Consider your own safety when venturing out in winter. I used to walk in the hills in Scotland as part of my work and saw people get into trouble because they were not properly prepared. Even popular spots can be deserted at this time of year and there may not be anyone to help you if things go horribly wrong.
The most sure-footed of us can slip and hurt ourselves. Always tell someone where you will be and when you are expected back. Share your location using a family-tracking GPS app on your phone.
Don’t rely on your phone though. Northumberland has plenty of mobile phone blackspots, especially in the hills and on beaches. Furthermore, ensure your phone battery is fully charged as batteries run out quickly in the cold.
Take clothing suitable for even worse conditions. Winter weather changes suddenly and visibility can disappear in seconds. If you have an accident, a bright coloured jacket can make it easier to spot you.
Days are short so take a torch and whistle, as well as food and a flask of a hot drink.
There is lots of excellent safety advice at www.mountainsafety.co.uk/ and www.thebmc.co.uk/
Look after your camera too. Fit a UV filter to protect the front lens element if the camera falls. Camera body and screen protectors are relatively cheap and may prevent expensive breakages.
When you bring a cold camera back into a warm house condensation will form. If that gets inside the camera it could spell an end to its electronics. Before you go indoors, seal your camera in a plastic bag with a silica gel sachet (one of those little packets of crystals that come with electronic goods) or a scrunched-up piece of kitchen roll. Wait at least an hour until the camera has come up to room temperature before opening the bag.
On any sunny day, a good starting point for a front or side-lit landscape photograph is to set your aperture to f/16, then adjust your shutter value to the same as your ISO. So if your ISO is 200, your shutter should be 1/200th of a second.
Try those settings in manual mode when shooting a snow scene. Now take the same shot using one of the automatic modes and your camera will under-expose. This is because the standard metering assumes the entire world is darker than the snow and will reduce the exposure accordingly. If your snow pictures look dull and you used automatic/programme mode or aperture/shutter priority, this is what has happened. Dialling in over-exposure – accessed using the [+/-] button on many cameras – can fix that.
Snow also reflects the sky and may appear blue in a photo. Changing the white balance on your camera will compensate for that. If you shoot raw, that is not such a big issue as it is a simple adjustment to make in whichever raw development tool you use.
A circular polarising (CPL) filter can improve the look of a snow landscape by helping to reduce glare, but it will also affect your exposure by up to a stop.
I hope I’ll see your winter shots in the Northumberland Camera Club http://bit.ly/PicNland. Happy New Year!