Top Tips for Winter Landscape Photography

When we think of the winter months, our first thought might be of staying indoors with a hot drink and a warm blanket. But don’t let the cold weather prevent you from exploring the outdoors, where unique and ever-changing photographic opportunities abound. We asked some of our photographers for their top tips on shooting winter landscape images. Here’s what they had to say!

Mark Hamblin

Mark lives in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park in Scotland: a famously scenic landscape which transforms into something extraordinary during the winter months. “Our dream vision of winter is a magical wonderland of pristine snow and azure skies,” says Mark. “But a covering of snow isn’t the sole ingredient for great pictures. The same basic photographic principals of good subject, good composition and good lighting are required to create memorable images.”

Winter Light

Winter sun is special. It hangs much lower over the horizon compared to other seasons, casting a beautiful low-angled light across the landscape. This lengthens shadows and creates interesting lines, shapes and form. Low-angled sun passes through more of the earth’s atmosphere, creating attractive warmer tones that compliments the cooler tones of shadow areas.
Give consideration to the direction of the lighting, as subjects can appear very two-dimensional when front lit. If possible, utilise side-lighting to accentuate the contours revealed by the play of light and shadow. This creates the illusion of depth and gives your images a more three-dimensional look.
Whilst we often crave bright sunshine, the soft low-contrast light provided by overcast conditions can also be used effectively. These scenes may lack strong colours, but this makes them ideal for conversion to black and white.

Where to Shoot?

Successful winter landscapes can be captured in almost any location. Agricultural landscapes look great with a light covering of snow, where the lines of field boundaries provide compositional aids. A wide-angle lens is perfect for emphasising lead-in and converging lines for a more dynamic perspective, especially when shooting from a low-angle or in vertical format to exaggerate foreground.

Woodland interiors offer a welcome alternative in foggy conditions, when bare skeletal forms of trees recede into the distance. Try using an extreme wide-angle lens to photograph the woodland canopy from below. The converging branches, laced with rime frost or snow, are best captured at midday when the sun is at its highest and provides more even backlighting.

Since the chance of snowfall increases with elevation, mountains are a good choice for shooting wintry landscapes. Views from the summit are always impressive but venturing into the hills in winter should only be undertaken by those with experience and the proper equipment. There are equally rewarding viewpoints from ground level.

Snow can trick your meter

One of the most challenging things with predominantly white scenes is achieving correct exposure. The whiteness of the snow and its reflective surface will cause your camera to misread the white balance. Adjusting your white balance settings can help prevent the snow looking grey or blue. Therefore, when shooting in an automatic mode you’ll need to dial in some exposure compensation—somewhere between +1 to +3 stops (or EV) to prevent dark, under-exposed images. Manual mode will provide better control over exposure so use the camera’s histogram to check the tonal range and be careful not to overexpose to the point that you burn out bright highlights, losing detail. Test your shots a few times until your camera is capturing the pure whiteness of the snow.

It’s not all about snow

The winter season offers a greater chance of extreme weather and an opportunity to capture images with a distinctly cool edge. But cold snaps don’t always bring snow. Frost and ice are equally photogenic. Keep an eye on the weather forecast and plan to head out early morning after a cold, clear night in search of frost-laden trees and foliage. Ice that has formed around bodies of water creates interesting shapes and patterns to use as foreground interest to wider landscape views. Fog and mist are also common in winter, simplifying the landscape – ideal for minimalist images.

Dress for Success:

Have a thermos flask handy so that you can warm up with a hot drink. Staying hydrated and nourished helps maintain warmth, so pack snacks too!
Winter conditions can be challenging, and you need to be well wrapped up in plenty of warm layers. Ideally they should be windproof, water-repellent and breathable. Extreme cold can numb your fingers, so wear gloves that will help you grip your camera securely. A warm hat and a face mask or balaclava are a good idea, especially in windy conditions. Standing still on frozen ground and waiting for the right light will mean you get colder quicker, so keep your feet warm with insulated boots and synthetic or merino wool socks.

Sven Začek

Sven lives and works in Estonia, where snowfall is common. He has described being “drunk from snow, when the sight of trees and bushes enrobed in white feels intoxicating.

Suur Emajogi river, partially frozen at sunrise, Tartumaa county, Southern Estonia. January
Suur Emajogi river, partially frozen at sunrise, Tartumaa county, Southern Estonia. January

Add a pop of colour

In all-white scenes, your photos may benefit from a kick of colour, to breathe life into the image. White is a highly reflective colour, which changes depending on the colour of the light hitting it. During sunset and sunrise, the white snow reflects the saturated tones in the sky, infusing your photos with beautiful shades, as seen in the above image.
Remember that the sun rises much later and sets much earlier in the winter months, so you can shoot during more sociable hours! The ‘golden hours’ (1 hour after sunrise & 1 hour before sunset) are the best times to shoot landscape images.

