5 reasons to stay on your game this winter!

November 24, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

Whenever I see blogs or articles which start "10 ways..." or "5 top tips..." or "7 reasons why..." I normally switch off, and go and read something else!

So why would I start my blog "5 reasons to stay on your game this winter!"???

With the cold weather setting in, there is a strong temptation to do two things: pack your wildlife gear away and come back to it in spring, and pick up a point and shoot for the holiday season. 

It's getting colder. But that shouldn't be a reason to keep you from the outdoors. My local lake is getting a lot of my attention in recent weeks.

Here are my 5 reasons why you should resist the temptation to stay indoors, and get your all weather gear, your camera and lens out there and start searching for sightings and creating images.

1. Seasonality

Yep! Number 1 is very simple. Shoot your seasons. If you want to keep your portfolio relevant and diverse it is best to capture wildlife and landscapes through out the seasons. The beautiful autumn colours and the cold winter days with less light create incredible photographic opportunities you won't get in any other season. Autumn and winter is a great time to tell different wildlife stories as animals face a very changing and challenging environment. 

As a side comment if you are looking to get published in a specific area, getting out now will give you a portfolio of images to select from for next winter. Get them in the bag now, and plan ahead now ready for next year. Picture editors are keeping an eye some months ahead on their schedules. So shooting images in November with the hope of submitting them for a December issue probably isn't going to cut it. 

A juvenile black headed gull in flight against a backdrop of autumn and winter colours. The white contrasts the dark making a striking image.

There is no better time than Autumn to photograph deer, especially with the annual rut. This image I took from nearly 300 meters away in freezing fog. As access to the deer park was restricted I decided to use the oak trees to create a natural frame to the fallow deer that were grazing under those trees. The fog adds to the wintery atmosphere.

Winter is also a time for landscapes too. Simple compositions work really well when elements such as the weather are at their extremes. This is such a simple composition yet I love the image. For me what makes his image is the subtle colours and the negative space in the frame which emphasises the freezing fog and coldness of the landscape. 

2. Less foliage, easier sightings

Autumn and winter are when the trees shed their leaves. In Europe the most prevalent and abundant of species is birds. In spring and summer when the leaves are lush and green, how easy is it for you to spot birds? Not very. Yet in autumn and winter, not only do you have incredible colours, but you have less foliage on the trees, which means you can spot birds much easier! This means you might be able to get images of species you've not got in your portfolio. Bird photography is very challenging, so we need all the help we can get!

A common garden bird during winter months in Europe, but very difficult to photograph without a hide. Robin red breasts do not tend to stay put for too long and have a very erratic flight pattern making them difficult to track amongst trees.

3. Keep your skill sharp

So you put your camera away for winter and when the weather breaks you dust it off and head out on a shoot. You come back load your images into Lightroom and find you've blown your shots. How did this happen? As with everything in life, you only become skilled at things if you continue to practice them. There's no substitute for time spent in the field. Personally I have some interesting projects in the pipeline for 2016. I don't want to turn up on those projects and mess up because I'm rusty. I want to turn up at those projects on my game. Stay sharp, even if it is cold!

Swan's are very common and not my favourite subject to photograph. So why not think out of the box? How about trying something different and taking an image or composition nobody is expecting? By playing with your camera, and compositional techniques you can keep your skills sharp.

4. Improve your low light shooting

In autumn and winter, at least in northern Europe, daylight diminishes. Both in quantity, i.e. the duration of the days, and in strength, i.e. the quality of the light. For wildlife photographers this makes things more challenging! If shooting in aperture priority mode, which for me is the default mode when shooting wildlife, ideally we need good available light to stick to the rule of thumb that shutter speed should be 2X focal length. With reduced light in aperture priority mode we need to push our ISO's much higher to get that same level of shutter speed. That is far from ideal as of course increased ISO means increased image noise. So what happens is either we set ISO limits within reason and work with lower shutter speeds, or we switch to manual mode and dial in what we want to shoot. Either way, your shutter speeds will always drop, meaning you need to find a balance. Slower shutter speeds will impact motion blur and sharpness. Of course you can go to shooting on a tripod which would work well for more static animals like deer, rabbits and so on. The key is to pick the moment to hit the shutter when the animal is static, and you should be good. But for birds you probably want to stay hand held because birds tend to move and move quite quickly. All these trade offs will improve your camera craft and ultimately you will start to understand how to shoot around low light limitations to create images, rather than trying to fight it. This leads me to my last reason, number 5...

If you feel it is cold and dark, then why not portray that in your images? I deliberately under exposed this heron. I was far away on the opposite side of the lake. I have then selectively corrected the exposure of the heron in Lightroom, leaving everything else as I saw it. With some slight suggestion of foliage in the composition I still retain a natural look (i.e. not dodged, burned or photoshopped!). 

5. Get creative!

So we've established that in autumn and winter we have vibrant colours, we have lower light, and more bird sightings due to less foliage. So with that in mind, think about how the camera can work for you? In the past 2 weeks I've been visiting a local lake that has an abundance of birds. Here are a couple of images I took where I worked with the conditions and low light to create wildlife images. Slower shutter speeds means that you can use panning techniques to emphasise bird flight and motion. Lower light means you can underexpose and create darker atmospheres and moods within the images. You can work with the angle of fading light to create silhouettes. 

Shooting at ISO 800 in aperture priority of f5.6, my trusty old 7D was giving me a shutter speed of 1/15! How was I supposed to shoot birds at 1/15th of a second? By panning whilst this heron is inflight, I'm working with the faded light not against it. The result is a very effective and striking panning shot of this bird in flight over the colours of the lake. Notice at this shutter speed the white streaks in the background are actually light reflections on the water.

So what are you waiting for? Brave the weather and get out there in the field and shoot! I've just been out on several shoots in freezing weather the past 2 weeks and I've had a huge amount of fun, and got some shots that I am really pleased with. In fact I was so surprised at the outcome of my images it inspired this blog! I've learnt a huge amount shooting in the cold and dimmer light. 

When you see your results you will thank yourself for making the effort!

Until next time.



By positioning myself at the bank of the lake opposite to the fading sunlight I was able to take this silhouette with ripple rings around it. By exposing for the environment (the water) rather than the subject, the image conveys a unique mood. This may be winter, but the light at golden hour is still golden! The bird is a Eurasian Coot.







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