Photography in winter can be a challenge. And when I say “winter”, I’m not talking of winter in the sense of majestic snowcapped peaks framed by freshly powdered pines with perfect golden light and fire-toned brushstroke clouds–I’m talking more of the winter of dirty refrozen slushpiles downtown three frigid days after a mid-January sleetstorm around 11:17 on a grey Tuesday morning when it seems there’s nothing magical left in the world worth getting out of warm car with a camera for.
A starling sits atop a weather vane, atop a three story building, captured through the Sigma 150-600mm F5-6.3 DG HSM OS | Sports paired with a Rebel T3i at 600mm, for an effective 960mm focal distance. Cropped to near square format for presentation.
Winter has its challenges, for sure, especially in the deciduous zones, where skeleton trees thrust bony fingers at the sky, and vistas and sweeping wild scenes are brushed widely with swaths of stingy browns and grays, instead of the festive pastels of spring, the lush greens of summer and the fall fireworks of foliage palette. But winter has it own charms and own rewards, and for photographers looking to challenge themselves and experiment, it can be a great time to get out and explore with a long lens, like the new 150-600mm F5-6.3 DG HSM OS | Sports lens.
Early morning droplets on pine needles hint at a winter scene, and fills the frame in a more engaging way than a scrubby hillside-wide view of the same scene would have done. Sigma 150-600mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM | Sports at 600mm on a Rebel T3i (960mm effective focal range). 1/250 F6.3 ISO 100, Optical Stabilizer activated.
A barren snowflecked hillside may not be the most photogenic scene you’ve ever encountered, and might not necessarily work with an ultrawide lens, but the details: A snowy bird’s nest, a lingering leaf, and an icicle hanging from a branch and sparkling just so in the low winter sun can tell a story in as series of vignettes.
Downtown, the long reach of a telephoto zoom lens can explore the nuances and quirks of architectural elements to fill the frame with details not so noticeable at street level: Gargoyles, Grotesques, masonry patterns, weathering on vanes, columns and chiseled stonework, wood carved and turned into columns, balls, and repetitive decorative elements and the complex interplay of angles and light.
A rooster on a weathervane atop the old church that’s now part of the Somerset County Courthouse. 1/1250 F6.3 ISO 400 at 600mm on the REb T3i (960mm equiv).
The statue of the scales of justice atop the Somerset County Courthouse fills the frame at 600mm on the Reb T3i. From street level, this golden statue is just a small detail atop the dome, but here, the image is just about her.
This green man grotesque is only about 12 feet above street level, but being able to fill the frame from the opposite side of the road allows for a much more straight-on approach than being closer and shooting up with a shorter lens allows. 1/400 F6.3 ISO 400 at 600mm on the Rebel T3i.
When exploring architectural details, look for interesting patterns and repetitions to fill a frame with. This brickwork creates a very geometric pattern study when framed at 350mm. 1/1000 F5 ISO 400.
Look up, look around, and move around to discover different angles on elements. An across-the-street angle of this same scene wasn’t nearly as intriguing as a shot from nearly directly below in the beautiful late afternoon light. 1/1250 F5.6 ISO 400 at 300mm on the Reb T3i.
Colors, shapes, textures, shadows can work together to make a series of images to showcase a given area. All these images were made in Downtown Somerville, NJ one afternoon. As a series, it shows the sum of the small details that make up the business district. 1/2000 F5.6 ISO 400 at 300mm.
A Blue Jay sits atop a pine tree, bringing a pop of color to an otherwise greytoned winter’s day in the northeast. 150-600mm Sports at 600mm on the Reb T3i. 1/200 F6.3 ISO 400 Flash w/Better Beamer Extender, Optical Stabilizer activated.
A distant evergreen adds a complementary background to lingering leaves atop a stormfelled tree along the hiking path at Colonial Park. 1/250 at F6.3 at 600 ISO 800, again with the Better Beamer and OS activated.
I experimented with a lot of different shutter speeds on this image, from 1/50 all the way to 1/1000 for a variety of flow/freeze feels on the water, with the better beamer on the flash for all images. Of all the variations, the fastest shutter speed worked the best to show the steam breaking over this leaf. 1/1000 F6.3 ISO 800 at 600mm. I was able to fill the frame with this tiny wave action from a dry enough distance without slogging into the muddy creek banks.
Popping flash with an extender at the birdhouse makes it appear to be lit from within. 1/250 F6.3 ISO 400 at 600mm.
I’d reached a middle point of the short trail, and was thinking to myself how perfectly bleak, sparse, and boring this stretch of the walk appeared, as was looking around for anything to frame, when I realized that several deer were justa few feet off the trail from me. Here, the closest is framed at 370mm at 1/100 F6.3 ISO 400.
Despite the underbrush and flat, gray light, the 150-600mm quickly autofocused on the deer through the brush. You can see the catchlights from the Beamer in its eyes. 1/100 F6.3 ISO 400 at 600mm with OS activated.
Optical Stabilizer and the flash beamer really helped make this shot pop! Autofocus quickly locked on the deer’s muzzle, despite the flat, low light. 1/160 F6.3 ISO 800 at 600mm on the Reb T3i (960mm equiv.)
Call it a cattail, a punk or a bulrush, but the long reach of the 150-600mm let me fill the frame with across muddy wetlands along a pond’s edge. the shallow depth of field makes it pop from the background. 1/320 F6.3 at 600mm ISO 400.
In town, on the beach, or along a nature trail, there’s a lot to love about long-reach winter photography. In general, everywhere is a lot less crowded, so for those who enjoy the solitude of the photographic experience, there’s much less human distractions. On blue sky days, the light is more pleasingly angular, even at noon, and the atmosphere is crisper and clearer, which makes skies pop! Golden and blue times occurs later in the morning, and earlier in the evening. Also, colder ambient temperatures also keep camera sensors cooler, so sensor-heat noise issues are less an issue in winter. Lakeside, or along the ocean, it’ll often just be you and the birds, and the occasional jogger or dogwalker; unlike the usual throngs you’d likely encounter in warmer weather at the same spots.
Supertelephoto lenses can compress the sense of distance between objects in the frame when stopped down to smaller apertures, and focused farther afield. Here, at F/29, we have framed a bare tree sandwiched between a foreground and background evergreen. With such a small aperture, a tripod was necessary to keep the shot sharp with a 4/10 second shutter speed.
Through a sweeping field of view, winter can often appear bleak, or worse visually, just boring. But winter can be a great time to capture details through a telephoto lens that may often be overlooked in other times of the year. Get out and explore! You very well may like what your photographic eye finds!
Learn More about the Technical Details and Features of the Sigma 150-600mm F5-6.3 DG HSM OS | Sports lens!