Great photography during the winter

An online talk that gives inspirational ideas about what to photograph during the cold and short days of winter

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In Nigel’s November talk, held live on 17th Nov, he aimed to inspire photographers not to put their cameras away during the winter. There is some great photography during the winter months, those short cold days a time of day-long low sunlight, dramatic storms, and over-wintering wildlife.

A recording of this talk is now on You Tube, and you can watch it here. Just click on the link below.

Looking for subjects during the winter months

There is a temptation for photographers to go into hibernation during the winter, putting the camera safely away until the weather improves in spring. But this would be a major mistake as there is really is the possibility of great photography during the winter months.

With the sun continually low in the sky, it is perfectly possible to do some magnificent, moody landscape photography right throughout the day. Moreover, with dawn/sunrise and sunset/dusk both at very civilised times of day, it becomes much easier to shoot during these prime photogaphy periods.

Admittedly, the sun doesn’t shine a whole lot of the time during winter – hence the temptation to hibernate – but when it does then the light can be magnificent. Moreover, even when it isn’t shining, the frequent storms that sweep in from the Atlantic provide some very wild, dramatic weather for landscape photography, both on the coast and inland. This is particularly so just after the main storm front has passed through, a time when the clouds usually break, providing some great – though rapidly changing – light, along with a succession of rainbows.

Wildlife photography too can still be worked on to great effect during the winter. Although many mammals hibernate, others do not, including foxes and all our deer species. Moreover, hundreds of thousands of migratory birds, mostly wetland waders, though also woodland and garden birds, arrive in the UK from colder climates to over-winter here. Their numbers greatly swell local bird populations, especially in marshes, lakes and along the coast, providing opportunities for some fantastic avian wildlife photography.

Great Photography during the Winter

Fog and frost

Winter is of course the main time for fog and frost, most especially during the early morning, but also often throughout the day and in the evening.

Fog and frost provide some of the most effective and beautiful opportunities for great photography during the winter, the latter adding a stunning sparkle and sheen to any landscape and/or foliage scene. Fog – especially ground fog – really makes for some ethereal and often monochromatic scenes, reducing complex details to simplistic outlines that can have fantastic photographic impact. This is most especially so when some sunlight is still visible through the fog, providing some delicate illumination.

Snow and ice

Not surprisingly, no discussion of great photography during the winter would be complete without snow and ice. The latter can quite transform any normally watery scene, whether it be an entire lake, a puddle or just a dripping gutter. Convert that water to ice, and suddenly we have beautiful crack and freezing patterns, pointed daggers of icicles, often quite blue when seen in low light levels, and rendered even more magical if frost and/or snow are also present.

Snow, of course, completely transforms an entire landscape, creating wholly monochromatic scenes when the sky is cloudy, and truly dynamic high contrast landscapes when under a blue sky. Wide vistas, closer landscape elements, or really close-up details (such as of snow or ice gripping vegetation) all make for stunning subjects in this kind of environment. Shortly before sunset (or shortly after sunrise), snow will usually reflect the sun’s pink glow magnificently, creating some wonderfully delicate colours.

Great photography during the winter

Putting it all together

With so many photographic opportunities available during the winter months, opportunities that don’t exist at any other time of year, there’s really no excuse for not keeping on shooting throughout this season. Pick your subject matter(s) and get cracking!

Just keep an eye on the weather forecast, and prepare to head on out whenever the right weather seems to be heading your way. Just wrap up warm and waterproof and enjoy the outdoors at a time of year when too few people get outside often enough.

A word of caution

Although I’m really enthusiastic to get everyone doing some great photography during the winter months, I do need to sound a few words of caution. Not surprisingly, with storms, rain, frost, ice and snow all prevalent at this time of year, some care and preparation are needed. And not just simply to keep warm and dry.

Plan carefully, drive carefully, and in really bad weather don’t push yourself further than you feel comfortable. Think ahead of all the things that could go wrong and prepare accordingly.

The top of a high cliff is no place to be at the height of an Atlantic storm, for example. You would probably find it hard to do much photography anyway. It’s better to wait until the main storm front has passed, winds have eased slightly and the light has improved. You’ll still get hugely impressive storm photos and with a lot less risk to yourself.

If venturing out in snow and/or ice make sure you’re prepared: take food and drink, extra warm and dry layers, a shovel, sheets of a material that can be pushed under slipping tyres to give them grip, and even a tow rope, just in case.

