Challenges in Winter Photography

By Ana Rocha


Winter sunrise on Vermillion Lake by Ana Rocha ©

Sunrise Vermilion lake, Banff, AB

Winter Photography can be challenging in many different aspects. Low temperatures, snow and photographic gear can be resolved with proper clothes and proper advice founded in different articles published by Dr. Robert Berdan and other photographers at this website. However what exactly to photograph can be quite intimidating.

When I first attended the Winter Workshop in 2005 with Robert Berdan and Rinus, along with 12 other keen photographers, I knew I was going to have fun but it would be challenging for me. Being born in a country where snow is only existent in Christmas cards, I did not know where to start or what to photograph. Robert kept reminding us that photographing in snow is like a white canvas, it is a process very similar to painting. We need to choose which parts will be included on the composition and which parts won’t be present. It took me a while to translate his words into practice and my eyes to get used to the startling white even though we had an overcast day. The moment I started to think about composition; the main subject; how to frame and the mood to convey, I started to understand what Robert meant by white canvas. Basically, I had to consider snow as a negative aspect of the composition and the positive aspect would be all the things that would be showing over the ground. But I wanted to photograph more than just mountains, textures, layers and light and definitely I did not want postcards. I wanted to see the different shapes nature can present and showcase them in different moods. That is why I had decided to lay on the ground, to change the perspective of my photos. Close to the ground, a new world opened in front of my eyes. The shapes were clearer and with snow, I could frame them better. I could isolate the subject properly and create an interesting composition. The position also helped me to concentrate on the mood of the picture.

Some of the best shots I took during this workshop are here and I will comment in some of them. I am not a technically geared photographer, so my comments would not contain all the f stops, ISO numbers, but why I think they stand out.

The Sun Rise over Vermillion Lake at Banff National Park (top photo), has been my absolutely favourite picture. The colours, the composition, layers and texture are all very good but the mood in it is what makes very special for me. Every time I look at this picture is almost as I could “hear” the silence present at the time, it is calming and a very Zen picture. I shot first with my Pinhole camera ( below) , which required help from Rinus counting to the correct exposure and me to really look at the scenery and make the composition I wanted.

Pinhole black and white photograph of Vermillion lake by Ana Rocha ©

Photograph taken with a simple pinhole camera (i.e. no lenses on BW film).

I can say today that the exercise of looking at the scene with the Pinhole camera, made my eyes more sensitive to what I wanted to say with this picture. Ana Rocha taking picture with pinhole camera by Robert Berdan ©

After the Sun Rise we went to the lake along the Vermillion Lake. We all scattered along the frozen shore and I was amazed by the amount of different textures and again felt overwhelmed by scenery. It was only when I laid on the ground I could see the shapes again. This shot of the grass (below) is elegant and well isolated, it also shows a great balance between snow and grass. The reflection was a bonus which made the picture quite artistic ( On the right Ana using a pinhole camera at Lake Louise).


When I was still on the ground I saw the rock covered with a bit of snow on top. Just like a cake with frosting. The great angle of the rock is almost the same as the snow at the top. Again the reflection added an extra bonus to it.

Grass and rock next to water in winter by Ana Rocha ©

When the workshop was over, my eyes were over stimulated and it took me hours to fall sleep. It took me days to digest what I had learned and I set some priorities. I needed to go over to the points learned many times in order to really understand and consolidate the lessons. So my daily exercise was to go over Fish Creek Park, Calgary and walk along its frozen shore during winter (snowy days) and capture some creative shots. The hill over to my house was almost covered in snow and so most of branches of the trees. This time I was not laying on the ground but the angle of the little hill showed me a great potential of this shot. So then I sat on the ground and shot (below).

Winter path by Ana Rocha ©

The geese along the river was challenging for me. I wanted to capture them flying and my lens ( sigma 70- 300 ) did not permit the use of very fast shutter speeds, but I was determined to get a good shot out of them. So I went back every snowy morning to the same spot in order to practice. To “ hear” the silence helped my concentration, laying on the ground quiet ( apart from the irritating noise of the lens) and focus on different groups of geese became a routine. The light differed each time, the amount of snow around them made each composition different, but I knew which shot I wanted so I waited and practice, until I got the picture below. It is not the perfect flying photo but I was happy with it as I knew the limitation of my gear and lenses.

Canada geese on Elbow river by Ana Rocha ©

Canada Geese on the Elbow river, Calgary, AB

I do not live in Calgary anymore, and my commercial photography is concentrated on children and family contemporary portraiture. Every opportunity that I have to go back to the snow and practice the lessons learned is essential for my photography in general. I can say that lying on the ground even in children photography or adopting a different perspective is what makes my work stands out. The lessons learned during the winter photography workshop and my practice ever since, changed my photography approach and improved my ability to communicate what is really important to me.

Portrait of Ana Rocha


Ana Rocha is a professional life style children's photographer in Scotland, United Kingdom. She has a Master Degree in Sociology of Childhood. Her formal photography training was done in Calgary by attending courses at Alberta College of Art and Design, SAIT as well as many workshops through Science and Art.

Ana Rocha 50 Shaw Circle Aberdeen- Scotland AB32 6UH

Photo of Ana in top banner by Eduardo da Costa.