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Stillness and light: How to capture frost on film | Graham Turner

Patterns on windows, cloudy breath and sparkling frozen water – Guardian photographer Graham Turner's tips on how to focus on frosty shots

Share your photos of frost on our Flickr group

Frost is a weather condition with as many plus as minus points. To the bird looking for worms and insects, it can be life or death. To the gardener it is the killer of pests and the breaker of sods, but also the destroyer of tender plants. To the householder, frost means frozen pipes – a bonanza for the plumber. To the car driver it's scraping the windows and slippery roads; to the dog-walker, a fierce nip in the air. To the photographer, perhaps it's a gleaming icicle.

Jack Frost seems to slow everything down – and no one wants to run, in case they come a-cropper. So we're thinking of the stillness and light of a Vermeer painting.

As photographers, let's dress up warm and be positive – we'll look out for patterns on windows, that lovely white edging it gives to trees and grass, cloudy breath and sparkling frozen water. At night time there's a sparkle and shine to otherwise drab scenes; during the day, brightness and contrast are accentuated.

If the sun is out, ice and icicles look best when photographed looking towards the sun, rather than with the light source behind you. A dark background behind the icicles looks best – but watch out for flare.

Make sure your lens is clean. If your lenshood isn't up to the job, use a piece of card or a hand to prevent the light from falling on the lens, or consider using the flare in your picture.

When the sun stays hidden, then is the opportunity for misty, murky monochromatic shots. Avoid a completely grey picture – aim to get something completely black, white or colourful in the frame.

With all photographs there is really only one exposure that looks right, but it isn't necessarily the exposure your meter says. Bracket your exposures – maybe a bit of overexposure to give a high-key picture with burnt-out highlights, or underexposed for a darker more sombre look.

If it is a dull, grey day, look out for a touch of colour. Imagine a red berry or two, maybe a red letterbox etched with white frost and a misty grey background.

It's cold. You're cold. Watch out for camera-shake. Take extra shots, or use something to steady your camera – a tripod, or lean against a tree or wall, or something that will steady you.

When outside, avoid breathing on the camera (unless you want a soft-focus effect). You will steam up the camera, and if it is really cold you'll end up with a covering of ice.

Batteries slow down in low temperatures. If they get really slow, put them in an inside pocket to warm up.

Keeping a camera with you at all times is always a good idea. You might turn a corner and there in front of you is that dream picture – lucky you. But a little pre-planning can save a lot of aimless wandering. Think about where you might go, and when is the best time for the light. Should you take that heavy telephoto or will it not be needed? Will you need a flashgun to give an extra lift to the foreground? Would it help your photograph to persuade a friend to come out wearing a bright red pullover or scarf to use in the picture? Many good photographs are created in the head – sometimes hours, days or even months in advance - probably as many as are "snapped" as they happen.

So, although it is truly a great feeling when wandering with a camera and you happen on a great scene, it can also be just as rewarding to plan and execute a picture that you have "made" happen.

Graham Turner is a Guardian photographer, who prefers being outdoors to indoors. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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