Winter is Coming – Ideas, Tips and Inspiration

We have just come off some amazing Autumn adventures and while there are still some great colours to be had we have begun to realise that winter is coming. We are on a bit of break time at the moment but we look forward to hitting Iceland, Norway the Dolomites plus of course Lake Baikal in the New Year. With that in mind, Peter has taken some time to think about the various types of light that winter brings and the range of photographic opportunities that winter presents. Read on for some technical tips and tricks, married to some insights about lighting and execution all moulded together by a healthy dose of inspiration.

Photographing the Northern Lights in winter is always special but there’s so much more to winter.

Join Us On A Winter Adventure in 2020

A Stormy Winters Day

Winter can provide some amazing chances to shoot dramatic scenes with stormy light. Snow is great but not essential. Take a look at these images. Dark moody skies, foreboding water, what more could you ask for on a stormy winter day. Note the water textures too. I have used a 3 stop Lee filter which allows me to slow down exposure without getting a really long shutter speed. This allows me to show the power and energy of the winter’s day through the texture of the water.

Breaking light on a stormy winters evening Iceland South Coast. 3 Stop Lee ND with Lee .9 Soft
Wading in deep surrounded by water in Lofoten. What a dramatic afternoon of winter rain. Lee 3 Stop ND No Grad Needed
This image was made at midday in that amazing Arctic light. The sun barely tips above the horizon all day giving long periods of amazing light.
We eventually became surrounded by howling winds and intense snow but in the middle of the full-on snowstorm was a moment. These are my favourite times as weather builds or rescinds into something genuinely powerful. Iceland 2015 and my personal favourite in 2015.

Tips for Shooting Stormy Winter Landscape Photography

  • Shoot between the showers. It can be challenging but there are some great images as the new front approaches. 
  • Use a 3 Stop filter and work with shutter speeds between 1/2 and 4 seconds to maintain varying degrees of water structure. 
  • Dark skies only need gentle grads to be careful not to overcook those skies in camera. A grad for the sky might not even be needed. Over darkening leads to noise and grain. 
  • If the snow and hail suddenly roles through switch tactics and switch to quick shutter speed to freeze the power of the storm. Like in the final image in this series.

Magical Winter Colours

I think it’s fair to say we can all get down to some moody winter light. But how about the potential for epic light high in the Dolomites, or deep in the Arctic circle. Got to love those colourful winter sunsets too. With snowcapped foregrounds and dramatic ice, the dynamic range can be narrower than other seasons. Glow and snow, a fantastic combination.

Hitting 3000 metres high in the Dolomites is a sight to behold. Especially with the warm evening glow of sunset. This is a stitched pano using a Lee .6 medium to hold in the sky.
Looking for that perfect combo of icebergs on the black beach in Iceland can be tricky. Couple that with a great sky and it can be a pretty photogenic place.. 3Stop Lee ND and a .9soft
Ah those snow capped peaks, those perfect little cottages and a sky on fire. Magic Arctic winter light .. Must be Lofoten
Sometimes the glow just goes on for hours winter Dolomites style. A stunning image from Dino and good times at the top of the world.
Reds, purples, pastels, they all work great with that fresh snow. More colourful scenes at sunset on an Arctic evening in Lofoten.

Tips for shooting Magical Winter Colours

  • Stitch Panos of dramatic snow-capped peaks for added compression and resolution
  • Shooting the most dramatic light can sometimes require a blend. Hone your blending skills to capture the most dramatic winter glow. 
  • Don’t be afraid to go long with exposure to get clouds moving and also intensify colours. I will often shoot 30 second or 1-minute exposures at sunset. 
  • Plan your shooting around the clouds. An absence of low clouds, married to a range of high and medium clouds can often mean winter fireworks. 