Timing is Everything

The most interesting moments at least for my photography occur during the changes in weather conditions: when mild weather turns colder and lakes and rivers start to freeze, or when light snowfall turns into a blizzard, or extreme winds adorn rocks and tree trunks with ice. Getting dramatic shots depends on being there when weather suddenly changes. Pay attention to weather forecasts so you can be on location, especially if you want to photograph snow when it’s fresh and untrodden.

Guy Edwardes

Guy Edwardes is based in the UK, but has also photographed winter landscapes across Europe, Scandinavia, Japan, Canada & Iceland. He says: I’ve always loved cold weather and the challenges it can impose on my photography. I particularly enjoy capturing the landscape under a pristine blanket of fresh snow”.


Protect your equipment

Dry, powdery snow won’t damage your camera, but be sure to wipe it off before going indoors or into the car where it could melt and seep into your camera. Don’t blow snow off your camera or lens, as your breath will only freeze to the equipment. An umbrella is often impractical, so simply use a small towel to keep the worst of the snow off your equipment. A lens hood will help protect your lens but check it regularly as snow can build up inside the hood! And point your camera down when not using it, to prevent snow collecting on the lens element.

Working in extreme cold (-20C and below) can be hard on some camera equipment. Lubricants used on mechanical parts inside some cameras can freeze, potentially leading to permanent damage. I try to limit the amount of time I use individual camera bodies in these conditions.

If you’re out all night (e.g. photographing the Northern Lights) a battery-operated lens heater can help prevent your wide-angle lens misting up or frosting over in the cold night air.

Metal tripod parts will become very cold in winter weather so make sure you wear a decent pair of gloves when handling them. Never spread the legs of a tripod as far as they go and then push them into deep snow. The stress can cause the freezing metal to snap. Accessory snowshoes can provide a more stable footing for your tripod when working in deep snow.

Condensation will form when bringing an ice-cold camera into a warm room, which will cause lenses to fog up and may even lead to damage to electrical components. If the temperature is just above freezing, I leave my equipment outside in my car or in an unheated room. In colder conditions I remove my batteries and memory cards whilst still outside and then bring equipment bags inside without opening them. This allows the equipment inside the warm up gradually, reducing the risk of condensation. As an additional safeguard place your equipment bags inside a sealed plastic bag before bringing it inside.

Pack spare batteries

Cold temperatures drain batteries much faster than usual, so pack some spares and keep them in an inside pocket, close to your body for warmth. Cold batteries that appear spent will regain their power once warmed back up. Try Placing them in a pocket with a hand warmer to revitalise them.

Focus problems

If your lens struggles to focus in cold conditions it may have fogged up inside, so make sure you heed the tips above to prevent this happening. Heavy falling snow can also cause the autofocus system some problems. Personally, I always use manual focus for my landscape photography, zooming in on the camera’s rear LCD screen to place the point of focus exactly where I want it for the required depth of field. I find this to be a much more reliable way of focussing, especially in low light and inclement winter conditions.

Shutter speed

During snowfall, faster shutter speeds will freeze the movement of falling flakes, whereas slower shutter speeds will result in longer streaks of snow. Choose the speed that best suits the effect you’re looking for. Bear in mind that lens focal length will also have an effect – the longer the lens the faster the shutter speed will need to be in order to freeze the falling snowflakes. If necessary, you can use neutral density filters to increase exposure time for really long streaks.

Orsolya Haarberg

Orsolya specializes in photographing landscapes and wildlife in the Nordic countries. She is especially drawn to snow-covered landscapes, and the long winters in the north give plentiful opportunities to photograph in such conditions.


Winter photography inspiration

ABOVE LEFT: As we enter the winter months, the frozen surface of lakes can be exciting to explore with a drone. As the developing ice moves, cracks melt and re-freeze again, it provides ever-changing patterns that offer exciting opportunities for creative images.

ABOVE RIGHT: The first thin layer of snow adds an exciting element to any landscape, subtracting colours from the scene and simplifying it.

ABOVE LEFT: On days with diffuse light, the snow cover smooths out the contours of the landscape, creating an illusion of flat topography.

ABOVE RIGHT: The neutral tones of the snow (white or grey, depending on the amount of light) are easily influenced by colours of objects which remain exposed.


