From snowy rolling hills under a bright shining sun to icy banks with flowing rivers, capturing the beauty of winter landscapes can be harder than you might think. While there are multiple tools and methods at photographers’ disposal, there is one tool in particular that can help us to achieve winter-scape photos worthy of a National Geographic layout on the Everglades in January.
Neutral Density Filters, or ND filters, are commonly used with a flash outdoors for motion blurred landscapes, such as seascapes, or for keeping within the diffraction limit to maintain the sharpness and integrity of a photo. An actual ND Filter is typically a small piece of glass, or darkened glass, that is placed over the lens to reduce the amount of light. This reduction is measured in what are called “stops.”
When photographers need to reduce the amount of light while also maintaining a wide aperture and slow shutter speed, ND filters can achieve this by balancing all of these elements allowing you to have your cake and eat it too. You really do not need to compromise your shots or choose one “technique” or effect if you use an ND filter the correct way. If you have not tried using an ND filter, there is no better time of year to give it a go. Here are a few tips on using the ND filter this winter.
Sun and snow: Shooting in ice or snow on a bright and sunny day can pose quite a few challenges, one being the dreaded sun glare. Sunlight reflecting into your camera will create sun stars and prevent you from capturing your perfect shot. Using a polarizing filter can decrease reflection from the sun while also increasing color saturation. By filtering the sunlight reflected in the direction of your camera, you are able to use the remaining softer light that is diffused. You can also rotate your ND filter to control not only the amount of light but also the angle by which the light is filtered out. While this method is not the best to use when achieving a wide shot, filter rotation and use of angles can increase color saturation and avoid sun glare or sun stars.
Icy or snowy landscapes: When shooting in an area where everything in sight is covered in snow or ice, use an ND filter to help you show the contrast between the snow-covered ground, snow-covered trees, and snowy winter sky. In addition, try to shoot an area where there is already some contrast to accentuate, such as gray rocks covered in snow or rocky mountainsides with shrubbery. Another way to show color contrast and accentuate the surrounding snowy landscapes is to include a subject, like a person or an animal, to draw the viewer’s eye to a focal point against the all-white landscape.
Horizon shots: When shooting a beautiful glowing sunset or bright rising sun, a Graduated Neutral Density filter (GND) or “grad” filter is the ideal tool for capturing these scenes with a broad dynamic range. GND filters are also great for maintaining the “natural” look of a horizon shot by gradually and naturally blending brightness levels, ideal for landscapes blanketed in snow. Capturing the scene using the same exposure means bright or dark spots that affect color saturation and contrast, but grad filters can change the brightness of a shot toward a horizon, or any other sharp boundary, more gradually across the image as a whole. This leads to a photo that mimics the way we actually see things without looking “artificial.”
So, when bundling up and heading out to capture all that Mother Nature has to offer in winter, do not underestimate the power of the ND filter.