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Photographer's tip: How to shoot great winter photos

Customers, well bundled against the cold, ride in a sled with Canadian Sled Dog Adventures along a trail in the Calan Valley near Whistler on Jan. 16, 2012.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail/John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

Here is the tip for this week's Photo Desk assignment: Your best photos of winter

Well here's an obvious tip: dress warm. But dressing warm is not the only thing a photographer needs to consider when shooting in extreme winter conditions.

I shot an ice wine harvest in Osoyoos, B.C. during a night where the temperature with wind-chill felt like –20 Celsius. At that temperature, not only do I have to worry about keeping myself warm for several hours, but also my camera and batteries.

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I kept a second camera body, lens and spare batteries in my car, bundled-up with a blanket, and a hot shot hand warmer. I carried a second battery inside my coat near my chest to keep it warm. After shooting for an hour and half I found I had to change cameras and the battery.

The farm, as you can imagine, was pitch black and the only light was from the trackers headlamps, so I found a head-mounted flashlight to be very helpful as it keeps you hands free to shoot.

The single light source did, however, create very dramatic images, as is evident in the photo above where the light from the tracker causes the worker to be silhouetted as he walks over to dump his load of grapes.

Great advice from a guide at a dog sled tour outfit in Whistler: never stop moving because the cold will catch up with you in a hurry. Shooting dog sledding in the snowy B.C. wilderness on a cold overcast day also presents its own challenges: keeping in mind natural hazards like ice, depth of the snow and snow cover branches.

The biggest two problems are black and white. You've got the very dark and even black dogs and the very white snow and sky. Trying to keep detail in both is tough even with today's digital cameras because you can't rely on the meter for an accurate reading. I would and always fire off a few test frames to check exposure and find the happy medium between the correct exposure for the snow and dogs.

By far one of the more difficult challenges this winter was covering a sit-skier at Whistler during her training. Keeping warm is the least of your problems. In order to get you and gear around on the mountain you need to be a good skier and all your equipment needs to be stuffed in to a backpack.

Getting your gear in and out can be a slow and cumbersome process, often resulting in missed photo opportunities. This is where advanced planning and talking with your subjects can really help, knowing where they'll be before they head out will give you the chance to get ahead, get your gear out, be prepared and ready.

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