Photographing Winter Landscapes

Midwinter is upon us here in Sweden and the days are as short as they get. One might think that for a landscape photographer this would be quiet time, but I’ve always found this time of year special. The cold, the soft light and the snow-covered landscape creates unique possibilites for landscape photography. Although it can be a challenge sometimes.

In this blog post I thought I share some of my experience in photographing the winter landscape. Hopefully you find some inspiration to go out and capture it yourself.

Cold weather creates beautiful conditions and the soft winter light brings life to the shapes in the foreground. Arjeplog Mountains – November 2019.

Light, Light & Light

A snow-covered landscape is totally different to work with as a photographer. You have this white reflecting surface picking up even the smallest nuances of tone and colour. These subtle variations in light can be a challenge to see in the field (but the camera does) so it’s a good habit to conciously look for it. Think about light first and then decide what to do with.

Personally I really enjoy working in the soft light as it has an etheral quality to it. This can be twilight, reflected light or just an overcast sky. The light palette of winter is rich and if you just keep your eyes (and mind) open you will find endless possibilities. In winter you can photograph light that you just don’t see in other seasons.

The blue light of twilight combined with a calm composition creates a soothing feeling. Kebnekaise Mountains – March 2014.

Simple Compositions

I think the winter landscape really lends itself to a more simple approach when it comes to composition. After all the complexity of the landscape itself is greatly reduced by the snow.

I tend to look for soft shapes and forms that compliment the winter light and as I wrote before, I look for light quality first and then try to find a composition that works together with the light. The best landscape photographs are the ones where light and composition works together.

A snow-covered landscape is ever changing. Weather conditions might totally change the composition from one day to another. It’s all about the moment even when it comes to composition.

My ski tracks in a pristine winter landscape. Hard work in deep snow on my way to make the first photograph in this blog post. Arjeplog Mountains – November 2019.

Getting There

Winter photography can be a challenge. Deep snow can make it hard to get where you want to. I recommend snowshoes or skis depending on the terrain. Snowshoes are easy to learn and they work great in uneven, technical terrain. Skis are better to cover longer distances and easier going in flat terrain.

Don’t forget warm clothes. A warm down jacket, warm boots and gloves makes all the difference when standing still for a long time working with the composition and waiting for the light.

Photography is as much about the journey as it is about the final photographs and in the winter this journey can be both fun and challenging.

Campsite in the birch forest during a two-week long solo adventure in Sarek National Park. March 2017.

Challenge Yourself

For me, winter photography really means pushing myself. I enjoy going out on long adventures in the mountains, sleeping in a tent to really explore the landscape. But I also enjoy to challenge myself photographically and trying out new ideas.

No matter if you’re out for a few hours, days or weeks I think the winter season can bring so much joy to a photographer. Get out there and challenge yourself and you will eventually get images that will be special to you.

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