If you dress appropriately and wrap up warmly, winter is a great time to photograph. Below are five of my favourite winter destinations and some of the gear I use to ensure that I can capture them in their fullest glory.
The Northern Lights – Tromso, Norway
The Northern Lights are one of nature’s most spectacular sights and should be on every photographer’s bucket list. You need to head somewhere where a combination of the right solar activity, latitude, clear skies and very little light pollution provides the best possible opportunity to photograph them. My personal favorite is Tromso, Norway, which sits just South of the Arctic Circle and is about a two and a half hour flight North from Oslo. During the winter, there are very few hours of daylight and it is extremely cold so you will need plenty of layers; it was so cold when I was there that the freezing wind stripped off some of the paint off one of my lenses!! You will also be heading out to remote areas where there is virtually no light so long shutter speeds will be necessary meaning a sturdy and lightweight tripod is essential. This will also help you bring out the vibrant colours of the Northern Lights and ensure that you have sharp images once you get into the warm to review them. I’d also suggest investing in good pair of gloves and a remote shutter release so that you don’t need to physically press the button on your camera to take the photograph. Not only will this minimize camera shake due to the shakiness of your shivering hands but it will also ensure that you don’t get frostbite and keep all your fingers healthy (!) so you can head out and shoot this wonder of nature the next night.
The Alps, Europe
Whether skiing, hiking or just driving through the Alps in the winter the scenery is simply breathtaking with snow covered mountains and crisp light helping make dramatic photographs. I love skiing and also combine this with my love of photography to access locations that would otherwise be impossible on foot. Whether shooting fellow skiers or landscapes, I need a lightweight bag that doesn’t get in my way. Therefore, a Sling bag to carry essential gear (cameras, lenses, a go pro, accessories extra layers and of course snacks!) does the job perfectly.
When shooting landscapes, I look to shoot at high aperture numbers to ensure I get as great a depth of field as possible and therefore often put a collapsible monopod in a bag too. I can firmly place this in the snow to provide me with extra stability when composing my shots and for when my shutter speeds need to drop slow enough to when handshake becomes an issue. If I’m not on skis, a good pair of waterproof trousers, thick ski socks and a solid pair of snow shoes are essential to keep me dry and warm as I wade through the snow to get to where I want to take my shot. Black and white images of snowy landscapes such as the Alps work well and can have heightened drama.
Ice Glaciers – South Island, New Zealand
The glaciers of Fox and Franz Jozef in New Zealand can be photographed almost year around but in winter are at their enchanting best. You can view the glaciers from the side and photograph the formations and huge blocks of ice from this perspective. However, I prefer getting on to the glacier and exploring. This does require a little more physical exertion and often a short helicopter ride – another chance to shoot the glacier in a unique way. You will need to wear crampons over your shoes to make sure you have adequate grip and don’t slip. I would also recommend using a good camera strap such as the Black Rapid system to ensure that everything is securely fastened to you should you accidentally take a tumble – you don’t want to go losing an expensive camera. Once on the glaciers, my favorite part is exploring the host of ice caves with their vibrant blue colours. These provide a huge array of opportunities to create unforgettable imagery.
The mid-west of America including states such Michigan where I lived for a few years can get extremely cold in the winter with some of the lakes freezing over and snow becoming a permanent fixture on the ground. This snow can be really evocative and make for really cool photos of landscapes, architecture or even friends and family playing around in it. You will always need to dress appropriately (it can get so cold that boiling water can freeze in mid air if you pour it from a kettle!) so I always have my trusty huge North Face jacket along with appropriately warm gloves, hats and ensure that I drink plenty of liquid; you can get quickly dehydrated in freezing temperatures. I used to live near Detroit and I loved exploring the abandoned buildings throughout the city, especially in winter when they were covered in snow and had an eerie quietness with huge stalactites growing from the ceilings. Again, warm clothes and a sturdy tripod were essential in these situations as I would either look to create greater depth of field or bracket frames to create an HDR image, meaning that all my images needed to be the same – this meant a tripod was essential. In winter, I also prefer to use tripods that have leg warmers on them; they give you something to comfortably grip without being too cold. Aluminum and even carbon fiber can get extremely cold to touch in harsh, winter conditions especially as you will often want to take gloves off to operate your camera controls – you’ll be grateful for this bit of innovation.
This may seem like an odd choice as a winter destination but Venice in the winter is great as you don’t have all of the crowds that descend on the city in the summer. I visited last year, went on a night photo walk and had almost the entire city to myself including St Marks Square and the Rialto Bridge that are usually completely full of tourists – it was one of the highlights of my year especially as I had a local guide (thanks Giorgio!) to show me some great spots to shoot. For urban walks, you often will be wondering through tight spaces and this is especially true in Venice so want to keep a sleek profile. For this reason, I carried the really ergonomic Pro Light Manfrotto Bumblebee backpack, which was enough to hold a couple of lenses, accessories and an extra body. It also has a handy waist level lens pouch attached meaning you can quickly change lenses without rummaging through your bag. This is helpful when your hands are cold. I also attached a Gitzo tripod onto the bag that is extremely light, versatile and sturdy to use longer shutter speeds to bring Venice at night to life. The city, when virtually empty, has magic to it like very few others I’ve visited.