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Many photographers let their cameras do what many animals do in the winter - hibernate. If nature photography is your thing, dust it off, charge up the batteries and get outdoors. When there’s snow on the ground, opportunities to get dramatic wildlife images abound. The sun is lower in the sky so good light lingers for a longer period of time and sunrise and sunset times are convenient.

 

The Obvious: Dress warm. If you’re uncomfortably cold, your images will show it and your mind and body’s only thought will be the warm car ride home. It’s essential to keep your fingers, toes and head warm. A good fleece hat will toast the head but I also wear a hoody so if it gets really cold or the wind kicks up, I flip the hood over the hat and cinch up the strings. I keep my toes warm by wearing a thick pair of fleece socks and good hiking boots. If the forecast calls for very cold temps, I add a pair of silk liners and toe warmers. To keep my fingers comfy, I first slip on a pair of thin glove liners over which a pair of fold back mittens is placed. I place a hand warmer in the fold back compartment. While I can expose all of my fingers if I want, the only one that sees daylight on a very cold day is my shutter finger. By all means, dress in layers. As the sun begins to warm you up, you can unzip and peel away what you don’t need. 

 

Animals in snow photography

© Russ Burden

 

Why Winter, Why Snow? Animals look better in the winter. Their coats are thick and as a result, they look better. The thick coat makes them look bigger and broader. As with any subject, the better they look, the better the image.  If you’re lucky enough to live in an area with fox, document them throughout the seasons. I followed a family from fall through summer and when the hot weather arrived, I recognized the face of the adult but I couldn’t believe how thin and less photogenic he looked. In the winter, the male ducks at local parks and ponds are already in their breeding plumage. If the open water confines the birds to smaller places and it’s close to shore, bonus. Additionally, when the ducks land or waddle across the ice, it makes for very comical images.

 

Backyard: Food is scarce for animals in the winter so your backyard can be set up to keep you busy making photos for weeks at a time. Put out seed in feeders and in a very short amount of time, you’ll be amazed at how many species you’ll attract. Consult the internet to see what type of seed attracts what type of bird. Place the feeder in a location where the backgrounds will be clean. Secure an old branch or stick close to the feeder so the birds have a place to perch. Excluding the feeder and including just the bird on the perch will make the images appear more natural. I highly recommend you put out some suet. Once the birds find it, wedge some in the cracks of bark in a nearby tree to get some very dramatic shots. 

 

Animals in snow photographs

© Russ Burden

 

The Capture: If there’s snow on the ground, be aware of your exposures. Check your histogram often. If you see blinkies or spikes on the right, dial in minus compensation. If the animals are close enough, soften the contrast with flash.  If it’s snowing, slow down the shutter to capture the streaks as they paint the sensor with lines of white. The animal needs to be still or else everything will be blurry. Use a tripod and try starting with a shutter speed of 1/30th and adjust from there. Check the LCD as there are many variables that impact the effect - the strength of the wind, the size of the flakes, how heavy it’s snowing, etc. While laying down in the snow isn’t comfortable, I encourage you to try photographing from a low angle to create a dramatic perspective. Bring along a tarp and sleeping bag - the tarp will keep you dry and the bag will insulate you from the cold. 

 

photographing in snow

© Russ Burden

 

To learn more about this topic, join me on one of my Photographic Nature Tours. Visit russburdenphotography.com and click on the NATURE TOURS button for more information. Also, pick up a copy of my book, Amphoto’s Complete Book of Photography. You can purchase a signed copy directly from me or visit your local book store or Amazon. Contact me at rburden@ecentral.com to order your signed copy.

 



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mary

01-02-2011

great tips, as always

David

01-02-2011

Good ideas but I find that shooting at 1/500, 1/2000, etc. provides better results and better control of the ambient light.

Ronald J. Stein

01-02-2011

The article is very good however I might have mentioned to check your white balance to get good snow coloring...Snow does tend to turn blue...

Dick Braden

01-02-2011

Great articel and the suggestion re: wearing proper clothes is right on. visited the zoo one time in winter and was surprized to fine the animal much more active than in the warmer days.

cyberrat

01-02-2011

wonderful article

Mark

01-02-2011

Good info, but would like to know more about proper exposure technique to capture my black dog against a brilliant white snowy background.

bob marangelli

01-02-2011

read all the articles and concur with all the tips.thanks for helping every- one become better camera users!!! andphotographers....

zorawar

01-02-2011

excellent photographs specially when in snow light is a problem. keep it up

Laura

02-02-2011

thanks for the article. I will be trying this at the state park, and on my dog in the back yard.It was very helpful.

Leon Hertzson

02-02-2011

Excellent images, good composition, wonderful color and top viewer appeal.
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