Photographing Winter Wonderland

October 26rd 2023

It will come as no surprise to most of you who have been following my work for a while that I am a real sucker for winter! Photographing Winter Wonderland definitely is one of my favorite aspects of photography! I know it can be unpleasant to stay out in the cold for hours for just a few clicks but I am definitely going to try to convince you that winter is simply the best season to enjoy some outdoor photography!

Many years ago, I used to be a car mechanic and I truly hated winter…imagine working under a car that drips water from melting snow on you until you are done working underneath it! Really not pleasant at all! But my passion for photography did change my way of seeing this absolutely breathtaking season and make it my personal favorite!

The Immortal
A partially covered in fresh textured snow gnarly dead tree along the shores of Upper Kananaskis Lake is always going to create an awesome foreground!


AWESOME NATURAL CONTRATS


The awesome natural contrast brought to us all by winter will definitely make any scene shine so much more! When doing landscape photography during the warmer months of the year, most elements of anyone’s composition will often have very similar tones and colors…while in the winter months, those same elements covered with a gentle coat of snow will definitely gain a lot of awesome natural contrasts. Pine trees for example, when covered with a gentle and fresh coat of snow will definitely look even better than during summer.

Keep Rollin'
Here is Morant's Curve near Lake Louise in Alberta. Such a marvelous scene to witness in front of your eyes!
One Million Miles
I love Morant's Curve even more during the winter season simply because the snow adds a bit of contrast to the trees which helps a lot in defining their shapes!


CRISP AND SHARP DETAILS


Crisp and Sharp Details everywhere! Fresh and fluffy snow or icy patterns along a lake or river can make some breathtaking foreground interests! As a nature and more specifically landscape photographer, I have to admit that I love to photograph textured elements and patterns…which winter has so much to offer! It is always so fun to use a snow drift or some cracks on the surface of a frozen lake as a leading line in a composition. If well positioned and pointing in the right direction, you will definitely have a winning image!

I truly love Marble Canyon in Kootenay National Park. It is spectacular to see the work of erosion over thousand of years! But the scene could definitely benefit of a bit more natural contrast...everything is just green.
Quantum Leap
Winter season definitely brings a magical feel and atmosphere to this same scene that looked a bit flat and boring during summer season...the snow not only creates and awesome contrast, it also helps sculpting the whole landscape.


SNOW COVERED DISTRACTIONS


Landscape photography has always been about finding great foreground, midground and background elements. You need elements in your composition to draw your viewers’ eyes to the right spot in your composition and in most cases, you will have distracting elements. Snow covered winter scenes are game changing as most of those little distractions will be hiding underneath the snow. This will most likely make for a much more minimalist composition too!

Heavenly
Tangle Ridge Mountain is a beautiful place to photograph but can be a little messy during summer season...thanks to the whole scene being covered with snow, most distractions are hiding underneath the snow which creates some beautiful pure minimalist scenes!


WALKING ON WATER


The expression Walking on Water has never made as much sense…the winter season will definitely give you that opportunity! Frozen lakes are a lot of fun for so many reasons! They give you endless possibilities of foregrounds! Think of methane bubbles or cracks on the ice as a foreground? Or even cooler is to find stripes that look like Angel’s Wings! It definitely opens 360 degree composition opportunities on mountains that you could probably not photograph during the summer. Always make sure you wear proper footwear when walking on a frozen lake…and by proper, I mean small crampons.

if Mordor was Frozen...
Huge ice slabs laying down on the lake bed during the cold months of winter at Abraham Lake creating some really strong leading lines.


FIGHTING THE ELEMENTS


Of course, photographing the Winter Wonderland does come with a hefty price tag… And by hefty price tag, I am not talking about the money aspect of it! You will be fighting against the elements like extreme cold, blowing snow, and snow storms quite a bit but in my book, that makes the experience so much more rewarding! When you see those images on your computer screen, you’ll remember what you’ve been through and will have quite a story to tell! I have slipped on my butt more often than I can remember, I froze a few toes, I’ve had camera gear failures because of extreme cold. Try to imagine how cold -42 celsius could feel like? But in all honesty, I still think winter is the most beautiful season to photograph! Here are a few tricks in order to make your winter photography experience much safer and enjoyable.

