What better excuse do we need as photographers than a blanket of snow for wonderful photographic opportunities, but it's important to get a few techniques right to ensure you capture everything at its best.
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Filters can be useful – polarisers and grads
Lots of spare batteries – they don't last as long in the cold
Waterproof camera bag
Let's start with the ideal conditions, a snowy landscape and blue skies – perfect, but can you get anything wrong on days like this?
Firstly, metering – "intelligent" camera metering systems (matrix, evaluative) are getting better at coping with bright (or dark) scenes, but most will still lead to a degree of underexposure, leaving your whites looking dull but more importantly, your shadow details blocked up.
Keep a close eye on your histogram and expect to have to adjust your camera's meter reading. Ideally, your histogram should end just at the right hand axis, anything less than this will indicate underexposure.
Secondly, tripods – although on a bright sunny snowy day, high shutter speeds are easier to attain, when going for great depth of field, particularly early or late in the day, shutter speeds can drop slightly and cold hands are not good at holding cameras still. If you're using a carbon fibre tripod, they don't get as cold to the touch as aluminium, but if you're using an aluminium tripod, try wrapping the legs in pipe insulation to give a warmer surface to the touch, or better still, go to a sports shop and get either racing bike handlebar tape, or tennis racquet grip tape; either will give you a warm grip with much less bulk.
Thirdly, how to shoot – I know this sounds a bit basic, but sometimes the most obvious things are overlooked. With the ground often covered in a plain white layer, try looking for good “lead lines” - things that will take your eye into the picture; in the Lakes, dry stone walls, or lake edges are ideal. Now – an important point – if you walk up to a wall, or lake edge to take a photo in one direction, then you walk along it's length and turn round to take a photo back the other way, you will have spoiled the “return” view with your own footprints! So I tend to look carefully from a distance, approach to my first photo point, after taking the picture, I retrace my steps and take a wide route round to my second viewpoint, so the view back remains pristine. Obviously, this only applies when the show is fresh, so the other important point is – when it snows, get out as soon as you can, before it's covered in other people's footprints.
Don't forget details too, a few blades of grass can be just as effective as a simple image as a whole vista, so be careful not to overlook the minimalistic approach. Splashes of colour in a monochromatic view can add enormous impact, too. Also remember, that even in snowy weather, communities keep working, so look out for farming activity in fields too, to add a human – or livestock scale to the picture.
So – what if the weather's not so ideal? I was once out in blizzard conditions just below Watendlath, the same rules of exposure, composition etc. all apply, but you will find that as the background – as well as the sky will simply disappear in a haze of white, strong, graphic foreground shapes can produce striking pictures – often more effective in black & white, almost creating the effect of a pen-and-ink drawing. Keep a very close eye on how strong foreground elements react with each other – try to prevent too much overlap, which will otherwise tend to confuse the composition.
Most important of all, look after yourself, photography isn't the most active of winter pastimes, so wear plenty of layers to trap air and keep you warm, a hat is essential – 33% of body heat escapes through the head, and although gloves are a pain while photographing, reach a compromise that works for you – either fingerless, or gloves that you only take off while you frame and take the shot. I discovered hunting gloves a few years back, which have a slot in the forefinger and thumb of the right glove, allowing them to be pulled back for access to the shutter and control dials, without the rest of your fingers freezing. If you're planning a long spell, hot drinks are worth taking with you.
Article by John Gravett - www.lakelandphotohols.com
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