Winter photography tips

Man walking across winter parkland scene

Sometimes it can be difficult to motivate yourself to get out and about on winter days. If you're interested in photography though, it's worth making the effort. The lighting and weather conditions in winter can make for some great photo opportunities. We asked landscape photographer Joe Cornish for his top winter photography tips - find them below, with some suggestions of good places to try them out for yourself in the north of England.

Frost

Few sights warm a photographer's heart as much as the hard frost on the ground that follows a chilly, clear night. Frost simplifies and unifies, helping reveal the rhythms and shapes in a landscape, yet leaving more texture and colour than a white blanket of snow. Frosty mornings are usually accompanied by low winter sunlight, perfect for bringing out the textures and subtle colour of a scene.

Given the right subject matter it's sometimes possible to shoot into the sun as well, and a touch of mist backlit in a frosty landscape or seen though trees is a magical sight. A few days of cold weather can encourage frost to build up in sheltered valleys inland where sunlight does not penetrate, so get out for a walk and see what wonders there are to discover.

Take a stroll on a frosty morning
Sunrise over a frosty landscape

Top places to try it out: 
Frost transforms the vistas at Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal and Tatton Park. Hedges look magical in the frost too so don't miss the parterres at Seaton Delaval Hall and Beningbrough

Ice

Ice is one of nature’s great wonders… a completely unpredictable, mysterious and magical example of natural art. Even a humble puddle can provide inspiration for photography once frozen. Rivers, streams, becks and waterfalls in the north of England frequently develop icy fringes in the winter months and these offer plenty of opportunities to the imaginative photographer.

If working beside a frozen lake, do resist the temptation to walk on the ice though; in the UK they are rarely frozen deep enough to take our weight.

Studley Royal Water Garden, North Yorkshire
A winter view of the Temple of Piety seen over the Canal and Half-Moon pond, at Studley Royal Water Garden, North Yorkshire

Top places to try it out:

Watch for the ponds freezing over at Wallington or ice forming on the moat at Dunham Massey. In a prolonged cold snap, larger lakes, tumbling streams and even waterfalls sometimes freeze - look out for amazing ice formations at Hardcastle Crags and Derwent Water

Snow

The best tip for photographing snow is simple - get out in it while it's still snowing! Try and get snapping just after the snow has just fallen, when branches are still laden, and before the world has emerged with their dogs and sledges and boots to leave an unruly trail of sledge tracks and footprints everywhere. Saying that, one of the best themes in snow is that of people, and especially children, enjoying it all.

If you do venture out when it's snowing, dress appropriately. Nothing spoils a walk and photography session more than catching hypothermia! And the final tip is, if you can, walk out from where you live and photograph your own area transformed by the magic of a snowfall. Apart from the popularity of the pictures locally (which is pretty well guaranteed) it saves all that slip-sliding around in the car that can all too easily ruin your day.

Snow covered Dale Head, Cumbria
Man and dog walk snowy Dale Head, Buttermere, Cumbria

Top places to try it out:

Find your nearest National Trust place to get some great snowy pics. Borrowdale, Gibside and Lyme look great blanketed in snow. Or if you're feeling more adventurous, head to Hadrian's Wall or Brimham Rocks - but please do take care on the roads! 

Winter light

While it isn’t necessarily snowy, icy or frosty all the time, winter can provide gorgeous lighting possibilities due to the sun being low in the sky throughout the day, and because the winter air has its own unique colour signature. The absence of green in the landscape is a bonus too, enabling compositions that are easier on the eye than ones dominated by the greens of summer. The stark and open look of trees without their leafy canopy make this a special time of year for the landscape too.

Many of our beaches are dog-friendly
A couple and their dog walking on the beach at sunset

Top places to try it out:

Head to the coast to make the most of dawn and dusk - try the Whitehaven Coast, RavenscarEmbleton Bay or Formby. Or get up high for misty mornings and far reaching views - we recommend Upper Wharfedale, Buttermere Valley or Alderley Edge.

Grey days

Making pictures when the weather is dreary might seem very counter-intuitive, but it's a great thing to try! Days of grey and overcast light may not appear that photographically exciting at first glance, but it can still be great weather for a walk. And if you walk with friends they may become a source of inspiration for photos. Seeing a couple of figures hiking through the landscape on a cold and/or windy winter’s day distills the thrill of being outside, whatever the weather.

Consider a low camera angle so that they are seen silhouetted against the sky… don’t be afraid to let the foreground be completely out of focus. There are so many ways of stimulating your creativity. The absence of colour can itself be the idea, and indeed shooting black and white may be worth trying. If you're using an SLR, experiment with a bit of intentional camera movement to evoke the wildness of the weather (this will mean a low ISO, and perhaps a neutral density stopping filter to slow the shutter).

See the world transformed by swirling mist
Walker in the mist at Ennerdale, Cumbria

Top places to try it out:

Few places look better on a moody day than the brooding landscapes of Marsden Moor and Wasdale. Or watch the clouds gather overhead at Lindisfarne and Quarry Bank

Details

In winter, details are often unique. If you enjoy photographing close-ups this is a marvellous time of year to rummage around in the understorey or take a closer look at trees, plants and hardy flowers. Look at the beauty of leaves as they break down back into the soil, or are silvered by a frost, or even trapped in ice. Woodland is a special place when conditions are good for close-ups, but so too are beaches, where at another time of year you might not look so closely at the magic of the micro world around you. If you have one, macro lenses are perfect for close-up work. But many modern kit zooms do focus surprisingly close. Or even consider the phone for close-ups! The small sensors in phones makes them quite well-suited to focussing on the micro world.

Frost crystals create beautiful forms throughout the winter gardens
Frosty winter holly and berries in woodland at Charlecote Park

Top places to try it:

You can find unexpected details almost anywhere in winter. Find a place to visit near you or explore the winter garden at Dunham Massey, the Menangerie Garden at Nostell, the ancient woodland at Allen Banks or the rock garden and stumpery at Sizergh