Growing up in Australia, snow is a big deal for me. It always has been. My first memory as a child, was when I was five and visiting Scotland during winter with my family. My pants were wet; two perfect circles over my pockets. My father dutifully asked me what I had put in them. "Nothing", came my sheepish reply "I just put some snow in there to take back to my friends in Australia," I said as I drove my hands into my pockets to produce the evidence, but was left dumbfounded when I couldn't retrieve any. My father roared with laughter.
Despite what you think, there is plenty of snow Down Under, and in my late teens, I spent a season working in the ski fields in the very originally named Australian Alps. We have winter gold medalists in speed skating, aerials, moguls and half-pipe. But in Australia, it never snows in the cities, only in the mountains, so now that I live in Europe I am still bewildered everytime the streets are covered in white.
Before I race out the door, throwing myself down the stairs to try and be the first to catch a snowflake on my tongue, there are a few precautions I undertake.
Pack an extra battery. Cold weather depletes battery power faster, and you don't want to be left carrying a 2-tonne brick in a winter wonderland.
and a USB charger. My phone dropped from 100% to 40% in one hour flat.
Get some fingerless gloves. Having exposed hands is a surefire way to throw your head back in desperation and curse the gods.
Double up on the socks. You won't get far with numb little toes.
Cover your ears. I used my cat hat (you can see an image at the bottom of this blog of my silliness)
Look at the forecast, but take it with a grain of salt. It will change constantly and you want to err on the safe side to make sure you get the shot.
Bring a lens hood. There might not be any sun, but they can be a great way to keep snowflakes from falling on your front element.
Don't neglect the flash, and I'll explain why below.
For this shot, I wanted to pump a bit of spirited magic into my image. The snow was filtering down and I wanted to capture the act of snow falling in my image, as well as the white blanket it created on the ground. To achieve this effect I needed to boost the light on the foreground, so it set my camera up on a tripod, had a fast(ish) shutter speed to freeze the snow as it fell, then fired the flash to illuminate the snowflakes in front of the lens. I wanted to warm up the front snowflakes to give some warmth to the image, so I used a colour temperature orange filter on the flash. I chose a wide aperture of f/2.8 to create a shallow depth of field, and still focusing on the tower, the snow at the front became abstract balls of bokeh light. It looked good, but I wasn't getting enough snowflake balls in one single shot, so I fired off a bunch of images and stacked them together in photoshop using a lighten blend mode. The final image is a composite of nine individual images.
Seeing the snowfall in cities like Paris can be magical, and with a little preparation, some good technique, and creative composition, you can keep some of that magic alive long after the snow turns to slippery sludge on the side of the road. All it takes it a little imagination, and a lot of layers and coffee. Happy Winter everyone.
Author: Alexander J.E. Bradley
Alexander is the founder of Aperture Tours which run photography tours in the most photogenic cities across the globe. A professional photographer for over a decade, Alexander enjoys shooting the surreal by mixing dreamlike qualities into his conceptual images.