Photographing in a winter wonderland offers us so many advantages, as all the distracting elements on the ground get hidden by snow. But then there comes the photographer, who wants to get out the best possible photograph. And exactly this leads to one of the problems.
In my latest vlog, where I was photographing a fantastic winter wonderland in Austria, I have to say it was a quite hard afternoon of landscape photography for me. But I enjoyed it.
When Daytime Is Your Enemy
I would usually prefer photographing snow in the morning, as it gets offered the best texture on its surface, after a cold night, or maybe after a bit of snowfall. But when you want to drive anywhere here in the mountains, the chance is high that you will have to use a mountain road. That's no problem at all with the bigger federal roads, as they have great winter service, which allows you to use them like in other seasons.
But as a landscape photographer, I’m not interested in photographing at the well-known places that everyone knows. I prefer the spots found by myself in the wilderness. And therefore I have to use smaller roads that are not used all too frequently. But these roads don’t get winter service before nine or ten a.m. after a snowy night. That’s the time when I usually return to my car after shooting in the morning. So, winter photography in the morning is quite tricky here. You could stay anywhere overnight in a mountain hut, of course, but you will be anyway to the area around the hut, and due to our pandemic situation since 2020, I currently generally avoid that.
But limitations happen just in our heads. Who says, that it is not possible to get fantastic snow another time of the day? What I do is simply look for snowfall in the afternoon, when the roads are all open and the snow is freshly falling from the sky. It leads to fantastic textures.
When The Photographer Hinders Themselves
Whenever I enter a location, I like to wander around to get an impression of that piece of nature. I inhale it all, and finally, I don’t have to look for compositions, — they are suddenly just there. I don’t have to do more than just fine-tuning and capturing them. The biggest requirement is to look at things from different perspectives. When I’m doing this, I’m still not thinking if there is a composition possible, I just observe. And this process takes a while; sometimes, I have to do a lot of steps, but suddenly, I see a story appearing in front of me. I build up a composition, I take my camera out of my bag, maybe I wait for the right timing, and then, I expose. And finally, I go home with a fantastic photograph in so many cases.
But if I were to try to do it exactly like that in winter, chances are high I would go home without any photograph. And the reason is simply that with each step I make in the snow, I create irreversible footprints. There is nothing easier than damaging my composition by myself, just by observing the landscape, just by walking around. We have to be careful here.
How I Succeed in Winter
There is no way to get rid of footprints unless we don’t walk around. But we need to walk around to find a composition. So, what can we do?
I walk around in a winter wonderland. But I look for potential stories with nearly every step I take. I said “stories,” not compositions. There's a difference. Framing up compositions is fine-tuning after I have found a story. I just look for any elements that attract me, for associations between elements, and listen to my emotions. And after I have found something, I try to build up a composition with each tiny step — really, each step. I don’t have that luxury of walking around in my scene as I want, I build up multiple compositions, and when I’m happy with one, I grab my camera, fine-tune the composition, and take a shot. Then, I go on walking carefully, I look for better options at that scene, and if there is one, I frame up one more composition. This is more effort than other seasons, though. But for me, it feels like getting much more intimate with nature, which is an amazing experience.
It is important that you think about your options with nearly every step, as I have done in the above-linked video. The first image I took was even quite close to the parking place. And this is just because I started to think about stories with each step.
What are the things you are struggling with in winter? Feel free to leave a comment below.