The Magic in Winter Series: Winter Light: Part 3 of 4

Dec 24, 2019


With Part 1, gear considerations and Part 2, technical concepts covered, I bet that you cannot wait to head outdoors and start capturing magical winter images! So let's go! In this week’s blog post, Part 3, of The Magic in Winter Series, I’ll be chatting about winter light. The topic of finding and using beautiful light is undoubtedly one of my favourite conversations within photography. Here are some of my tried and true ways of managing gorgeous winter light in a way that infuses magic into winter photographs. 

Winter Light

As in everything with photography, finding and using good light is probably the most critical factor in capturing magic. I adore winter light! It’s often buttery and soft due to its lower position in the sky all day long, and when it is sunny, there are often atmospheric clouds diffusing all that winter light.

Here are some of the most common lighting situations you’ll likely come across during the winter months and a few tips for creating magic with the light.


The full sun during winter can be gorgeous. However, shooting in full sun can sometimes be tricky due to extremes in dynamic range. In full sun situations, try metering for your highlights and set your exposure so that your highlights are maintained.

When working with full sun, you can: 

Front Light: Try front lighting your subject so that she or he pops off that snowy white background. When front lightning, your subject will be evenly lit, and shadows will fall back.  This will result in beautiful even lighting.

ISO 250, 105mm, f2.8, 1/2500SS

Shoot up: Try shooting up at your subject and positioning the sun behind him or her.  Your subject will defuse the light, and you might even be able to capture a starburst from the sun.  You can also experiment with different apertures here and even consider using a smaller aperture like f9 or even f22.   

ISO 100, 50mm, Freelensed, 1/4000SS

Shoot in the Shadows: Have your subject step into the shade and capture her or him out of direct sunlight. You can also get creative and try experimenting with dappled light too.

ISO 400, 135mm, f3.2, 1/1600SS

Atmospheric elements like fog and snow often accompany overcast light during the winter months. Remember that snow acts as a giant reflector and bounces light back up onto your subject, so still watch for unsightly shadows falling over your subject. Also, look for those big catchlights in the eyes in this type of light as it helps an image come to life.  

ISO 400, 175mm, f3.2, 1.2500SS

Golden hour backlight is, of course, a favourite among photographers at any time of the year.  Backlight is truly magical, and this is most certainly the case during the winter.  To be successful when backlighting, remember that slight movements in your position can introduce haze or flare.  Moving up or down or from side to side can help control the light. Also, remember that you can control backlight by using a natural screen such as a densely treed forest background or another object such as a playground structure or building.

ISO 200, 105mm, f3.5, 1/1000SS

Winter light is truly magic, so don’t be afraid to embrace the light. Take advantage of winter’s soft and buttery backlight or embrace wither’s atmospheric snowy winter light! I know you’ll be glad you did!