Photo workshop: coping with snow
Professional wildlife photographer Jack Perks passes on his tips for making the most of snowy condiritions
As a professional wildlife photographer, I find my work to be very seasonal and, of course, knowing how to take advantage of the seasons and weather conditions that come with them is incredibly important, especially when the snow starts to fall.
Snow is most likely to fall in January in the UK but can occur into June in more northern areas like the Cairngorms. When the ground temperature is below 3°C, or air temperature is between 2°C and -2°C, snow will fall. Any higher, it will melt and any lower, will freeze, so keeping a eye on weather conditions will help when venturing out with the camera in the snow. Depending on the weather conditions, you may only have a small window to go and take images in the snow so it’s best to be prepared,
Pre-plan where you would like to go and work out the best locations for taking images of the wildlife in the snow. Water is good if snow is falling as it will be more visible against the darker water, but you won’t get as much snow in the image as you would on land, so depending on the species and how you want to compose the image, these are things to factor in.
Snow is highly reflective, which is sometimes good as it acta as a natural reflector for your subject, but it can cause problems with exposure. Exposure is important to remember when photographing in the snow because all the metering modes on your camera will expose the white snow, as 18% grey, not true white, so by over-exposing the shot by one full stop you’ll achieve a much more definitive white and reduce the flat grey tones.
Time of day will affect your photos, too. Early-morning and late-afternoon photos will have dark shadow because the sun is low on the horizon. This dark contrast will really help to bring out the track. Midday photos will be lighter and won’t have as much contrast.
I stay out longer taking pictures when I’m warm and comfortable, so when out in the cold it’s important to make sure you wear thick, warm clothes as you may be in one place without moving for some time. I normally have a flask of tea and little bit to eat so when the tummy gets rumbling I don’t have to rush back to the car for elevenses. Wear gloves with a rubberised grip so you can keep your hands covered but still be able to change settings easily. The cold will also eat away at battery life, so make sure to bring spares for your flash, remote trigger or camera and keep those warm, either close to your body, or in a heated pack which can be reused and even inserted into gloves to keep your hands extra-warm.
Robins are widespread through the UK so they are an ideal species to target when the snows starts falling. They will often follow you when walking along a path as your footstep unearth food, so keep your eyes peeled on walkways.
In the colder months red squirrels will take advantage of manmade feeders, so finding these will greatly increase your chances of seeing and getting images of the reds in a smaller area.
Whether in a natural woodland or a deer park, the snow really adds atmosphere to images of these charismatic mega fauna. The dark fur will stand out from the snow, making them more visible but also wary, so be very quiet and stealthy when approaching them for an image.
The more northern your location, the more chance of snow, and one area of the UK that almost never fails to get a dusting of snow is the Cairngorms National Park in the Scottish Highlands. With its northern latitude, it’s almost arctic, and the wildlife reflects this with mountain hares turning white in the winter to provide protection from predators such as golden eagles. They can be surprisingly approachable if you are lucky and patient. By getting above them and spotting one, I then slowly make my way to eye-level to get more intimate images. One advantage of the snow is that it’s much easier to track wildlife as they leave a trail of footprints behind them, which can often lead to the I.D of your quarry before you see it.
Snow also means that it is a lot harder for wildlife to find food, which means they try harder to feed. Species such as barn owls may be out during the day to find its next meal while garden birds such as robins, coal tits and great tits can become very bold, even snatching a meal from hand! It’s always worth having some seed in the camera bag to encourage birds to come a little closer and provide them with a meal they may otherwise never have got.
At the end of the shoot, it is important not to bring the camera straight into a warm space (this can include cars so be mindful when driving to a new location). The sudden temperature change can cause condensation on the lens and camera and, in some cases, inside the camera, which can ruin a shoot and take a while to go away. To avoid this, either leave your camera in its camera bag and bring it indoors to slowly come back to room temperature, or if you intend to use it again soon, leave it in a cool area like a hallway. Most modern cameras can take a battering from the elements - just remember to bring the memory cards and batteries inside.
· Pre-plan a location to get the most of the snow and the wildlife inhabiting it
· Over-exposing the image by 1 stop will create a more natural white
· Find the animal’s food and you’ll find the animal
· Look out for tracks, which will be much more visible in the snow
· Don’t bring the camera straight in from the cold or it will fog up
· Keep batteries charged up as the cold will drain them