And of course, as always, make sure someone else knows where you’re going, and also ensure that you have a phone with a fully charged battery.

Once you’re equipped and prepared you’re well protected. Get out there and enjoy the winter photography!

Great photography during the winter

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Blurred Motion Photography

The art of deliberately blurring your subject in stills photography

My July online photography talk came at the end of the month, and this time covered blurred motion photography. This is, in other words, the art 0f deliberately blurring your subject to put over the sense of movement, energy and dynamism.

A recording of that talk is now available via You Tube, and you can watch it here. Just click on the image below and the talk will launch. I hope you enjoy it. If you have any queries or comments just get in touch.

The art of subject blurring

This talk, Blurred Motion Photography, covered a range of techniques and scenarios in which you would want to blur your subject to put over the sense of movement.

The technique is particularly associated with landscape photography, most especially in blurring the movement of water, whether that be the sea, with waves rolling into shore, or perhaps a fast-flowing river running over and round rocks.

Blurred motion photography is used not just in landscapes but also in wildlife, people and street life (particularly traffic after dark), where all kinds of activities can be blurred to give the sense of movement. So the beating wings of a bird, the movements of a working person and the colourful lines of traffic tail-lights are all great examples of commonly blurred moving subjects. Even a blurred background as the camera pans to keep up with a fast-moving object (such as a bird, a sportsman or traffic) is part of this technique.

Blurred Motion Photography: Botallack tin mines

The technique of blurred motion photography

In essence, it is a very simple thing to do. Just put the camera on a tripod and use a long exposure, thus ensuring that anything moving in the frame will be blurred.

Of course, this can only be achieved within the limits of how far the lens aperture can be stopped down. The narrower you have this (ie the higher the f-number) then the less light that is allowed through to the sensor, and hence the longer the shutter needs to be open to compensate. Of course, there is a limit to how narrow the aperture can be, and once you’ve reached that limit any attempt to make the exposure time longer will just allow in too much light and result in over-exposure.

So doing this in bright sunlight will often require you to add a neutral density filter to the front of the lens, thus cutting down the amount of light getting into the lens, and mimicking low-light conditions. This is particularly so for landscape photography. Things may still work well in bright sunlight, however, if you’re intending to blur the motion of something that is moving really quite fast, such as a fast-flying bird or free-flowing traffic.

Without filters, blurred motion photography still works well in dull, overcast conditions, at dusk, dawn and at night, any of which will yield great results.

Blurred Motion Photography: Seashore ice in Iceland

How much blur?

Just how much blur you need will depend on the effect you’re trying to generate and how fast your subject is moving. For example, when photographing surf rolling onto a beach, or a mountain stream babbling around rocks, an exposure of several seconds will result in the subject completely blurring out. A wave will become quite invisible in itself, replaced by a very soft, often white, smooth silken effect that, though still depicting movement, is actually very calming and which will serve to isolate a static object (such as a rock) from the rest of the view, and removing any clutter.

Replace that very long exposure with a rather faster one, say one-tenth of a second, and the blur will become rather jagged, producing what I call a ‘shards of glass’ effect, with sprays of water clearly visible. The effect now is very restless and dynamic, very different from the smooth ‘white-out’ of the long exposure.

It’s a similar thing with photography of evening traffic. How long the exposure needs to be depends very much on the amount of traffic and how fast it’s going. However, an exposure of several seconds will be enough for the individual vehicles to become quite invisible, replaced by colourful, continuous red tail-light lines. It’s a highly effective way of illustrating the evening life of any urban district. Using a shorter exposure – say one-tenth of a second – in this scenario is less effective, as the vehicles become visible and the tail-light streams become broken up into dashes that don’t link up into a continuous stream.

Blurred Motion Photography: the static subject

Blurred motion photography of static subjects

This may sound a little odd, but it is sometimes possible to give the sense of blurred motion to a static object. It works particularly well with evening lights, and is achieved by moving the camera during an exposure lasting a few seconds.

This movement may consist of moving the whole camera (while on a tripod), or of turning the zoom ring on a zoom lens, something that produces quite a dramatic and very dynamic effect.

Getting stuck in

Blurred motion photography is a technique that has very variable and unpredictable results. The only true way to really hone one’s skills in this is to get stuck in and just play! Enjoy it, and experiment as much as you can.

