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Tips On Photographing Lakes And Rivers In Winter

Grab your coat, get outside and head for a nearby lake or river for a spot of winter water photography.

| Landscape and Travel

Water in the landscape makes a great photograph at any time of the year but in winter, after we've had heavy rainfall or fog's settled in, lakes and rivers suddenly take on a new look that's well worth braving the cold to capture.

Tips On Photographing Lakes And Rivers In Winter:
Photo by David Clapp -

Be Prepared

Heading out early on a winter's morning usually means rather cold temperatures will be waiting to embrace you. As a result, make sure you're dressed for the weather before you head out of your door.

You also need to be extra cautious when walking around the edges of lakes and rivers as after a night of heavy rainfall or on really cold mornings when there's still ice on the ground, surfaces will be very slippy and you don't want you and your kit getting a soaking.

Keep Your Horizons Straight

A wonky horizon will spoil any stunning winter landscape so double-check your frame to make sure your river, lake or pond doesn't look like it's about to slide out of the scene. Most tripods feature a spirit level, but you can also purchase hotshoe spirit levels that fix to the top of your camera to help you spot when your horizons aren't quite straight.

Deep Freeze – Frozen Surfaces

When temperatures stay very low for long periods of time large bodies of water begin to freeze giving you the chance to capture shots of our landscape almost frozen in time.

If it's cold but not quite cold enough to freeze lakes do as John Gravett suggested and take a closer look to the rocks the water's falling over. John said: "Although the temperature may not be low enough to freeze the moving water, where it splashes up over rocks and grass at the edge of the stream, it forms almost crystalline shapes. A long shutter speed will contrast the moving water with the icy margins, and the corresponding small aperture will give you a wide depth of field, ensuring front to back sharpness."

High Water Levels

A few days of heavy rain or melting snow will cause rivers to swell and a torrent of water can be seen flowing down them. You can freeze the water's motion with quick shutter speeds, capturing the spray, the white of the waves and the river's rapid movement or slow your shutter speeds down (try exposures of around 5 seconds) to turn the fast moving water into smooth, silky streaks.

You may need to fit an ND filter to your lens to get the slower shutter speeds needed for this technique to work and to emphasise the difference between the light and dark parts of the water consider using a polarising filter. A polariser will cut down on the glare that comes back off the water, particularly on sunny days when you're more likely to find it a problem. Don't forget to pack your tripod either as you won't be able to hand-held your camera when using exposure times that are a few seconds long without shake spoiling your shot.


Tips On Photographing Lakes And Rivers In Winter:

Photo by David Clapp -


Mist And Fog

In winter, misty or foggy mornings are quite common and if you live near a lake, reservoir or large pond, mist/fog rolling across the large body of water can add an extra layer of interest and eeriness to your shot. Fog begins to form in the evening and lingers until the following morning but it doesn't usually hang around all day so make sure you're up and out of your house early.

Mist lowers the contrast of light, softening any objects that are in your frame so make sure you have strong, recognisable subjects around the water's edge. If you're shooting a long shot mist / fog can create a sense of mysticism as objects that are some distance from your lens begin to vanish or appear silhouetted, turning what could be a mundane scene into something interesting.

If you find your shots have a few exposure problems it's probably because your camera sees a scene that's all bright instead of having a dark ground and light sky, as they do with snow scenes, so you'll have to use + exposure compensation to rectify this.

Early Morning Reflections

A bonus of getting up early is the water's more likely to be still which gives you the perfect opportunity to shoot some winter-themed reflections. Bare trees reflected in lakes dotted with boats and mist crawling across it will always be a winning winter shot. Don't overlook warm sunrises / sunsets either as they can add interesting contrast to a stark winter scene and looked great when reflected in water.

Make sure you pack an ND Grad Filter as you'll find that the reflection will look darker than the 'real' scene that's creating it. If you line up the darker part of the filter so it sits over the sky and finishes at the shoreline, you'll produce a shot that appears to balance to the exposure of the bright sky/surroundings with the reflection.

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tiff Avatar
tiff 14 111 United Kingdom
8 Dec 2016 4:21AM

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