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How to Shoot Great Winter Photos

Date: January 15, 2017      Publication: Bottom Line Personal      Source:  Jeff Wignall      Print:

Your smartphone camera can do a great job capturing winter scenes whether it’s the kids digging out the car or a pretty, snowy landscape. Cold weather, however, does present some special considerations. What to do…

Keep the phone warm. All cell phones have a “safe” minimum temperature for use—typically 32°F. Letting a phone get much colder than that will almost certainly cause it to respond slowly, drain batteries quickly and potentially cause the phone’s screen to become brittle and crack. Also, phones brought from a very cold environment into a warm one are susceptible to permanent condensation damage beneath the display. Here’s how to keep your phone usable and safe in extreme cold…

  • Keep it in an inside pocket, and bring it out only to shoot.
  • Avoid leaving it in a cold car, and if you must, shut it down first because the battery drains faster if the phone is turned on.
  • Use a weatherproof case such as those made by LifeProof (LifeProof.com) to protect your phone from snow and water.

Wear the right gloves. Most smartphone displays use a technology called capacitive sensing that transfers tiny electrical charges from your fingers to activate commands, so they respond to bare fingers but not to most other touches—including most gloves. Several companies do, however, make capacitive gloves that use special conductive fibers in the fingertips to transmit your body’s electrical impulses (Example: Moshi.com/touch-screen-gloves-digits, $29.95). Mittens that pop open to expose fingers (such as L.L. Bean’s Flip Mittens, $29.95) are another alternative.

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Make adjustments to shoot snow scenes. Because snow is an almost perfect reflector of sunlight, extreme contrast is a constant issue. The bright snow and deep shadows in a midday scene often are beyond the camera’s dynamic range (the range from dark shadows to bright highlights), and the result is a -photo with important areas that are too bright or too dark. Most of today’s smartphone cameras have an “HDR” mode that solves this problem by taking three or more separate exposures (one each for bright areas, mid tones and dark areas) and then automatically merging them for one good exposure. Because the camera has to fire multiple exposures, the HDR mode typically is good only for stationary subjects such as landscapes, though a little distant motion (sledders on a hill) usually won’t ruin the shot.

Try black and white. Snowy landscape scenes often are more about shapes and textures than colors, and they often look equally interesting, and sometimes more so, in black and white. Most phone cameras have a black-and-white shooting mode and/or let you convert images to monochrome after shooting.

Source: Jeff Wignall is a photographer and author of more than 15 how-to photo books, including The Photographer’s Master Guide to Color. He is a contributing editor to Popular Photography magazine. JeffWignall.com