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How To: Take Great Travel Photos in Winter

by December 2010 - last edited January 2013 by Moderator

Despite what you might think looking at postcard racks and holiday brochures, people don't just travel to places in the sunny, summer months. Winter photography doesn't have to be dull though; often when the sun does shine you get very bright, crisp light.

Although the days might be shorter, the relatively low directional sunlight means that the sun is never directly overhead. This means you can often shoot all day and not get unpleasant shadows from overhead light.

 

Horseguards Parade, London. By Steve Davey

Horseguards Parade, London. Even in the winter, you can get stunning clear and sunny days - you just have to be ready for them.

 

Winter sunlight can cause a lot of contrast, making it hard to adequately show both the shadows and highlights. Combat this by selecting a lower contrast setting if you're shooting regular JPEGs. If you’re shooting using RAW format you can reduce contrast when you process the images.

 

Look at Things Differently

There are of course times when the weather is just rubbish: overcast skies, murky light and even drizzle or rain. But this still doesn't mean you can't take good pictures, it just means is that you have to take different pictures.

 

 

Riding a bike in the rain, Hoi An, Vietnam. By Steve Davey

Riding a bike in the rain, Hoi An, Vietnam. If all else fails - take pictures which show the effects of the rain!

 

Shooting long shots such as cityscapes or sweeping landscapes will show up the poor, hazy conditions more, whereas close-ups and details will make the overcast conditions less obvious. You can still shoot the longer shots as holiday pictures; it would be foolish not to come back with any pictures of the Eiffel Tower just because the weather was bad. But what you should try to do is take shots that are appropriate for the conditions as well.

 

Tricks of the Trade

Monument Valley, USA. By Steve Davey

Monument Valley, USA. Avoid long, overcast winter shots by focussing on an object in the foreground.

 

There are certain tricks of the trade that you can employ to improve uninspiring winter pictures. If the sky is dull and lifeless, then boldly crop it out of the picture. If there is mist or fog, shooting into the light will stop your pictures looking flat. If you’re shooting a more expansive view, try to include something in the foreground so that at least part of the picture isn't hazy.

If the conditions are dramatically bad you can sometimes be rewarded with dramatic pictures: a beam of sunlight breaking through dark storm clouds on the Yorkshire moors, or a Norwegian Fjord wreathed in fog. It is always worth persevering and still heading out to take pictures – even if things look pretty hopeless. It only takes a few seconds for things to turn around.

Technically, bad weather presents a couple of problems. If there is any rain, you have to protect your gear. If it's a light drizzle then a plastic bag or even a hotel shower-cap can help. If the rain is more extreme then you might have to invest in a bespoke camera raincover.

 

Kata Tjuta (The Olgas), Australia. By Steve Davey

Kata Tjuta (The Olgas), Australia, lit by a patch of Sunlight. If you wait long enough on an overcast day you can be rewarded with dramatic lighting.

 

All digital cameras will have some sort of white balance facility, which can be used to counter the cold blue colour cast that you tend to get when photographing on overcast days. You can try the auto white balance if you are shooting JPEGs or if you're shooting RAW you can correct the cast with RAW processing software, with no loss of quality.

 

Kubu Island, Makgadikgadi Pan, Botswana. By Steve Davey

Stormy sky over Makgadikgadi Pan, Botswana On the most stormy day, you can sometimes be rewarded by shafts of sunlight.

 

All photos by Steve Davey. Header image: Oslo Fjord, Norway. Even the worst, rainy winter weather can produce an atmospheric shot, if the weather is bad enough!

Steve extensive book, Footprint Travel Photography covers just about everything you could want to know about travelling with your camera. More information on http://www.bettertravelphotography.com/phototours/footprinttravel.html Do you have any tips to add? How have you combatted the effects of dull winter weather in your travel photography? Has a seemingly dismal day ever resulted in one of your best ever shots? Leave a comment below and feel free to link to one or more of your photos to demonstrate your point.


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AmandaCasey December 2010
Great advice again Steve. You really do have to be committed in these temperatues, but some of my all time favorite shots are winter ones.
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June 2011
Thanks Amanda. Cold weather does mean less other people in your shots - which can help!
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Steve Davey