Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Photographing Winter Landscapes

Winter landscapes speak for themselves. Snow filters down in a whisper and paints a sea of lush white. The world is transformed to a wonderland, bringing back joyful childhood memories even to the most disagreeable old fogy. So how do you capture winter's soft-spoken demeanor? Think like an artist, noting shading, light, form, and gesture.

First, the tranquil...freshly laid snow, undisturbed and pristine, soft and quiet...a real heart stopper for the wandering soul who dons winter gear and faces the elements. First, what not to do, and that is to go out in glaring sunlight to take snow pictures. It is loud. it is brass. And it glares, making contrasty pictures that assault the eye.

Instead, I like to choose either early morning or late day when sunlight is soft. In the evening on clear days, in particular, the sun renders a soft orange illumination, which combined with open shade brings the snow to life. If the sun comes out, it is a soft touch, giving the land a glowing new perspective with softly defined lines between sun and shade.

Well, that's what the eyes sees. Bringing it to the picture is not as stellar because that soft glow is lost and flattened in the two-dimensional world of a photograph. But shooting in soft light is always a good thing. In this case, rustic tree bark and sun-goldened shrubbery can take on a detailed, interesting contrast to pure white snow. But be careful with your f-stop. Automatic metering registers "normal" as neutral gray to cover all situations. (Hey, generalization is what automation is all about). So you may want to open up a stop or check the setting on your digital camera for a white balance setting to get sparkling white snow instead of dingy gray.

Second, the harsher side of winter...I like to go close up to emphasize the season's icy aspects. Filling the frame with a twig encased in a frozen droplet or a study of snow on trees or fence posts can produce interesting results. Think like an artist to bring your theme home. A snowy fence post leading into the center of the picture is ultimately more interesting than one which runs across the frame horizontally. Snow-covered trees have form and gesture. Some trees, stately and majestic, hold their own while others speak volumes in groupings that fill the frame like dancers on a stage. My point is looking at this new snow-world has much to offer, not only in the normal view, but also in the world close-up or even impressionistic.

Finally, as the day comes to a close, winter's drama is at hand in a glowing sunset view with long shadows stretched across the snow in a blazing light. The setting sun puts the winter landscape to sleep in a beautiful power play that shows the both of best worlds. Be sure to catch this magic moment, and hurry, because it doesn't last for long.

Copyright 2008 JO Janoski


  1. Hi Jo

    Some really great photography ideas here. I need to play with the color on my digital, seems to turn people red looking. Like it gives me a red sheen.

    The sun does add a lot of depth and even color to winter shots, like the one I have on my blog- Taken with 35mm! But I've had some turn gray like you said. I'd love to have an expensive camara, but I don't do too bad with mine!

    You even speak with poetry in your in your wonderful instruction!

  2. Jo, I merely hit the highlights, but I promise, I'll be back. Right now I have a few things to take care of. I had to laugh out loud as I read about the beauties of snow, and indeed, I agree with that, but, have you ever rolled out of bed at six in the morning to a freezing cold bedroom, dressed and plowed your way through a few inches of new fallen "white rapture" to a barn to milk a small herd of cows,carry the milk to the milkhouse and do all the things necessary to get it ready for pickup later in the day? And that isn't all. There are chores waiting, and do it by yourself twice a weeek? With a small daughter waiting to be cared for? Somehow, the beauty of winter weather palls soon after the first snowfall.

  3. Anonymous6:57 PM

    This is "anonymous", but I do have a name and a blogsite. For some reason, neither my avatar, name of blogsite appeared in my comment concerning snow and the memory recalled to mind as I viewed that beautiful photograph. I'll try again. my blogsite is

  4. This is "anonymous", but I tried leaving my name and avatar with no luck.

  5. Great pic and a wonderful description of the winter snow.

  6. Thanks, folks! P.S. Mary, I knew that was you!

  7. Beautiful photo, just stunning. I want to stand there and breathe in the cold, cold air.