Blurred Motion Photography: the disco

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Focus: the third critical component in successful photography

An online photography talk about the critical role of good focussing in great photography

Focus: the third critical component in successful photography was the subject of my first online photography talk of 2021. I have called it the third critical component because focus forms a holy trinity with composition and lighting. All three must come together for any photograph to have a chance of being successful, dare I say even great. If any one of these three elements is substandard in any photo then that image will be a failure.

Watch this talk here

This talk was recorded, and so you can watch it here now. Just click on the embedded link below. The talk is 40 minutes long, and I really hope you enjoy it.

What does this talk contain?

It may seem blindingly obvious, of course, to say that the main subject of a photo needs to be sharply in focus for that photo to be a success. However, correct focussing goes well beyond just this limited definition.

There are many other issues to consider, such as:

  • Does the entire image need to be sharp, not just the main subject, as is often the case with landscape photography?
  • Or would it be better, for example, to have the background blurred, enabling the sharply in-focus subject to ‘pop out’ of the picture, such as is common in portrait or wildlife photography?
  • Perhaps you need to have just one small part of the photo sharp (containing the main subject) and everything else blurred, ensuring that attention is directed just to this area of the frame;
  • What about blurred motion as the main subject? Does this need to be sharply in-focus even though it is blurred anyway as a result of movement?
Focus: the third critical component

Techniques and technologies

What all the above points cover is the subject of depth of field, and the need to control this in order to control just how much of any photo is sharp.

Depth of field is the amount of an image that is in focus from its nearest point (to the photographer) to its furthest point. This can be varied in a number of ways, primarily:

  • A wide-angle lens naturally has a bigger depth of field than a telephoto lens;
  • A narrow lens aperture (ie a high f-number, eg f/16) creates a bigger depth of field than a wide open aperture (ie a low f-number, eg f/5.6).

So, if you use a wide-angle lens shut down to a narrow aperture you will have a big depth of field, potentially ranging from shortly in front of the camera all the way to the horizon. This is commonly used in landscape photography, though also in other photographic genres.

On the other hand, if you use a telephoto lens with a wide-open aperture you will have a very small depth of field, perhaps a metre or less. This is a technique commonly used in portrait and wildlife photography to ensure the face really ‘pops out’ from its background and commands the viewer’s attention.

As the subject-to-camera distance decreases, perhaps once it is less than about 10 metres, then the depth of field starts to decrease for any lens and any lens aperture. Finally, when you get down to macro photography, such as of butterflies, the depth of field even at a very narrow lens aperture is quite tiny, usually no more than about 1 cm or thereabouts.

Focus: the third critical component

Further content

During the talk I show a range of images that illustrate the above points about depth of field. The final third of my talk covers some practical examples, in which I have deliberately taken sets of photos at different lens apertures and focussing distances, to illustrate how changing these, along with lens focal-lengths, can have a dramatic impact on the type of image that results.

The final section looks at the problems of macro photography and the tiny depth of field available here. In particular I introduce the technique of focus-stacking: taking a series shots focussed at different points, and then blending them together in the computer post-photography.

Overall, the talk gives a tour of the techniques and skills of good focussing, taking it well beyond the simple process of just getting the subject sharp. Instead, the aim should be to control the depth of field in an image through appropriate use of lens focal length and aperture to produce an image that works for the particular subject and its surroundings.

Focus: the third critical component

Find out more about my talks

I hope you enjoy watching this talk. If you’d like to find out more about my talks click on the links below, where you’ll be able to watch recordings of earlier talks, and sign up for some of my upcoming talks.

Each of my talks takes place on a Wednesday evening, once a month, and are free to attend.

I’ll look forward to seeing you online.

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Stunning Landscape Photography

Nigel’s fourth online photography talk was held on 9th December 2020

My December 2020 photography talk was held live on 9th December, entitled Stunning Landscape Photography. Using my own photography, this was an exploration and overview of the main types of landscape photography and some of the techniques used to capture some stunning landscape images.

Watch the recorded Stunning Landscape Photography talk here

You can watch the whole talk here. Simply click on the photo to start the video. Naturally, I hope you’ll like the talk, and of course feel free to subscribe to my channel.

About the talk

‘Genres’ of landscape photography

The talk started off with a brief repetition of a previous talk by saying that the best images come about as a result of simple compositions, ones with a single, strong subject that dominates the frame, unimpeded by confusing clutter or competition from other potential subjects.