Join Us On A Winter Adventure in 2020

Abstract Winter Photography

Look down, find the ice, even small pockets, in nature, on your windscreen. It’s winter, it’s around. We just happen to have an international abstract maestro in our ranks so who better to feature than Mr Daragh Muldowney. Daragh has a whole wealth of winter abstract imagery from Iceland to Ireland but here is some of his latest work from Lake Baikal. Daragh uses a 100mm macro and focus stacks to gain maximum sharpness. Don’t forget depth of field is not just about aperture. Focal length is key, and even more significant is proximity to subject, hence a very limited depth of field in macro imagery.

Baikal Abstract
Baikal Abstract
Baikal Abstract
Baikal Abstract

Tips for shooting Abstract Winter Photography

  • Find repeating patterns for your abstracts
  • Isolate shapes
  • Learn how to focus stack for depth of field in macro
  • Use your polariser to play with reflections within the macro

High Key Winter Landscape

Go high or go home. High Key that is. Sorry that’s a bit harsh. Having said that my favourite type of winter image at the moment is definitely this high key approach. We’ve had some amazing snow in the Dolomites, Iceland and Lofoten over the years and it really lends itself to this high key presentation. Simple structures amongst a blanket of fresh winter goodness.

Fresh snow at Cinque Torri on our winter Dolomites tour. A blanket of perfect snow highlighting the stunning shapes of these unique mountains. No filters.
Simplicity can be so effective in winter snow scenes. This image was captured in Lofoten. A few simple shapes breaking through the snow gave a perfect foreground and allowed this amazing peak to do all the talking. Lee .9 Soft Grad.
There is no such thing as a perfect day for winter landscape photography, or landscape photography in general for that matter. There are just conditions that need to be adapted too, and light that needs to be used in the best way possible. Captured in Lofoten during a day of low cloud the perfectly still conditions lent themselves perfectly to this high key presentation. No filters.
Is this your house? We suggest a driveway clearance. Actually forget that your roof looks amazing. A location we will be visiting via Iceland north. Hopefully, they give us a cup of tea.

Tips for Shooting High Key Winter Photography

  • Shoot bright and make your snow white. Use your histogram as a guide.
  • Test the whiteness of your snow in post by exaggerating saturation to identify colour casts. Adjust with white balance and reduce saturation. 
  • Keep your whites white and add contrast to the core parts of your image only.
  • Shoot on snowy overcast days without too much wind.

High Key Winter Landscape Flash Photography

Ok stay high key but go grab your flash. For the past few years, my flash has been an essential item in my winter gear list. Just one little pop and capture the snow in full flow.

Snow storm during winter in the Dolomites. Simple hut structure and the use of flash in full effect.
An icon of Lofoten. I think the use of flash gives the lighting a unique feeling.
An image from Iceland. The flash again at play and a simple structure and colour gives the image additional form.
An IPA award-winning image this year. The combination of overcast light, falling snow, the flash and simple structures and colour combos all essential aspects in the creation of this image.

Tips for Shooting Flash Winter Photography

  • Use shutter speeds of between 1/30th and 1/125th to freeze the motion. Adjust ISO and Aperture accordingly. 
  • Keep shooting. Every image is different. Treat snow patterns like waves. One will stand out in post. 
  • Luminosity masks are useful in grabbing the brightest snowflakes and dampening down the light a bit in the brightest areas. 

Photographing the Northern Lights – Iceland and Lofoten

Last but certainly not least the mighty northern lights. We will be in full chase mode for our Iceland North and South trips plus of course Lofoten. There is nothing quite like the experience and the photography options of some stunning northern lights show.

I enjoy the simplicity in this scene. The aurora was going off at Skogafoss on Iceland’s south coast..

Guidelines for shooting the Northern Lights

  • Tripod essential. A good test exposure is F2.8, 30 seconds at 1600 ISO
  • When so far north in locations like Norway and Iceland cloud forecast is more important than the activity of the aurora
  • The foreground is everything so make sure to do your planning during the day.
  • Focusing is the most difficult thing. Use a headlamp to get focus, a distant light, or an instinctive feel for your lens. Alternatively, come with us and we will focus your camera for you. 

Join Us On A Winter Adventure in 2020

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