Winter Photography Techniques

by Doug Johnson


Undisturbed, quiet and beautiful, winter is a season like no other. From the smallest ice crystal to the great expanse of a snow-covered field, the cold of winter is the visual architect for an endlessly evolving storyline. For photographers it is a pure white canvas for contemplation and creativity.


The winter months provide us with a unique perspective of the outside world; one in which most color is relatively unseen. Leafless tree branches crack the sky from autumn’s ritual and nearly all other color is hidden by a blanket of white snow. These sometimes harsh conditions might keep some photographers inside with the camera bag snuggled away until the color of spring and warmth returns. With the right gear, however, and a keen eye, winter is a blessing and an opportunity to explore the visual wonders it provides.

One of the greatest architects of winter’s opportunities is the wind, eroding and redepositing snow crystals, creating lines and adding visual movement to any winter scene.



Even though color’s impact is subtle and quiet during the snowy months of winter, color can be dynamic and add a splash of excitement to any monochromatic scene.


Trees make great subjects in any season, but in winter they can be even more expressive. Their branches provide the compositional framework and in winter this potential is amplified with the absence of leaves. I love trees!


Pure white snow is a powerful reflector and with the warm light of alpenglow and the golden hours at sunrise and sunset, this benefit becomes even more powerful.



There are many variables that contribute to a successful winter photo adventure, but being prepared for the cold might be the most significant. Here are a few helpful tips:

  • Stay warm, dry and happy by layering your main clothing: inner, mid and outer layers. One of the best little clothing options for keeping your hands warm and toasty are gloves made by companies such as Aquatech. These handy winter gloves were designed for photographers, allowing your thumb and index finger access to adjust dials, press buttons, etc.

  • Another handy little accessory for cold weather photography are disposable hand/foot warming packets. You’ll get hours of warmth from these safe little products. Beyond your boots and gloves, they fit just about anywhere. Try one under your hat or in a pocket. Eating well and staying hydrated helps too!

  • Optimize your camera battery power by storing the spares in a pocket close to your body (warm and dry). If your camera shows low battery power, install one of the warm ones and put the drained one back in your pocket. It will acquire a little more power after it warms up.

  • If you use a tripod, treat yourself to some leg covers. They not only protect the legs, but handling the tripod will be warmer for you!

One of my all-time favorite places to photograph in the snowy white of winter is Yellowstone National Park and we are really excited to announce that DJP Workshops will be returning to Yellowstone in February of 2021. A maximum of only seven spots are available and the workshop will fill quickly. For workshop information, go to dougjohnsonphotography.com!

Here’s to the beauty of winter!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Doug Johnson
Doug Johnson is a Colorado native now living in Missoula, Montana. Before a life-changing pursuit of photographic art, he was an outdoor educator for more than 20 years, passionately teaching people backcountry skills in navigation, mountaineering, avalanche awareness and wilderness first aid. Since graduating from RMSP’s Summer Intensive program in 1996, Doug’s work has covered many diverse projects in the documentary, commercial, fine art and educational fields. Assignments have taken him from coyote shooting in Wyoming to the last stages of a woman’s life to the graffiti-covered alleys and abandoned buildings of Denver. He is currently involved in an ongoing project called Art Music, which fuses the art of photography with live musical performance. His educational philosophy is fun, intuitive and full of creative persistence. No matter where you are in your photographic journey, Doug’s balance of the aesthetic with the technical can help you further express your unique vision.