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