When the temperatures begin to plummet and snow blankets the Earth, many garden photographers put their cameras away. Resist the urge! The natural world offers abundant beauty during the winter months if you know where to look. Not only does winter photography keep your creative juices flowing, but it’ll help you pass the time until warm weather returns. Here are a few tips to inspire you to go outside and photograph your garden this winter.
1. Focus on form and structure
Without vivid flowers and lush foliage, you have to focus on the garden’s bones. Study the landscape and look for captivating structures, forms, and patterns. A Japanese maple tree is just as attractive without its red leaves. Its gnarled branches twist and turn, creating intricate, abstract designs.
Identifying patterns of repetition is a powerful composition technique and can give you exciting subject matter. A single dry flower stalk may appear dull, but you can create a more compelling image when you focus on a group of stalks in parallel alignment. On a larger scale, a grove of white birches or aspens also creates strong vertical lines. In both instances, zoom in on the pattern, so it fills the frame.
2. Look closer for interesting textures or plants
As you peer out the window, at first glance, the world may look bleak and gray. It’s difficult to imagine there’s anything worth photographing. Another way to find inspiration is to get closer. Inspect your garden for interesting textures, like the coarse bark of an ancient oak tree or lacy lichen on a stone. Dry coneflower and poppy seed heads look magical when kissed by frost.
Pro tip: A macro lens comes in handy here, as it allows you to magnify the treasures you find.
3. Add pops of color
The winter palette is often monochromatic, with subdued neutral hues and large expanses of white. Overcast skies can further reduce contrast, softening the landscape.
Adding a little pop of color can transform a photograph from boring to exciting. In the garden, look for red holly berries, dangling crabapples, or withered rose hips. The vibrant bark of an Amur cherry tree or red twig dogwoods looks dramatic in the winter landscape. Painted garden structures and sculptures can also add interest to a monochromatic scene.
4. Watch the weather
While it may be tempting to stay inside following a heavy snowstorm, consider donning your snow clothes and braving the elements. Winter weather offers unique photography opportunities. Few things are as magical as the morning after a heavy snowfall. Conifer tree boughs sag with snow, while every bare branch and twig is outlined in white.
Those that live further south may not have snow, but morning frosts can be equally interesting to photograph. Frost transforms a common lawn into a magical wonderland where every grass blade sparkles.
5. Prep yourself and your gear for the weather
To have success with winter photography, you need to prepare for the conditions. When you can’t feel your fingers or toes, it’s easy to give up and head indoors. On the opposite spectrum, photography is active, and you can quickly get sweaty if you overdress.
The key is to dress in layers that you can adjust as your activity level changes. To be able to fine-tune your camera settings, pair thin fingerless gloves with loose mittens that you can easily remove.
Your camera also needs to acclimate to the cold. Dramatic temperature changes can fog up your camera’s mirror and lens. Before you shoot, you need to lower your camera’s temperature until it matches the outdoor temperature. Place it in your garage, car, or unheated sunroom for at least one hour. Once it’s cold, keep it cold! Don’t attempt to warm your camera by placing it in your coat or near your body.
Pro tip: If you plan to be outside for a while, bring extra batteries. Cold weather drains camera batteries quickly. Keep a few spare batteries warm in your pocket.
Photography is a great way to stay inspired during winter and enjoy the serenity and shapes of nature at rest. Our article, 7 Tips for a Beautiful Winter Garden, has lots of ideas for plants and structures that are perfect for winter photo shoots. Make a plan in the spring to add plants and garden décor that will expand your winter photo opportunities.