Winter Landscape Photography - by Marcel Lesch
Everyone whoever wants to go on an adventurous winter photography trip will bring a lot of warm clothes and special equipment for sure. When we went to Finland and the Northern parts of Norway we had to fight temperatures around minus 25 degrees. Not only our bodies had to stay warm while exploring amazing landscapes.
It is also really important to bring the right gear into those kinds of conditions.
You want a camera which can beat ice, rain, wind and temperatures far below the freezing point. The lenses have to be weather-sealed or otherwise you are going to deal with fog inside them which can turn a sunrise photography mission into a little nightmare.
Olympus can provide you with the equipment you are looking for to bring along! The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II and the Zuiko Pro lenses performed perfectly while shooting outside for hours and hours - it’s more likely that you freeze before they do.
No problems with the battery life at all. You should still keep in mind to bring another one just for the worst case and as a small advice, keep it in your inside winter-jacket pockets to warm them up with your body temperature. Prepared for the cold the next step would be finding great locations.
Since people will see the result and not the equipment behind the photo it is very important to invest a lot of time finding great places to shoot at. And there are several ways to do so:
Ask friends who have been around the same area, what they did and where they loved it. Find inspiration on social media platforms such as Instagram to connect with people who are familiar with the area or simply ask the locals because they are most likely to know where the secret places are.
Another great way to find places is using Google Maps (the satellite version). You can already check from home some nice roads, small and cute little houses or lakes which might be frozen and worth a visit. Same goes to fjords and waterfalls. It is also helpful to check on the roads, because they might be covered with snow and hard to find. But they are still the safer way to reach a spot than going off-road through the woods - unless you have snow shoes, then go for it.
Talking about snow shoes: In case a spot we wanted to shoot at was hard to reach we had some options to use as well such as snow shoes (for deep snow) or little micro spikes you can put underneath your shoes (they are super helpful on ice to have some sort of grip!) As you can see the preparation starts before the trip and is the best way for a successful photography trip in winter regions!
Ready for the adventure we usually like to drive around the area we are staying in during the first day to get some ideas for the surroundings and landscape we haven't visited before.
It is also the best way to figure out how the light will be in the following days.
There are great apps to use for sorting out the sunrise / sunset directions. Seeing it with the own eyes is still the better way. The most positive aspect of winter light is the fact that the sun doesn't go high like during the summer.
The result: You have a longer sunrise and sunset time since the light is softer. It is also great to wake up at seven for shooting sunrise instead of three in the morning! A great argument for everyone who likes sleeping and photography at the same time? Definitely not, because during clear nights you are almost surely going to see the northern lights dance high above your heads.
Back to Daytime: This is one reason why I loved the adventure in Lapland. Even at midday we had the most amazing soft light conditions. Since it takes more time for the sun to rise it is important to deal with less light especially before sunrise and after sunset, it is very useful to bring a tripod or lens with a high aperture such as f/1.4 or f/2.8. - Or both. This time is also known as blue hour, definitely one of the greatest periods each day for winter photography. You can get a blue & cold image look on a natural basis straight out of the camera which matches perfectly the icy landscapes you are standing in.
You want to keep your ISO as low as possible to get the best image quality. Consequently it is definitely worth to carry a small tripod just to cover the blue hour. Depending on where you go for your winter adventure It is also an option to shoot during the night for capturing the Northern Lights. For us it was the most magical wonder we have seen so far. But don't burn yourself out and consider when it’s worth staying awake (by checking the forecasts) and when it’s better to hike for a sunrise. Don't do everything otherwise you won't find time to enjoy your trip.
Especially on a hike you don't want to bring too much heavy equipment. Try something else instead of switching lenses all the time. Use other angles than normal, go lower in your position and use the effects of the lenses you use such as a wide angle or zoom lens. Place a travel buddy in your image to create a good feeling for scale. Mountains and pieces of ice look way bigger with a small person standing nearby. When you are limited in the locations you can visit by the amount of snow, you should spend even more time at it so try something different!
We made the experience that winter photography is something you can only plan and schedule to a certain point.
It is spontaneous and you should take the landscapes how they are. You might find frozen lakes, snow covered trees and mountains which you weren't aware of before. Consequently another advice I can give you: Keep your eyes open. Even if you are familiar with an area but have only been there during the warmer months before. Small villages, cute cabins or some trees are maybe not that photogenic during summer. Within the cold winter they are eventually the most photogenic option for you!
And even though the North is cold and rough, the people are most welcoming and helpful. So don't hesitate to ask them for a good afternoon hiking option or sunset spot while paying for your groceries. Be open minded and experience your winter adventure at the best way you can.
Winter landscape photography requires some sort of planning ahead; you need good equipment to keep yourself warm enough and your camera running. But it is totally worth it to travel far into the North to experience an awesome adventure during a time of the year most of the people would prefer to stay inside or to escape into the warmth.