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How to Produce Stunning Fall and Winter Photos

It’s officially holiday season. The leaves are turning, snow is falling, people have broken out their sweaters and fleece, and we welcome holiday celebrations such as Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Fall and winter bring a plethora of scenes. Are you ready to create stunning seasonal photos? This guide will begin with general recommendations followed by more seasonal-specific recommendations.

Start with Goals in These Critical Areas

According to the Professional Photographers of America, there are twelve areas critical to an award-winning image. While these are by no means hard rules, they’re a great jumping off point when preparing for your shot. The points cover elements of style, creativity and technical aptitude. More specifically, they include:

  • Style – genre and characteristics of an artist’s work.
  • Technicality – basic photography technique, including pre- and post-editing skills.
  • Composition – visual design and presentation.
  • Presentation – finishing touches to an image like mats or borders.
  • Lighting – the use or control of manmade and natural light.
  • Impact – compelling images evoke a feeling and they leave an impression on the viewer.
  • Subject – the subject matter is appropriate for the story being told.
  • Color Balance – appropriate combination of color tones.
  • Story – the ability of an image to evoke one’s imagination.
  • Creativity – originality of presentation.
  • Center of Interest – the intended primary and secondary viewing points within the image.

It’s important to keep these points in mind when holistically planning for your shoot. Of note, impact is a critical item on this list, but one that is often overlooked. Without impact, your photo will blend in with the masses. Impact is what makes an award-winning winter image memorable. For example, think about the many holiday cards you receive. They all tend to blend together. What was it about those photos that stood out to you; that made an impact?


Technical perfection is something that many photographers argue over. There is technical precision and then there’s breaking the rules for the sake of artistic impact. Not every award-winning image is technically correct, but not every technically correct image is award-winning. Take photographer Adrian McDonald for example – his images are heavily edited and arguably technically flawed, but the raw emotion they convey makes them impressive. Try to find the right balance between evoking emotion and technical expertise.

You do not have to be a professional photographer to create award-winning winter images, but you do have to be able to take a competent photo. It has been said that there are two kinds of photographers – those who snap images and those who create them. A snapper snaps an image that may be technically perfect, but there’s no accompanying vision or emotional outcome associated with the photo.

Tell a Story with Strategy

A good photograph tells a story and is relatable. What story will your photoshoot tell?  If you’re familiar with the rules of composition, now is the time to get them out. There are two reasons one should understand the rules of composition – to use them to perfection and to break them entirely. Some of the greatest photographers, like Ansel Adams, believed that the greatest pictures taken had no rules at all. However, composition rules are an excellent jumping off point to formulate your strategy.

Award-winning photos rarely just “happen”. They are often enhanced within the post-editing process. Overlays can be used to add rainbows, snow, or falling leaves. Presets can be used to color-correct and enhance. Actions can introduce light or add dramatic accents to key aspects of your picture. Your story is created through technical aptitude, creativity during the shoot, and access to high-quality post-processing tools.

Note how the post-processing of this photo changes the story experienced by the viewer.

Original fall photo

Enhanced with a fall leaf overlay

Transformed to winter with a snow overlay

Made more ominous with a black and white preset

Enhance Fall Tones and Lighting

Fall brings warm and golden light, which is enhanced by the changing colors of nature. Lighting is unique in the winter, particularly in the Northern hemisphere. For many photographers, the angle of the sun means an almost permanent version of “golden light” – only it’s not so golden and has a lovely cool and diffused tone instead. This makes it ideal to capture chilly air to overcast skies. Take advantage of these seasonal backdrops by enhancing these tones within post-processing. This can be done by hand or, if you’re looking to save time, with presets and actions.

Enhanced with presets (Touch of Tweed Sun Glow + Fall Colors)

Avoid Gray Snow

Snow is tough to photograph because it often comes out gray, blue, or even beige depending on how your camera interprets the light. Snow often tricks the sensor on your camera by acting like a gray card. To fix this, you must know how your camera meter works. Your camera automatically exposes the middle of the subject at 18% gray. However, since your subject (snow) is lighter than that, the camera automatically continues to expose it at the same level.

Looking at your histograms, you’ll likely see most of the tones over in the light end, with some tones clipped. Instead of relying on the metering system, you can increase your exposure compensation and override the meter by using Aperture mode.  Never trust your onboard exposure meter when it comes to snow because it very often gets it wrong, especially if shooting in JPG. You also don’t want to mess with your camera settings as you can fix snow in post-processing. The Luxe Lens offers winter presets designed to color-correct snow.

Original photo

Same image with a preset applied to remove gray (Winter HDR)

Prepare Your Gear for Extreme Cold

The cold can have an extreme effect on photography equipment. Two items of concern are batteries and condensation.  Batteries usually function down to 32 degrees Fahrenheit if they’re rechargeable. If they fall below this temperature, your batteries may go dead. However, most batteries will recharge and resume function once they warm back up again. This is not the case with alkali batteries, which should not be used below 32 degrees Fahrenheit.

With condensation, the issue is that when you’re outside, your gear gets cold, but when you return indoors, this moisture forms on the inside of your equipment as a result of the dramatic temperature change.  This moisture has the potential to damage internal components of your precious photography equipment. One trick to keeping your gear warm in frigid temperatures is to have a carrying case for major pieces, along with a few hot packs that can be stuck within the cases. Try to avoid sticking your camera inside of your jacket for protection. This area can get humid and encourages condensation within your equipment.

One industry trick of the trade is to seal your camera gear in a plastic bag (such as a Ziploc) before transitioning to an indoor environment. This way, your gear is surrounded by a blanket of dry air from the outdoors. Condensation does form, but on the outside of the bag inside of inside of your camera.

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