Winter photography locations are that secret weapon to make a landscape portfolio really stand out. That’s why every year, countless will brave the extreme cold to capture snowy backdrops — frostbite and hypothermia be damned!
Pixsy reached out to those who’ve traveled to stunning winter photography locations. We wanted to know, in their words, what brought them to these dreamlike scenes? What challenges did they encounter?
As it happens, each breathtaking photo was the result of careful planning, frosty intuition and, in some cases, a little bit of cold hard luck.
Northern Vancouver, Canada
Gaelen Norman, Automotive & Landscape Photographer
Though it’s strictly a hobby, Gaelen picked up a lot of landscape photography knowledge from his grandfather; who was a prominent landscape photographer in Toronto. Whenever he’s out on a road trip, he’ll often stop to try and find a picture.
“I was stuck in traffic, and my friend and I decided to get off the highway and go for a walk, and we found this dam.
I just had a Nikon D700, a 24-70mm lens, and a tripod. Aside from that, I had my Leica R5 with me, so I took some film shots too. What you see is almost straight out of the camera. I added a little coloring but that’s exactly what it came out as.
Winter to me has always been a huge contrast. Especially when the snow just starts to fall; it’s a nice little layer covering things that don’t normally get covered, before they basically just disappear. It always has a peacefulness to it that you don’t normally get. I have two issues with snow. First, sometimes it’s too much light, and second, it kind of blows out the rest of the image’s contrast. That’s why I like fresh snowfalls just a little better. When it’s a large amount of snow, it’s harder to catch the contrast and some of the details in it.”
Marcin Ryczek, Fine Art Photographer
The Winters in Poland are getting warmer each year. With less and less snow, Marcin tries to use the time the best he can. The result is the award-winning Winter image above, which has also been an astounding viral success — achieving 3,000,000 views in a single day on Reddit.
First, I saw an unusual contrast painted over nature: white snow and the black of the Vistula River, cut off from each other by an equal line of water. This scene reminded me of a yin-yang symbol and that was the initial concept for this image. Through nature, on a black background appeared white swans and on the black background, a white figure. So I photographed the moment, admiring this extremely simple and reflective scene.
When I find a good place for photography I wait there, sometimes for hours, or come back many times. This time of waiting is very special for me, it is some kind of meditation. Sometimes people wonder what I’m doing for so long in one place. For example, in Japan, when I was standing in water for about 2-3 hours waiting to capture cranes that were flying nearby, I became an object of photography for the Japanese people who were passing me by.
My photography is mainly black and white, and is characterized by transparency, minimalism, and geometry. That is why, winter is special for me — I can more easily capture contrasts. The world has less colors, and I can look differently at the reality. For me it’s beautiful.
Bryce Canyon National Park
Vanessa Kay, Portrait and Family Photographer
Vanessa photographs the beauty of everyday life, but there are also several extraordinary sights in her portfolio. When she was traveling through Bryce Canyon, two days before Christmas, a massive snowstorm blew in, creating an unmissable photo opportunity. She woke up at 5 a.m. for the sunrise — to a record-breaking cold of -10°C!
“I had so many layers of clothing, a full backpack of gear, and a tripod, I could hardly move. I made my way to Bryce Point, and it was still dark when I arrived. I was pretty much alone, because the morning was exceedingly cold and windy, even for Utah. I enjoyed a spectacular sunrise and the main snowfall held off until about 30 minutes after the sun came up! By that time I was pretty much a popsicle, but I felt I had captured the beauty of that crisp winter morning.
It was quite an adventure for someone used to shooting portraits in 70 degree weather. I thought I might have been frostbitten, because I couldn’t feel my limbs! The wind was pretty bitter and just keeping my tripod steady was quite a challenge.
Winter photography locations, at least in cold and snowy places, has a sort of peaceful quiet about it and a beautiful clarity. Then again, I’m used to sunny and warm all year round, and so-cold winter-y settings feel very unique to me.”
Lundy Lake, Northern California
Todd Sipes, Urban & Concert Photographer
Todd’s favorite subjects to photograph are abandoned buildings and historical sites. After he and his wife had visited a ghost town in Northern California, they wanted a quick and scenic sunset to photograph on their last night. One three and a half-hour detour later, they arrived at Lundy Lake.
“It was freezing! We walked around for about 20 minutes before my wife threw in the towel and warmed up in the car (can’t blame her one bit). I stuck it out, but I was having trouble focusing and metering because my hands were so cold. I had two jackets and gloves, but it’s really hard to operate the small buttons and dials on a DSLR with gloves on, so it was a game of “how fast can I recompose, focus, and fire before my hands turn blue?”
From a technical standpoint, there was a stark contrast between the foreground and the sun setting over the mountain tops. I was trying to bracket my shots so I could do some exposure blending in post-processing but the clouds were moving too fast (I didn’t want blur between my bracketed shots). I also didn’t have any filters with me, so I did my best with a single exposure.
For me, (winter photography locations) provide a necessary contrast to the warm, flower-laden scenes that I’m presented with for most of the year. The contrast of a sunrise with a snow-covered landscape creates that yin-yang duality that I strive for in most of my shots.”
Jökulsárlón Lake, Iceland
Claudia Regina, Portrait photographer
A Brazilian photographer who mainly works with people and loves traveling, Claudia’s highly popular Flickr page and blog feature dozens of spectacular landscapes from around the world. She humbly credits the beauty of her pictures to the wondrous places she visits.
“I would say visiting Iceland was one of the most lovely experiences I’ve had. Not only because of the beautiful landscape but also because of the relationship Icelanders have with nature. It is an amazing example of respect and sustainable policies in face of the disastrous environmental choices that have been made everywhere else in the world.
The most memorable moments were those lying on the snow and looking up at the northern lights. It felt like being part of all the universe, not small nor big, not important nor unimportant. Just part of what is, just the way it is.
Winter photography locations allow for introspection and for breathing in. That means looking more deeply for the reasons behind our images and getting ready to get into action in the warm and sunny days.”
Cape Cod, Massachusetts
Samantha Decker, Landscape and Cityscape photographer
Samantha has a passion for traveling. Her portfolio covers Europe and the Northernmost region of America (plus several Disney parks and resorts)! When we asked her to select her favorite winter photography locations, she shared a serene snapshot from a more local place: Nauset Light Beach in Eastham, MA.
“I don’t travel very frequently in winter, so most of my winter photos come from my hometown of Saratoga Springs, NY or in Cape Cod, MA, where I visit family. Luckily, both of those locations look beautiful at this time of year. The most memorable moments for me shooting in winter is toughing it out in the cold and wind to get that perfect shot.
Coming away with a photo you’re proud of is somehow more satisfying knowing you had to work a little harder than normal to get it. Winter, like fall, is a unique setting for photography because that beautiful, freshly fallen snow look is usually short-lived. Within a day or two, it’s all muddy and the snow has often melted off the trees. Whenever I see a fresh coat of snow, I try to find a place to go photograph it.“
As you read from the ‘seasoned’ photographers above, the challenge of winter photography locations isn’t just handling exposure meter readings or perfecting your black intensity in Lightroom. Half the battle lies in scouting postcard-perfect, below freezing locations. The reward? Returning home without a frostbitten camera and some great shots to boot!
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