Frost is often more of a feature of a British winter than snow. There are normally plenty of opportunities to try it. Like snow photography, pictures taken on a frosty morning have their own character. Frost doesn’t simplify the landscape as much as a covering of snow, but it does transform it. You just have to get out there early enough to see it!
Landscape frost photography
It is best to arrive at your desired location before sunrise. Even the less intense winter sun can start to melt the frost quite quickly. Don’t forget to allow extra time to scrape the frost off your car windscreen before setting off! You will need a tripod to get the best quality images as the light will be low. I also like to use ND grad filters to balance the light between the sky and the land. For sunrise, it is often best to use reverse ND grad filters. These have a clear bottom half with a dark middle that gets lighter towards the top. I find that these help give the best balance at sunrise and sunset. If you use other types of ND grad filters for sunrise or sunset photography you may find that the sky at the top of your image looks unnaturally dark.
As with most types of landscape photography, taking pictures of frosty scenes is often best done with the early light as the sun begins to rise. You will get some nice contrast on the ground between the whiter areas of frost and the darker ground in between. You will also get (depending on the weather) some good colour in the sky. Early sunlight often catches the frost nicely, too. So, you can get orange or yellow highlights from some of the frost as in the 2nd image above.
You will often find that winter landscapes, whether frosty or snowy, will convert well into black and white. Monochrome landscapes benefit from the greater amounts of contrast on offer. It is often possible to push the contrast or clarity further with frost photography or snow photography than you can with other types of landscapes. Try toning or split-toning as well, perhaps. This can be used to bring a tint of blue to the image to suggest the cold, for example. Experiment in post-production to find the results that give you the feeling and look you are after.
Macro frost photography
Photographing frost doesn’t stop at landscapes. There is great potential for all kinds of close-up work, including abstract compositions. Frost crystals grow like tiny sticks on all kinds of surfaces. They decorate simple subjects such as fallen leaves and grass, changing their appearance. Ideally you would work with a dedicated macro lens and mount your camera on a tripod. I tend to do macro shots once the sun is up so that there is more available light. You need some good light as you will often be shooting at a very small aperture to get everything in focus. Waiting until after sunrise means you can also get two types of photography and a whole range of shots done within just an hour or two. If you don’t have or can’t afford a specialist macro lens, try using an extension tube with one of your existing lenses. These enable you to focus closer than you would normally be able to and are a cheaper option. Extension tubes do stop you from focussing on subjects far away, though, so do bear that in mind.
Look for shapes, patterns and textures when trying macro photography. Try to see the world in a different way, looking for interesting details. As the frost melts you will also find droplets of water hanging on fences, for example. These can also make interesting subjects and you may find you get little reflections in the water drops (see my blog post on dew drops, for example). Look closely at the ground, trees, fences and any other objects nearby. You may be surprised what you find.
Try getting creative with your frost photography. Don’t be afraid to “break the rules”! The first of these two images is a macro shot, but nothing is really sharp. I just like the colours, shapes and textures in this soft image. The second is a frosty landscape scene after sunrise. Normally you “shouldn’t” take pictures with the sun in them. The burnt out white patch is often considered “wrong”. But, I happen to like the star-like pattern achieved with the sun and the lighting on the frosty grass. Photography is an art form, so don’t be afraid to play around. Most important of all, create images that you like and don’t worry about what others might think. (Please note – avoid looking at the sun directly for any length of time as it can damage your eyesight and may also damage your camera)
I hope this encourages you to give frost photography a go yourself. You don’t even need to be up super early as winter sunrise is at a more civilised time. Don’t let your camera sit idly waiting for spring – go out there and have some fun!
© Joe Lenton, January 2015