just one.  But she wasn't giving up, when I moved, she moved.

By this point, my family and friends were well into dinner and most likely a few local brews back at the condo we rented and I couldn't shake this freakin' cow.  She was in the way, the light was fading, and I was angry.  My iconic (read:  satisfying) shot of a summer sunset over Mt. Mansfield was going to be lost.

And then it hit me, the sunset wasn't the subject, SHE was.  She was the "joyful shot" waiting to be created. Once I stopped feeling sorry for myself and realized I was missing the REAL shot, I took the camera off the tripod, cranked the ISO up to 1600, hand held it close to the ground tilted up, and hit the shutter.  Once.  I would like to say that the matching colors of the flowers and the sunset coupled with the cow staring right at the camera was all planned, but in reality it was just dumb luck... nothing preplanned, nothing thought out.  It was simply an instinctive action to capture something different, something no one else had. 

Sitting in Bryan's talk in Acadia, more than year after this image was created, I realized that I was in Stowe shooting for satisfaction (the iconic Vermont sunset), but the magic happened when my mindset opened itself up to shooting for joy.  As a result, not only has this image become my best selling image (by far) it is one that no other photographer has. 

She is all mine, and that fills me with joy.


PS:  Recently she became a covergirl having won the AAA Northern New England 2017 Photo Contest. 

 Holy Cow

Holy Cow