Photographing Winter Landscapes

Shoot Recipe | Photographing Winter Landscapes

photographing winter landscapes

In winter photography, extremes can make the scene.

Snowscapes to sky shows, ice fog to ice flows, winter provides plenty of photo-worthy extremes. Preparation for a successful shoot was covered in Part I of this series, 4 Tips for Great Winter Photography in Alaska. This installment will cover photographing winter landscapes.

You Will Need

  • 1 wintery scene with a foreground subject, middle ground and background
  • moderate amount of low angle of light (sunrise and sunset colors can add a lot of drama to an otherwise monochromatic landscape)
  • camera with manual settings
  • remote or cable shutter release
  • sturdy tripod
  • depth of field calculator app
  • (optional) neutral density filter ND1000 or higher


Frame your shot using at least one element of composition. Landscape images are most powerful when there is a foreground, middle ground and background. Place the focus point on the nearest subject in the scene and use the depth of field calculator app to ensure everything from that point to infinity is in focus.

Set the ISO at 100. This will yield the sharpest image with the least grain and will help achieve slower shutter speeds (more on that below). In low light, it will also necessitate the use of a tripod because ISO 100 makes the sensor the least sensitive to light.

Use positive exposure compensation (increase exposure) for predominately bright scenes. This is because built in camera meters measure reflected light from the surface of objects and then calculate exposure for medium gray. So if you rely on the meter reading for a snowy landscape, the camera will likely underexpose and the snow will look dingy. Increase the exposure by 2/3rds to 1 full stop. Do this in aperture priority by using the exposure value compensation (EV) control to activate the light meter and dial up exposure. If shooting in manual mode, slow down the shutter the appropriate amount.

Once you’ve composed the shot and dialed in exposure, get your camera on tripod, lock focus on the near subject you chose earlier and start shooting with the remote or cable shutter release. Try different shutter speeds. With the ND1000 filter, you can slow down the shutter by up to 10 stops and potentially get shutter speeds that are minutes long (depending on camera settings and available light). This will give moving clouds a feathery look. It is also possible to do this without a ND filter if shooting in the low light of dusk or dawn.

Take your time. Watch the light and be ready to capitalize on building colors in the sky. Above all, don’t pack up too soon! There is nothing sadder for a photographer than missing THE shot and knowing it. About 30 minutes before sunrise and after sunset there is a dull gray time after which, the sky can blow up with color. You don’t want to be loading gear into the car if that happens.

Happy snapping!


Next up: Shoot Recipe | Photographing The Northern Lights

Alaska Photo Treks offers sunset tours year round.  Sunset Photo Safari operates May- September.  Twilight Photo Tour runs September-April. Departure times for both tours are dependent on sunset, which at this latitude changes dramatically throughout the year. The times for each week are posted on the respective pages for each tour. Winter months also include the northern lights viewing adventure, Anchorage Aurora Quest. Explore Alaska Photo Treks to learn more about these excellent, instructional day tours and multi-day tours and workshops.

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