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WITH KINGSLEY SINGLETON

Winter landscapes can offer some amazing views, even if you’re not blessed with snow and ice, but in terms of technique, it’s often about adapting to the conditions and staying safe, more than changing how you shoot…

Image by Kingsley Singleton

For me, winter isn’t just another season, it’s a whole new landscape to explore. Snow, rain, fog and frost might be seen as bad weather by some, but for landscape photographers there’s really no such thing – it’s just different types of lighting and different moods to capture in your scenic shots.

Thick snow, fog and mist help to simplify scenes, allowing you to shoot cleaner compositions, while rain and frost can enliven foregrounds with glittering interest. In this way, winter turns previously familiar places into something new and exciting. You just need to be out there and ready to embrace it.

What’s more, winter shooting is generous to landscapers. There’s no 3am alarm wake-up call for the best light this time of year and with the snoozy winter sun up and down later than ever, the golden hours around dawn and dusk – and the blue hours before and after them – are more accessible than at any other time in the year. The shortened hours of daylight mean there’s simply more good light at more pleasant times of the day. There are fewer people about and the air is cleaner, too. What’s not to like?

You do need to be prepared, though, because although winter offers up innumerable possibilities for scenic shots, it’s also a treacherous time for you and your camera. Here, we’ll look at getting the best from your winter forays, including how to find the best conditions, what sort of shots you can look for and how your gear selection can make all the difference to success and enjoyment out in the elements.

Image by Kingsley Singleton

EMBRACE THE COLD

Tip one is to be prepared. It’s obvious that winter conditions mean a different approach to clothing and footwear than in summer, but it bears repeating if you’re heading into harsh conditions. Layering of clothing is the way to go as there’s a big difference in what you’ll need between hiking several miles to a location and waiting around for a picture. If you’re a little chilly standing still, you should be fine when hiking. But when you get to a location, it’s time to don your thick down jacket and hat to conserve heat.

A waterproof outer layer, a down jacket and a thermal inner is the best combination, but if in doubt, take more clothing and less photo gear – if you’re freezing cold it’s hard to think creatively and you won’t enjoy shooting at all. Also, make room in your pack for a flask of hot drink and take high-value foods, such as chocolate to keep your energy levels up.

Remember that the slightest delay, for instance when you’re making the most of a nice bit of light, can mean coming home in the dark and in icy conditions. Therefore, plan carefully, packing basic emergency equipment and always let someone know where you are going and when you expect to be back.

Image by Kingsley Singleton

ACCLIMATISE YOUR CAMERA

The cold can cause problems for your camera, as well as you. The most obvious of these is fogging on the lens and viewfinder, but this only really happens when taking a cold camera into the warm, whether that’s your house or your car. So if you’re moving from one location to another, keep the temperature in your car cool to avoid the problem. And when you head indoors at the end of your shoot, keep the camera in your bag and allow it to warm up slowly.

The other effect of the cold is to sap your camera’s battery life faster than usual. This is compounded by shooting long exposures as you’d often do when landscaping. Therefore, spares are vital. Pack a couple to avoid cutting short your shoot and keep them in an inner jacket pocket to conserve their energy.

Of course, you’ll also benefit from using a weather-sealed camera and lenses, such as the OM-D E-M1 Mark II, OM-D E-M5 Mark II, M.Zuiko 17mm f/1.2 PRO, M.Zuiko 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO and M.Zuiko 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO.

ARRIVE EARLY

Even though the shorter days of winter mean that good light is more accessible than ever, the best of the snow, ice or frost is fleeting. It doesn’t take much sun to burn off delicate hoar frost or crystalline patterns in ice. And snowfall, while beautiful in its freshly fallen state, can soon become a trampled mess if you’re not there to catch it in pristine condition. If snow is a bit messy, try looking for more telephoto compositions where you’re not so reliant on foreground.

LOW SUN HIGH IMPACT

The winter sun rarely gets high in the sky, so as well as giving warm directional light it means it’s easy to make it part of your landscape compositions. The bright sun can form a focal point in the scene, which means you’re less reliant on a strong subject in the distance. If you shoot wide angle with a very small aperture, you’ll create an attractive sun-star, as well as backlighting the snow and ice, which gives it an attractive glow.

Image by Kingsley Singleton

IMPROVE YOUR EXPOSURES

When exposing in snowy conditions, it’s important to remember that your camera will tend to underexpose the scene, due to how reflective the snow is. The dynamic range might also be higher across the landscape, with the very bright patches of snow sitting alongside uncovered areas of the scene that are darker, such as trees or rocks.

SEARCH OUT SIMPLICITY

We typically think of landscapes as wide-angle views with lots of foreground interest leading into a compelling view beyond and that’s great if you can get it, but winter conditions actually make it a lot easier to create uncomplicated compositions. A covering of snow or swathes of mist simplify a scene, allowing you to highlight certain details or isolate subjects. Overcast winter conditions also often mean a simpler tonally and a reduced colour palette, making scenes less busy and more relaxing.

MAKE THE MOST OF DRAMATIC WEATHER

Not all winter pictures need to be crisp, snowy wonderlands. In fact, in the UK, you’re more likely to get cloud, mist, rain and fog. But these are very dramatic ingredients if used correctly and will lead to compelling winter scenics.

Try isolating patches of light in the gloom of a winter landscape, the contrast of which will naturally draw the eye. In terms of exposure, you don’t want to lose the subtlety of these areas, which will happen if you leave the camera in its wide metering mode as it’ll be trying to correctly expose both highlight and shadow area. Instead, shoot in manual and bias your exposure to the lightest parts, letting the rest of the scene fall into shadow.

Image by Kingsley Singleton

LOW TEMPERATURE LOW LIGHT

So long as you’re safe and comfortable out in the elements, you don’t need to stop your winter shooting because the sun goes down. Just like the golden hours, blue hour and low-light fall at more accessible times of day, so you can enjoy snowy landscapes after dark if you have the urge. Try to shoot when there’s still a little natural light and blue in the sky though, or pictures can look very flat.

Shooting around towns or villages with artificial light is a perfect way to give low-light snowy shots an attractive twinkle. These longer exposures will need lots of stability, so drive your tripod legs into the snow so that they don’t slip or sink.

FIND THE SNOW

If you’re looking for snow and don’t mind travelling, there are plenty of places in the UK where it’s freely found in the winter months. For many of these locations, climbing and scrambling are required so they’re not for the faint hearted. Terrain can be severe and, like any wilderness, subject to quick and potentially dangerous changes in the weather, so go prepared. Snow walking skills are often required and in places such as the Cairngorms, avalanches are common, even in spring. If you’re inexperienced, high places like these are best visited with a guide, the right outdoor gear and lots of preparation. Or, of course, they can also be enjoyed from lower levels, keeping your expeditions more achievable and filling your frame with expansive icy views.

Image by Kingsley Singleton

KINGSLEY’S TOP WINTER UK LOCATIONS

Article featured in Olympus Magazine Issue 60 – to see the latest copy of this free digital magazine click here.