When you’re shooting winter landscape photography, the window of opportunity for good weather and light is much narrower. In this tutorial we’ll show you everything you need to know before, during and after your winter shoot.
Careful planning is a must for winter landscape photography. Keep a close eye on the forecasts, and think about what time of day you’ll be shooting.
As we wanted to capture a cool wintry scene we avoided the golden hours, so we shot early in the morning when the light was more neutral, but before the sun got too high so the light wasn’t flat, so that we could capture a wider range of tones and some interesting shadow detail.
For this winter landscape tutorial we photographed a lone tree in Dartmoor – a strong focal point makes for a great landscape shot, and a gnarly old tree will really stand out against a stark wintry backdrop.
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We wanted to capture vivid blue skies with a scattering of fluffy clouds to add texture, so we used a polarising filter to bring out the colour and contrast.
Once you’ve taken your image we’ll show you how to enhance the wintry feel using the Photoshop CS version of Camera Raw, which offers powerful creative tools that you don’t get in Elements. We’ll then show you how to add the finishing touches in Photoshop’s main editor.
How to set up and shoot a winter landscape
For our shoot we headed to wild and windswept Dartmoor. Lone trees make great landscape subjects at any time of the year, but especially in winter, with crisp blue skies and a rolling landscape for a backdrop – with the right light you can really bring out the interesting shapes and textures.
We shot early in the morning before the sun got too high to avoid flat light, and also so that we could capture some interesting shadow detail in the foreground rocks.
02 Camera setup
Mount your camera on a tripod, set it to Manual mode, and set an aperture of around f/9 for optimum lens performance and to keep the foreground detail sharp. Keep the ISO at 100 for maximum image quality, and set the shutter speed for a balanced exposure; your exact settings will depend on the light, and as your camera is on a tripod it doesn’t matter if you end up with a relatively slow shutter speed.
Use Live View to compose the shot. For a classic photo composition we positioned the lone tree on the right-hand vertical third line, with the wind-blown branches leaning into the frame. We filled the foreground with interesting rock detail, and included some distant moorland in the background. We filled the top of the frame with the blues and wispy clouds of the crisp morning sky.
We used a polarising filter to give the blue sky more intensity – if you have a circular filter like ours you simply screw it on to the end of your lens. Polarising filters are popular with landscape pros, as they cut out the reflections from moisture particles in the air to reveal the true blue of the sky. The effect works best when you’re shooting at 90 degrees to the sun, but watch out for corner darkening when using wide-angle lenses in particular.
05 Shoot Raw
Shoot Raw for maximum quality, and to give yourself more flexibility at the editing stage – even if you’ve captured a good exposure, a bit of tweaking at the Raw processing stage can reveal tones and detail that you might not be able to wring out of a JPEG image. Select Raw (or Raw+JPEG) in the Quality menu, or via the Quick control screen.
06 Live View focusing
Set your lens to Manual focus, zoom in on the main focal point in the scene in Live View, and adjust the focus ring to get the detail sharp. Use a shutter release, or the 2 sec self-timer option, to take the shot. In Playback mode, zoom in to make sure the key details are perfectly sharp.
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