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Sarah Ehlen set herself a challenge in winter photography...One of my favorite times of the year to photograph is winter. I love how a fresh dusting of snow can transform a landscape overnight, and I also love the quality of light during the colder months.

Even though the winter season brings so many unique opportunities for photography, cold temperatures can make it tempting to stay in and hibernate.

That’s why, every year, I set a challenge for myself to get out and photograph as much as possible. This winter, I took it a step further and challenged myself to photograph every day for two weeks during the shortest (and coldest) days of the year.

It was awesome!

I really recommend doing things like this that might push you out of your comfort zone a bit. I guarantee you’ll come away with images you wouldn’t have created otherwise.

That said, here are some tips I’ve learned from my winter photography shoots in snowy Montana…

Show up for the light. In winter, the light is short but sweet. And with such short days, shooting both sunrise and sunset is well within reach. It really doesn’t get any easier than a sunrise time around 8 a.m. and sunset around 4 or 5 p.m. Especially if you’re a landscape photographer, this is a must-do! Plus, winter weather often brings interesting clouds that will make for spectacular photos at the golden hour.

Challenge yourself to get out and play with winter photography themes

Look for vibrant color. Any splashes of color such as bright clothing or painted buildings will really stand out against the monochrome of a winter scene. Use them in your composition to draw your viewers’ attention and direct their eye.

Challenge yourself to get out and play with winter photography themes

Play with black and white. If you’ve ever wanted to get better at black-and-white photography, winter is a wonderful time to practice. Often, in winter you’re dealing with a black-and-white world anyway, so it’s the perfect opportunity to work with lines, shape, and contrast to create some striking black-and-white images.

Challenge yourself to get out and play with winter photography themes

Take portraits. The quality of light in winter is often soft and diffused, which can be beautiful for portraits. Plus, snow is very bright and acts as a natural reflector, perfect for bouncing light onto your subject’s face and lightening shadows. Experiment with classic portraits or get creative with capturing fun winter activities.

Challenge yourself to get out and play with winter photography themes

Take care of your gear (and yourself). A little preparation goes a long way. You won’t enjoy it as much if you’re cold, so be sure to dress in plenty of warm layers, bring hand warmers if needed, as well as a hot drink. When you’re working your camera dials, it helps a lot to have a thin pair of liner gloves so you don’t freeze your fingers.

For gear, bring spare camera batteries that you keep warm in an inside pocket, since cold temperatures tend to shorten battery life. You’ll also want to bring a couple of lens-cleaning cloths to brush off snowflakes and a plastic covering or bag to put over your camera in case it starts to snow hard. 

Lastly, when you’re done shooting, be careful as you bring your camera back inside to a warm environment. To avoid condensation, it’s a good idea to put it in a sealed Ziploc bag or keep it closed up in your camera bag until it has a chance to warm up to room temperature.

If you live in a wintry place, I hope these ideas inspire you to bundle up and head out with your camera and a Thermos full of hot chocolate to capture some images that you can only get during a few months of the year.

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