Cold snaps

RN&R contributors get a lesson in winter photography

Craig Moore of Action Camera discusses winter photography with RN&R contributor Andrea Heerdt.

Craig Moore of Action Camera discusses winter photography with RN&R contributor Andrea Heerdt.


Northern Nevada’s explosive autumn colors—particularly the golds and crimsons painting the Truckee and Carson River valleys—make for some incredibly picturesque scenes, and, during the season, it’s pretty common to see everyone from professional landscape photographers set up waiting for the perfect shot to cell phone carrying parents photographing their kids along leaf-covered sidewalks.

Fall has given way to the cold, long nights of winter—but with a little extra effort, you can see that the cold season possesses its own photogenic scenes—snow-covered mountains, icy creek cascades. Some of them you can get to without even leaving city limits!

Interested in learning some tips and ideas to shoot more dynamic winter photographs, I tagged along with Reno News & Review contributor Andrea Heerdt on an afternoon outing that ended in the snow at the top of Mt. Rose pass.

Reno just got its second camera shop—Action Camera, 5890 S. Virginia St. Between it and Gordon’s Photo Service, 5890 S. Virginia St., locals have good choices when seeking photography classes or just expert advice. We decided to stop by Action Camera, where we questioned staff about what to keep in mind when shooting in the snowy winter landscape.

“I would recommend tripods to beginners, intermediates and professionals,” Craig Moore, the friendly face behind Action Camera’s counter, told us. “With a tripod, you tend to pick your head up away from the camera and take in the whole scene. It lets you notice more, gives you more time to compose, and lets you use the slower speeds built into your camera to make water and clouds appear smooth.”

Moore held up Andrea’s DSLR camera and pointed out the settings menu on the back.

“When you’re in the bright snow, the camera is going to make things darker, so you have to over-expose,” Moore said. “The button I’m talking about is the plus-minus. If we’re out snowboarding, and you take a picture of me, I’m going to be dark. If you press the plus button, you can put the light back on your subject.”

As far as gear to improve winter photography is concerned, Moore mentioned a circular polarizer—a filter that you can easily screw onto the front of your camera lens.

“A circular polarizer is the main filter to give you more contrast, to make the blue sky bluer and the greens greener,” Moore explained. “You get more richness of your colors, and it controls glare if you’re shooting in the snow where there’s a lot of light bouncing all over the place.”

Finally, Moore mentioned that cell phones also have the option for apps that can improve winter images taken on the phones. “You can download apps for iPhone and Android that give you the ability to change F stops, change depth of field, change shutter speed, or change ISO,” Moore said.

Apps like VSCO or Camera+ Lite are available for free and let users have more control over the images they take, giving their phones some of the features of a DSLR camera.

With some of the ideas that Moore had told us in mind, we headed up to Tahoe Meadows at the top of Mt. Rose pass, then strapped on some snowshoes and headed into the white, wintry wonderland overlooking Lake Tahoe. We decided that the photogenic birds at Chickadee Ridge would be our test subjects, so, with granola in hand, we each stood atop the crest of the ridge trying to capture the chickadees while they darted around.

Heerdt, primarily a photojournalist, laughed while holding her camera in one hand and trying to shoot photos of the birds eating from her other hand. The clear blue Tahoe skies were surpassed in richness only by the deep blue water of the lake stretching out far beneath us. Luckily, what we may have lacked in skill was more than compensated for by the easy and epic beauty of the scenes that surrounded us. And those hungry birds stuck around long enough for us to figure out how to get the images we were hoping for.

Eventually we hiked back down to the car, walking through flawless virgin powder as the afternoon shadows stretched farther across the meadows. Driving down from the mountain, I thought that if the pictures turned out better than past attempts at winter shooting, it would be a win. Among the tips that I picked up inside the camera store, another lesson that stuck with me was that winter photography was just as good an excuse as any to bundle up, head outside and spend some time in the beautiful places around the region.