A Beginner's Guide to Capturing Winter Nature Photos

A Beginner's Guide to Capturing Winter Nature Photos

A winter frost can give the most amazing nature photos, from dewy spider webs to seemingly diamond-encrusted berries. Find out how to capture those frosty shots with this method that can help you get great shots every time.

In this beginner's guide to shooting winter nature photos, I'm focusing on the ability to capture those frosty scenes where it looks like diamonds or crystals clad plants and trees. This only occurs when weather conditions and the air temperature are just right, so there's a lot of planning that goes into capturing wintry shots like these.

Frosty berries close-up

This winter close-up shot was taken in the early morning when the frost was still clinging to the plant life around a nature reserve.

I won't be taking you through all the snowy shots that we normally associate with winter, as I'm hoping to extend the readability of this guide to those that live in more temperate regions as well as the cold ones. I also have to point out that we need to be realistic with the scope of this piece; if you're in the southern hemisphere and/or in warmer climates, you probably won't get to take this kind of shot locally. So, instead, you can use this to prepare for your next adventure. However, there are a couple of tricks you can use to emulate this kind of images in warmer climates, which I'll be going into in my next piece discussing advanced techniques on capturing winter nature photos. But until then, let's get started.

Check the Weather

Arguably, the most important step to capturing jewel-like, frosty nature shots is the weather. Check your local weather conditions, and look for the overnight temperature. Frost occurs most typically when the air temperature falls below that of the freezing point of water, that is 0 degrees Celsius or 32 degrees Fahrenheit.

Met office weather app on mobile phone

Check the weather before you go. I recommend the Met Office app for those in the UK to look up temperatures, precipitation, humidity, and sunrise/sunset times.

Of course, humidity plays a large role in the condensation of water in the air, and the general rule of thumb is if there's more water in the air, it is easier for it to form frost (in cold temperatures) and dew (in warm temperatures). If you don't like getting too technical, then just watch the local weather report on TV/online and take note of when they expect frost to happen.

Find the Right Location

Spiders web in frosted dew

Even in the busiest urban areas, there are often pockets of hedgerow or parks that you can venture into and capture something wild.

To capture nature photos, you're going to need natural subjects. Ideally, you'd find this in a nature reserve where the land and wildlife are protected. Here, you're likely to discover wonderful species of both flora and fauna, which you're unlikely to see in urban areas. However, you find inspiration even in the inner city. Head to the local park or photograph the spider's web in the hedge on your early morning journey to work, as they hold beads of dew or shards of frost after a long, cold night.

Time It Right

Frosty plants in sun

Frost appears best in the early cold mornings in winter.

Unfortunately, you'll have to be an early bird if you want to catch the frost worm. Early morning is the best time to take these incredibly delicate photos. That's because evenings, though they may be cold and even become misty or foggy, are less likely to produce a frost because the land has had a full day's heat from the sun. Overnight, with the sun occluded by the earth, the land cools down and allows air temperature to drop. If conditions are right, the water in the air condenses onto plants, freezes, and is perceived as frost. So, for those diamond-like shots, you'll need to set your alarm.

Look for the Light

Getting the weather and location right is one thing, but to make images really sing, you must look for the light. Luckily, the same early morning exploration to find the frost in the first place will also offer up wonderful golden light as the sun rises. Again, you could turn to the local weather report to find the time of sunrise in your area, or instead opt for photography-specific apps such as PhotoPills or The Photographer's Ephemeris.

PhotoPills app on smartphone

Plan your shooting location using a mobile app such as PhotoPills or The Photographer's Ephemeris to jot down things like sunrise and sunset direction, golden hour length, and even shadow length.

These apps give a detailed view of when sunrise occurs, how long it lasts for, where and how long the shadows will be, and even allow you to fast-forward and rewind in time, or drop a pin anywhere in the world if you're planning ahead for a trip. 

Clean the Lens

When moving from a warmer atmosphere (such as your house or the car) to a colder one (like outside) you might experience misting on the front element of the lens. While this isn't a permanent setback, it can certainly delay proceedings, and wiping it with your jumper may leave smeary blurs that ruin subsequent photographs.

Cleaning products for lenses

Don't just wipe the end of your lens with a cloth, as there may be small particles of grit or dust that might cause micro scratches. Instead, blow off the front element first with an air blower, and then, give it a wipe. Add some cleaning fluid to remove smears if required.

The best way to alleviate this is to either use a lens warmer or a hand warmer wrapped around the barrel of the lens. This prevents rapid temperature differences between the lens and air and reduces or eliminates misting. If you find yourself without this, simply take along an air blower to remove dust particles, some lens cleaning fluid to prevent smear marks, and use a microfiber cloth to wipe the glass without scratching.

Conclusion

For beginners, this is a good start on what you need to get started taking nature photos that look like they're covered in frosty diamonds.

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