Get Ready for Winter Photography

by Robert Berdan
October 26, 2010

"I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape - the
loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter.
Andrew Wyeth - Painter



For some photographers winter is a time to hibernate, but dress warmly and there is no reason you can't take great pictures. You don't have to go far - start in your backyard by photographing snowflakes or after they land on your cars' windshield.  Also don't forget to photograph ice patterns that form on you windows when it gets cold.

Snowflakes taken with 100 mm Macro lens by Robert Berdan

Snowflakes that landed on the black metal railing by my backdoor - taken with 100 mm Macro lens - you don't need a microscope just a keen eye and a macro lens to photograph snowflakes.

As ice freezes around ponds, lakes and rivers you can find abstract patterns created by trapped air bubbles and leaves. Most wildlife such as moose, deer, fox and coyotes are easier to spot in winter.

Bull moose by Robert Berdan

Bull moose north of Calgary after fresh snowfall and hoarfrost

If you like to photograph birds, Snowy Owls migrate into southern Alberta around the end of October and leave at the end of March.  My favourite spot for photographing snowy owls is near a small town called Mossleigh. Bring a pair of binoculars to scan fence posts and telephone poles.

Snowy Owl by Robert Berdan

Snowy Owl on telephone pole with full moon behind, photographed near Mossleigh, AB - south of Calgary.

Watch for Great Horned Owls in barn windows and Great Gray Owls in trees around Bragg Creek and Millarville. Don't overlook some of the abandoned homes, barns, and fences alongside the back roads. 

Bowmount Park in winter by Robert Berdan

Black and White photo of Bowmount Park in Silver Springs after first snowfall

When there is fog in winter I usually get up early next morning and check for hoarfrost. Hoarfrost can transform the landscape into a winter paradise, but the effects usually last only a few hours. If you are looking to take winter landscapes, one of my favourite spots is Big Hill Springs provincial park which features several small waterfalls. North of Calgary there are also several sandstone Hoodoos that can be photographed next to Range Road 25 north of Big Hill Springs Road. Near the Calgary zoo you can photograph lights from Calgary's skyscrapers reflecting off the Bow River before sunrise. I know it sounds crazy, but I like to photograph in bad weather. A good set of winter tires, a sand bag, a four wheel drive, a cell phone, shovel and a blanket are tools I bring along with me. I also tell someone when to expect me back.

Sunrise Vermilion lake in January, Banff National Park, AB by Robert Berdan

Sunrise in January, Vermilion Lake Banff National park, AB

In Banff National park, Vermilion lakes has the potential for great sunrise and sunsets. When conditions are good open water reflects the colours from the sky. The ice festival at Lake Louise around the end of January offers opportunities to photograph ice carvings and winter sports such as cross country skiing, hockey, and dog sledding.

Elk by Robert Berdan

Elk in Hillsdale meadows off Highway 1A, Banff National Park

Elk are frequently seen adjacent to highway 1A in Banff National Park. If you want to photograph wolves up close in a wilderness setting you can visit the Northern Lights Wolf Centre in Golden and go for a walk with their wolves ($295 for 1.5 hours). The owners, Shelly and Casey Black are involved in wolf conservation (see their web site

Wolf howl in winter by Robert Berdan

Wolf howl - Northern Lights Wolf Centre in Golden BC

Winter is also a great time to process your digital images in Adobe Photoshop. Try converting some of your winter photographs into black and white, blue monotone or a combination of black and white with some colour. You can also create photomontages - shoot a series of overlapping photos by standing in one place then bring them together in Photoshop.

Photomontage of the Bottrel store.

Photomontage created by taking several pictures and then importing them into photoshop using the photomontage
feature. For more information on how to create this effect see my section on Hockney Style images.

Another fun technique is to layer two or more images on top of each other and alter the blending modes to create interesting photo-sandwiches. If you are not familiar with Photoshop consider taking a workshop over the winter, it's amazing what you can do with photographs you already have. This winter you can choose to stay inside and hibernate or you can embrace it and explore the unique beauty this season brings.

Photographers in winter photographing Elk in Banff National Park by Robert Berdan

Photographers gather to photograph Elk beside Highway 1A in Banff National Park - Where will you be this winter?

More information - see article on Winter Photography also by R. Berdan


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