It then moved on to an overview of the main categories of landscape photography, summarised as:

  • Wholly natural landscapes
  • Landscapes that contain people as secondary, supporting elements
  • Views that contain buildings or other manmade structures as secondary, supporting elements
  • Generic landscape images, views or details that could be just about anywhere and which convey wholly beauty and/or mood
  • Views of famous locations but which are more than just travel shots, containing strong mood and beauty elements.
Stunning landscape photography

Some technical stuff

I then went on to cover the one piece of kit that is essential to landscape photography but which many people overlook: neutral density graduated filters, usually abbreviated to just ND grads.

I introduced what they look like and what types are available, as well as showing how they fit onto a camera. Their use in landscape photography was then summarised using before-and-after photography.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I covered why it is important to use them. The first reason is to overcome the digital sensor’s inability to see as large a contrast range as the human eye can, changing disappointing images into views that look every bit as beautiful as the original scene did to the eye.

The second reason can be to enhance the drama of a sky, particularly on a stormy day, for example turning a moderately grey, cloud-strewn sky into an angry cauldron of roaring clouds!

Stunning landscape photography

A range of landscape environments

The second half of the talk covered stunning landscape photography in a range of environments, which included:

  • The sea and coastline
  • Woodlands and forests
  • Moorlands
  • Rivers and waterfalls

Photographs shot in these environments showed the creative power of photographing into the light, or at least side-on, and particularly with the use of an ND grad filter. Such views were commonly shot very early or very late in the day when the sun was low, though I also demonstrated the use of a high tropical sun.

When talking about photography of water, particularly moving water, I compared and contrasted the techniques and results of slow shutter speed to blur movement, versus a fast shutter speed to freeze it. When done well, the results give very different moods and tell very different stories.

When it came to photography in woodlands, I introduced the idea that it is so much easier to photograph in flat light, such as under cloudy skies or in fog, in order to have the woodland composition shown off to its best. In addition, I showed the importance of using clearings created by such items as streams to enable you to step back from the chaos of the trees and so create meaningful compositions.

Stunning landscape photography

Panoramics introduced

In the final few minutes of the talk I introduced panoramic photography, firstly as created simply by cropping a standared image into a narrow rectangle. My main approach, however, was the shooting of multiple images followed by stitching in Photoshop. This was illustrated with a number of images that were a mix of coastal, mountain and urban views.

Stunning landscape photography

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Light in Photography

The critical role of light in creating great photography

The role of light in photography.

My November 2020 photography talk (which went ahead online on 11th November) explored the critical role of light in photography. It may seem blindingly obvious that light is an essential ingredient in any kind of photography. However, the essential point is not light per se, but the type and quality of the light used, coupled most importantly with how the photographer makes use of that light.

A recording of this talk is now online, and you can watch it by clicking on the embedded link further down this page.

An exploration of the type and quality of light in photography

In this talk I initially introduce the very nature of light, as a part of the spectrum of electromagnetic radiation. I then cover some terminology used in the technical description of light, including the colour temperature scale and how this is expressed in our daily lives in terms of types of light sources encountered.

The main part of the talk covers an exploration of what is meant by the type and quality of light, specifically as it applies to natural light. This ranges from consideration of the angle of the light, relative to both the subject and the photographer, resulting in three basic angles: front lighting, side lighting and back-lighting (which may or may not result in your subject being a silhouette).

These angles are then of course further influenced by the sun’s height in the sky, something that impacts on the length and strength of shadows, and the colour temperature of the light delivered.

For the latter, this results in white light during sunshine in the middle of the day, but very warm light, rich in red, shortly after sunrise or before sunset, with cold blue-rich light in shadows and at dawn and dusk.

Sunrise on Mte Fitzroy, Patagonia, Argentina. The role of light in photography.

The talk also explores the role of flat, sunless light, in which the lack of shadows and highlights is helpful in photography of such subjects as details, woodlands and people.

Throughout the talk, I use my own photography to illustrate my main points, showcasing the critical role of natural light in photography, and most especially in the creation of great photography.

Watch the recorded talk here

To watch this talk click on the embedded link below.

Naturally, I really hope you like this talk.

Light and my programme of photography talks

This talk covering the role of light in photography forms just one part of my programme of photography talks, following on from my ealier talks Goals in Photography and Photographic Composition: the critical base of all great imagery.

The programme continues, the next talk being Stunning Landscape Photography, which will be live online at 8pm on 9th December. The talks will continue in the New Year with a further programme which will be published shortly.

To find out more about my talks and to register for the 9th December talk, click on the link below.

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