Try a Flash
The last thing most photographers think about using in a snowstorm is flash. It just seems like a bad idea to get out your speedlight and expose it to the elements. But nothing could be further from the truth! Because I photograph skiers and snowboarders a lot, I use flash constantly to add some drama and punch to my shots. I normally trigger my SB900s off camera using a wireless system like the SU800 transmitter, and place my flashes in Ziploc bags. This keeps the snow off the flashes, and the wireless signal still works. Adding a little flash to flying snow as a skier goes off a jump is a great effect (see Figure 7). Just set up your flash to backlight the snow; it adds a lot of sparkle to the shot.
Use Your Macro Lens
When photographers think of winter scenes, they often think more about the big landscape instead of the small macro shot. It’s true-a lot of interesting macro subject matter gets covered by the snow. But winter creates its own macro subjects: ice crystals. Probably the easiest place to find feather-like ice crystals is on your window at home (see Figure 8). Check your windows after a really cold night and see what has formed. Cars left outside at night often have crystals on their windows in the morning. If you have any hot springs near your house, the steam rising from the warm water can produce elaborate ice crystals on tree branches nearby. Make sure you shoot in the morning, because the crystals will melt quickly as the temperature rises.
Adjust Your White Balance
Winter photography hinges on shooting cold, snowy scenes. Your job as a photographer is to create an image that captures this mood and environment. One technique you can use is changing your white balance to incandescent. Incandescent has a color temperature of 3200 Kelvin, which turns normal daylight to a blue color. Because blue signifies cold temperatures, this color shift can help add some effect in your images. For cold snowy scenes, I often use a color temperature around 4500 Kelvin, not quite as blue and more realistic. But for a foggy, cold scene, try incandescent white balance to add some mood and feeling to the shot.
Photograph the Aurora Borealis
One of my favorite subjects shooting in Alaska during the winter is the aurora borealis, or northern lights. This phenomenon occurs most frequently at northern latitudes, but northern lights are regularly seen in the lower 48 during the winter. To photograph the aurora, choose a location far away from city lights. I like to include a foreground object like a mountain or tree to anchor the image (see Figure 10). Start with an exposure of 30 seconds at F2.8 and ISO 400. Use a tripod and cable release to keep images sharp, and make sure you have fresh batteries. Then just wait for the show to begin…
The snow is falling heavily outside my window now. The weather forecaster is predicting this storm to be one of the biggest of the season. I go down my list, checking off items: hand warmers, check… extra batteries, check… warm layers, check… pad for gear, check. I’m ready for my winter photography shoot. Time to go make some tracks in the snow and explore winter’s beauty.