Where I live there is a joke that we have “11 months of winter and 1 month of bad sledding”. Of course, that’s not true but the area does average about 12 feet of snow per year and snow can fall in any month from September to May. Much of the earliest and latest snow does not last long although it can certainly have an impact on photography plans.

As an outdoor photographer, I can expect almost any type of weather to occur during a photo session. Obviously the first tip for winter photography is being aware of the weather forecast. There are many different ways to monitor weather, from checking TV and radio reports to various phone apps and websites to setting up your own amateur weather station. The methods you use do not need to be elaborate but you do need to be informed. Staying aware of changing weather conditions can be the difference between a great session or a miserable day.

A snowy road.

The corollary to knowing the predicted weather to come is dressing for those conditions and planning to protect your gear. During cold, snowy, and/or wet conditions one must dress in layers from the skin out. Avoid cotton if at all possible (cotton stays wet and cold) and wear wool, silk, or artificial fiber (poly, nylon, etc) clothing. A wind- and water-proof outer layer can be a lifesaver. Remember to consider the best options for your hands and feet. And using heat packs can definitely be a practical adaptation to the cold. Plastic bags, umbrellas, and a wide variety of camera protectors are available to keep your gear in good working order. Use your lens cap any time you are not actively shooting. Also remember extra batteries since their lifespan is shortened in the cold.

Shoot your photos in RAW format if your camera has that option. It is difficult for most cameras to capture the correct exposure and color temperature, especially with bright sun reflecting off the white snow. Most cameras metering systems select an exposure for a medium grey. You can bracket your scene with multiple aperture settings or use aperture priority mode in conjunction with your exposure-compensation dial to capture the correct light balance. Your flash may also be useful to help correct the blue cast of the snow for a proper white balance. Keeping your ISO in the lower ranges (below 700, depending on the available light) can also help with getting the right exposure. With digital you can always shoot multiples of any scene and cull them later in your workflow.

Other useful gear can include neutral density filters and polarizing filters to reduce the possibility of reflected glare from the ice and snow. Remember your tripod, especially if you want to try any longer exposure photos. Practice manipulating your gear and your camera controls wearing gloves of any thickness. I know some photographers that wear nitrile gloves as liners so that they can use the camera controls and adjust the tripod while still maintaining some degree of warmth and protection. When you finish your photo session, remove your memory card and put your camera in a zip-top bag or other water-tight bag before going inside. This practice allows any condensation that may form to collect on the outside of the bag rather than on or inside your camera.

Winter is a great time to be outside. Just remember to take sensible precautions. Be prepared for whatever conditions you may encounter.