View over Mt Store Smorstabbtinden in the Jotunheimen National Park, Norway in evening light. April 2020.
View over Mt Store Smorstabbtinden in the Jotunheimen National Park, Norway in evening light. April 2020.

ABOVE: Sunlight awakens the snow to life and so does shadow – adding a warm or cool tints to winter landscapes on clear days.

More images by Orsolya:

David Noton

David Noton has been travelling the world in search of new vistas for more than three decades. Here, he reflects on his feelings about winter landscape photography – and what to do when there’s no snow!



I couldn’t live in the tropics; I’d miss the changing of the seasons too much. But while I know from long experience that, photographically, each season has its pros, that’s sometimes difficult to believe on a grey, dark, damp winter’s afternoon in Yeovil. The truth is the winters here in England are often a sad disappointment. I grew up in Canada, you see, where the first snows used to come in October and lasted until April. Talk of winter photography spurns memories of crisp frosty sparkling mornings, but the reality is, short of heading for Iceland, those conditions are increasingly rare; we’ve seen no snow here in Wessex for almost two years. But the good news is there’s more to winter landscape photography then snow and ice. As it so often is in photography, it’s all about the light.

Dorset from Somerset; layers of mist at dusk near Sandford Orcas from Corton Denham Beacon on a winter's afternoon, England, UK. January 2020.
Dorset from Somerset; layers of mist at dusk near Sandford Orcas from Corton Denham Beacon on a winter’s afternoon, England, UK. January 2020.

Take for example this picture of the bare trees in layers of mist. I love to use the bold shapes of winter trees as stark, compositional elements, maybe backlit in the mist, or silhouetted against a glowing golden highlight. And it’s that winter light which can be so gorgeously evocative. Yes, the days are short, (which is no hardship in my book!) but the quality and mood of the winter light with the sun low on the horizon presents us with tantalising options right through the day, and into the night.

Winter storm on the coast near Arnastapi, Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland, February 2016.
Winter storm on the coast near Arnastapi, Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland, February 2016.

Winter does challenge us; working the light on an icy cliff in Iceland in the stinging wind and sleet, with freezing fingers and a lens coated in salty spray, is not easy. But the old adage that the worst weather makes for the best pictures holds a lot of truth. The winter storms that regularly roll in off the Atlantic often bring the most dramatic lighting conditions, and big waves. And what photographer doesn’t like stormy seas? Of course, the attendant high winds make life difficult, and often preclude the use of a tripod. Whilst shooting the picture of the Jurassic Coast below I was virtually blown off the cliff top! But no one ever said this game was easy. And I love that low winter light side lighting the scene. Most of my best pictures of the Jurassic Coast have been shot in the winter.

The Jurassic Coast from St Aldhem's Head, Dorset, England, UK. January 2018.
The Jurassic Coast from St Aldhem’s Head, Dorset, England, UK. January 2018.

There’s no getting away from it though; a landscape draped with fresh snow, bathed in the first arcing light of day is a truly beautiful sight. We photographers live for such moments, but they are so fleeting. So often the warmth from that first light starts the thaw, and within an hour the snow is looking distinctly tatty. Which means we have to be there, ready and willing in the right place at the right time before first light. It doesn’t happen by accident. Planning, scouting, preparing; the success of a photographic shoot is determined well before a camera is touched. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Well, 40+ years behind the lens suggests otherwise. Quite frankly, it’s the hardest bit. Most times I fail. But the rewards are the pictures, not to mention the memories that make us wealthy souls. Good luck.

Line of trees at Milborne Port in snow and mist, Somerset, England, UK. January 2021.
Line of trees at Milborne Port in snow and mist, Somerset, England, UK. January 2021.


More winter inspiration

ABOVE LEFT: Low winter sun lengthens shadows, so look for dramatic shapes and lines to break up the expanse of white.

ABOVE RIGHT: The winter sun can serve as a wonderful compositional element in itself. Choosing a very small aperture (e.g. f16 or more) will create a starburst effect.

ABOVE LEFT: In white winter landscapes, any colourful object will stand out. Use them as compositional focus points, to catch the viewer’s eye.

ABOVE RIGHT: Look for interesting patterns in bare branches, which can be used them to frame objects in the distance.

ABOVE LEFT: Frost changes the character of simple subjects, transforming grass, spiderwebs and leaves into artwork! Look out for interesting patterns and designs, especially in early sunlight which catches the frost nicely.

ABOVE RIGHT: In winter, mist and fog is quite common. If you live near a lake or river, watch out for fog forming when cold air drifts across the relatively warm water. Fog doesn’t linger for long so you’ll need to catch it quickly!