Glaciation
Ever wonder what -42 celsius looks like? Very cold afternoon here at Abraham Lake looking at Mount Michener...every drop of moisture in the air was deeply frozen which helped in creating this awe inspiring atmosphere.

CAMERA AND LENS CONDENSATION


You won’t be surprised to learn that camera and lens condensation can be a serious problem and it can definitely ruin some images… You could prevent it by avoiding thermal variations as much as possible…how? Keeping your camera bag closed inside your hotel room will help. Let it sit with zips fully closed inside your room in order to let it become room temperature as slow as possible. The camera bags are built with foam paddings which will serve as some sort of insulation… I know what you’re going to say; I want to see what I shot today or I want to charge my batteries…take everything you’ll need out of your bag before you enter your room. And on the next day, when you go out to photograph a sunrise, partially unzip your bag to allow some cold air to enter your bag while you are driving to your location and your camera equipment will slowly reach the outside temperature. You definitely want to avoid strong thermal variations which will cause heavy condensation on your equipment.




FROZEN CAMERA SENSOR


Have you ever heard of a Frozen Camera Sensor? A good friend of mine once had some serious problems on a cold morning in the Rockies. The images he was capturing were basically all covered with multicolored artifacts…He was sure his camera was broken. I was sure it was frozen condensation on the camera sensor. I recommended that he shoot multiple 30 seconds exposures to warm up his sensor a bit. It’s fair to say that I hate last minute plans, I am always ahead of time. We were at our sunrise location at least 30 minutes prior so he had plenty of time to shoot enough frames. Everything with his camera went back to normal after a few minutes. Thank goodness!

Mother Nature's Grace
Bow Lake will always offer a great show during winter...the snow is always great there! And what more to say about the light than wow!



CAMERA BATTERIES


In extremely cold temperatures surrounding the -40 celsius, it is quite normal that your camera batteries won’t last very long. Some of my batteries would last as little as 20 minutes before dying. Those temperatures are just too cold for the chemicals inside the batteries and they just freeze. A good way to keep your batteries warm is to keep them close to your body in a zipped pocket with a small foot warmer pad or two. This could help you a lot!



FEAR IS NOT A WEAKNESS


One thing to keep in mind in every season but more specifically winter, Fear is not a Weakness but a natural self defense mechanism! Your brain is telling you something or warning you of a danger. If you are on a frozen lake and don’t feel safe being there, turn around and go back on safe ground! Ice is normally safe when it is 15 centimeters thick or more. You should at all costs avoid stepping on ice thinner than 15 centimeters. In order to successfully evaluate the thickness of the ice, try to spot superposed bubbles or a crack in the ice. This will give you a good idea if it’s safe or not. Keep in mind that even though the ice looks safe, there is always a certain risk that comes with walking on a frozen lake...


Unified
Superposed Methane Bubbles are a very good indicator of ice thickness...use them as a tool! The thickness of the ice here can easily be approximately determined here...I was estimating the ice to be well over 30 centimeters thick so the verdict was; safe to be on it!

LISTEN TO YOUR BODY


Life is precious…if you start feeling cold, Listen to Your Body! Go back to a warmer location or to your car in order to warm up! One of our body mechanisms is to start shaking when we are cold…this sign is 100% natural and is a very important sign to listen to. Your body temperature is getting too low and you need to warm up! Hypothermia is no joke and can be extremely dangerous! No image will ever be worth risking your life!


NEVER GO HIKING SOLO


This one is probably the most important rule of all…you should never go hiking solo! And especially during the winter season! You never know if and when you’ll come face to face with an elk or a mountain lion. Always hike with a small group of people and make noise, talk or sign…this will make sure the animals are more likely to hear you. Also, if you hurt yourself, someone will be there to help you. You should always have safety gear like bear spray, a satellite radio, and a first aid kit. Those items are in most cases really small and will fit in your bag no problem. In the Canadian Rockies, there is almost always some danger of avalanches…be careful! Always look for avalanche warnings in effect for some areas. Consider bringing an avalanche shovel and some ropes. One thing is for sure, always be careful out there!


IN CONCLUSION...


In conclusion, I think this covers really well all main aspects of my favorite season. I sure hope this will give you not only a great hype to go out there and immortalize some crazy winter wonderland scenes but to also do it while being fully aware of its dangers. On this note, I would like to wish you all a wonderful winter season!

So Nice