5 Tips for Taking Winter Photos

By: Paul Raymaker

January 13, 2020

Category: Arts

As a photographer, and like many Minnesotans, I look forward to and enjoy winter. At least I think I do until the shortest, coldest days of the year roll though and I find myself hibernating indoors, looking at photos from the past summer wondering why I still live here...

Sometimes I just need some inspiration to get outside and photograph the beauty that Minnesota winters have to offer, especially close to home and in any of the Three Rivers parks.

hiker through snow-covered trees
Winter wonderland at Anderson Lakes. Photo by Paul Raymaker.

Every time I do get out to shoot photos, whether it’s in sub-zero temperatures or snowing an inch an hour, I come away thinking it was totally worth it! And I hope to offer you some inspiration to get out there as well with a few helpful tips to make your next photo adventure successful, even if you’re just out on a short walk shooting with your phone as your camera.

During the Thanksgiving snowstorms we recently experienced, I decided to head out for a casual walk at Hyland Lake Park Reserve and was surprised with one of the most beautiful and unexpected photographic experiences I have had in a long time, which included snow-covered trees and two large white-tailed buck!

white-tailed deer running through snowy meadow
Captured at Hyland Lake Park Reserve. Photo by Paul Raymaker.

No matter where I go, I find that winter landscapes are always incredibly dynamic, with each outing different from the last.

As for favorite locations, any Three Rivers park is great in the winter, from the less-traveled Anderson Lakes to expansive Hyland Lake to Gale Woods Farm, where something interesting is always happening.

The most important thing is to just get out there!

black angus cow covered in snow
At Gale Woods Farm. Photo by Paul Raymaker.

When you do decide to venture out to take photos in the great white winter of the North, here are a few things that will help you come away with shots you love:

1. Take Advantage of the Golden Hour

cattails against a golden sky
Catching the golden hour at Anderson Lakes. Photo by Paul Raymaker.

If you’re not familiar with this term, it’s that magical time after sunrise and before sunset where the sun is low on the horizon and creates beautiful light. 

In the summer, you might only get an hour or so of golden hour light, but in the winter, the sun never gets high overhead, so the golden hour light is available much longer, giving you more time to shoot! 

In addition to the golden hour, I always recommend heading out to shoot before sunrise or staying out after sunset. These are the times when wildlife is most active, parks are less crowded, and the sky can surprise you with a pop of color.

2. Layer Up (Your Hands)

gloves, backpack and camera equipment laying in snow
Some of the standard gear I use when shooting winter photos, including touchscreen-friendly gloves, a bandana cloth for wiping away condensation and hand warmers to help keep my equipment warm.
Image by Paul Raymaker.

Keep your trigger finger (and all the others) warm! I like to use a thin pair of gloves, ideally with touchscreen-friendly fabric, layered with a thicker mitten. 

This way, you can keep your layered mittens on when you’re hiking, then quickly remove the mitten layer when you want to shoot and need the extra dexterity.

3. Keep Camera Accessible

They say that the best camera you own is the one you have with you. I don’t know who “they” are, but I definitely agree. However, I would add that the best camera you own is the one that’s with you and accessible. 

Wherever you stash your phone or your camera, make sure you can easily grab it. Ideally, if your camera is tucked away in a backpack, you have it in a place that you can get at without putting your pack down in the snow.

I like to use a shoulder pack that I can sling around in front of me to grab my camera and lenses. This way I’ll be ready when the abominable snowman pops out for a photo shoot!

4. Keep Equipment Warm

How many times have you gone on a hike when it is frigid outside and your phone battery dies? If you want to save your phone or your camera battery, take an extra hand warmer with you and keep it near (not directly on) your device or extra battery.

Doing this will greatly extend the life of your battery or phone, giving you a better chance to get the shot.

5. Stay Dry

I think one of the best times to shoot in the winter is when it’s snowing, but make sure you’re protecting your gear. Nothing ruins a shot worse than a big water droplet on your lens. 

I always keep a dry cloth or bandana tucked in my bag or pocket to make wiping off your gear or phone quick and easy. Once you get your gear back in your bag, any moisture you didn’t wipe off can still get into your camera.

To keep a dry environment for my equipment, I tuck desiccant packets (those little packets filled with beads that come with package or clothing) into nooks and crannies in my bag.

Now that you know the basics, get outside and shoot! You never know what you might find out there.

tree covered in ice with sun shining and blue skies
More winter beauty at Anderson Lakes. Photo by Paul Raymaker.

Banner and archive images also by Paul Raymaker.

About the Author

profile of paul carrying camera equipment

Paul Raymaker is a photographer shooting nature and conservation photography for over 15 years. Growing up in a small town in Wisconsin, he traveled to the western US on family vacations, learning to appreciate this country's great beauty. In 2003, he discovered nature photography after spending a summer in the mountains of Colorado. Paul works as a professional geologist and is employed at an environmental consulting company, but photography is his passion. His goal is to show others what beauty he's been lucky enough to witness, with the end result being that people care more for where they live.

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