Keep a camera handy in winter. Yes it’s cold, and you will have to bundle up like the Michelin Man. But once you get out there, you’ll be saying “Oh, wow!” so much you may forget to photograph anything.
Low-Angle Winter Sun Gives Great Light
The sun travels lower in the sky in December and early January than any other time of year. This gives you less contrast and more magic hour light later in the morning and earlier in the evening. And many of you have time off around the holidays to get out there.
Frozen lake, Pagosa Riverside Campground, Colorado
Aperture Priority and Pattern Metering for Easy Exposure
My favorite time of day is early evening. In North America, light will always be south of you in winter. I live for fairly fresh snow and holiday lights. Most recent cameras’ pattern metering AKA Matrix Metering (Nikon) or Evaluative Metering (Canon) or Multi-Field metering (Leica) gives you usable exposure. The Leica and Canon cameras I use have recoverable shadow detail with ‘average’ exposure for the overall scene, at least shooting raw files. I know I’m going to be pulling up shadows and enhancing contrast in Lightroom later, but that wintertime low-contrast range makes it easy.
Holiday lights and San Juan River, Pagosa Springs, CO
I may also yank down hot highlights a bit with holiday lights in the picture. In your camera’s aperture priority shooting mode, it’s easy to dial in negative exposure compensation. I use -0.7 to -1.0 EV for this, to avoid darkening shadows too much. (Never was a fan of Dark Shadows. ;^) Then I can darken highlights further if I need to in Lightroom.
Mineral springs, Pagosa Springs, CO
Dinner discussion at the Alley House Grille, Pagosa Springs, CO
Stories and Equipment to Capture Them
I usually see wideangle compositions with leading lines and curves. There are many stories I can tell – mineral springs in winter, decorations, people doing last-minute shopping or enjoying dinner out, great food. A good street or travel photographer has to be a bit of a voyeur, and wonder what conversations subjects are having.
Winter field, Ignacio, Colorado
Sculpture, Sky Ute Casino, Ignacio, Colorado
Drinks and Bread, Seven Rivers Steaks Seafood Spirits, Sky Ute Casino, Ignacio, CO
Mirrorless cameras can be less conspicuous than a dSLR, especially a big pro model like Canon’s EOS 1D series. Manual focus lenses tend to be small and light too, and you’ll usually have lots of time to focus accurately and set exposure. I have aperture priority, lens aperture and ISO pre-set for depth of field and sufficiently-fast shutter speed for low-shake shooting.
After getting yourself out there with your gear of choice, the story is up to you. Enjoy!
My weapons of choice most of the time are Leica M10 and SL, plus 24mm f/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH, 35mm f/2 Summicron-M ASPH (sometimes 35/1.2 Nokton VM II), 50mm f/1.4 Summilux (sometimes a 1949-model 50/2 Summitar), and 75mm f/2 APO-Summicron-M ASPH. These guys are mostly small and light. Though the lenses aren’t weather-sealed, this isn’t usually a problem in winter, or in the fleeting rains here in the US Southwest.
I alternated between large apertures for depth of field isolation and stopping down for kitchen-sink everything-in-focus landscapes. Always think about multiple approaches to a shot, and don’t be afraid to move around to different locations. That gives you options for the story you want to tell.
Alley House Grille (n.d.) Retrieved from https://www.alleyhousegrille.com/
Colorado Vacation Directory (n.d.) Pagosa Riverside Campground and Camper Cabins. Retrieved from <https://www.coloradodirectory.com/pagosariversidecamp/
I don’t care what the listing says, this place offers RV sites with 30A-50A electric in winter. We’ve stayed there a lot in December and January. Just call ahead to tell them when you’re coming.
Seven Rivers Steaks Seafood Spirits (n.d.) Sky Ute Casino Resort. Retrieved from https://www.skyutecasino.com/dining/seven-rivers/