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Algonquin Park Winter Photography

Algonquin Park is an extraordinary place to take pictures, offering a plethora of photographic opportunities.  Stunning panoramic landscapes, exhilarating wildlife, clear night skies and infinite macro photography possibilities abound.  Over the years, Algonquin has seen an increase in photographers, both amateur and professional, coming to the Park with hopes of capturing that once in a lifetime image.  Although most visitors come to the park in the warmer months, Algonquin offers some incredible photographic opportunities in the winter as well.  With a little planning, proper gear, and a few tips, Algonquin can be an amazing place to come for winter photography.

Winter Landscape Photography

Evening skies in the winter are often saturated with rich blues and pinks, making for fantastic, dramatic images

Visiting Algonquin in the Winter

Whether you are coming to the park for a day or camping, you will require a permit.  Your permit will allow you to access any of the park facilities, including hiking trails, ski trails, Visitor Center, etc.

Trails

There are several hiking trails and two cross-country ski trails that can be accessed in the park in the winter.  There are also two backpacking trails that offer overnight winter camping options. The hiking trails are not groomed however they are well marked and even in the winter are fairly easy to navigate.  Wearing snowshoes can be very helpful as often snow gets very deep.  Trails can also get very icy at times so ice cleats for your boots can be extremely useful as well. The two ski trails are groomed and also very well marked.

The trails offer a variety of photography possibilities as they meander through the forest and often lead to spectacular vistas.  Wildlife is also abundant and often visible from the trails.  Fresh snow makes it easier to see what kind of wildlife is in the area as the forest floor becomes crisscrossed with animal tracks.  With a keen eye, you may be rewarded with the chance to photograph a moose, fox, rabbit, marten or even a wolf! Remember that it gets dark early and travel in the snow takes longer so make sure you leave ample time to finish your adventure safely!

Some great locations in Algonquin for winter photography include: The Lookout Trail (incredible vista), Track and Tower Trail (amazing landscapes and good wildlife viewing), Mew Lake Airfield and the Logging Museum Trail.

Camping

Algonquin offers both backcountry and car camping options for your winter adventure.

Check the Algonquin Park winter camping page for details about permits, trails and camping:  www.algonquinpark.on.ca/visit/general_park_info/winter-in-algonquin-park.php

Dressing for Winter Photography

It is crucial that you be well prepared when venturing into the park for winter photography.  Temperatures can get very cold and the winds can chill you to the bone.  Weather conditions can change very quickly and what starts off as a sunny, cool day can quickly turn into a numbingly cold blizzard.

Appropriate cold weather clothing is a must as it will keep you warm and keep you safe.  Hypothermia can set in and a fun day of photography can turn into a life-and-death situation without proper clothing.  A warm pair of boots, a good set of thermal underwear, an insulated jacket, and a warm hat and gloves are a minimum.  Try to avoid wearing denim as cotton absorbs moisture and takes a long time to dry.  Cold, wet pants are a dangerous combination.  It’s also important to dress for the level of activity you are doing.  If you are standing in one location for an extended period of time in hopes of capturing that amazing moose photo, you will want something very warm.  If you are snowshoeing a trail, you may opt for more layers of clothing which will allow you to vent and regulate your body temperature.  It’s important to try to keep your clothing dry from sweat, as your body temperature will drop drastically when you start to cool down.

Photography Gear in the Winter

Cold weather can wreak havoc on electronics.  Battery life is significantly shortened, LCDs get sluggish and some electronic functions may stop working altogether.  Here are a few tips to help keep your photography gear working in cold temperatures:

  • keep spare batteries in an internal pocket.  A warm battery lasts much longer than a cold one so by keeping it close to your body, you will be able to keep your batteries warmer, thus extending the time you can stay out taking pictures.
  • when possible, consider using lithium batteries as they tend to fare better in cold weather than alkaline batteries.  Alkaline batteries operate at approximately 60% of their capacity once temperatures drop to -17C.  Lithium batteries, on the other hand, maintain their capacity down to temperatures around -40C.
  • moisture can be an issue on lenses and in-camera bodies when you move your camera from a warm location to a cold one.  If you’ve travelled in a warm car and get out to snap a quick photo, you may find that your lens has fogged up completely.  Allow time for your lens to defog and bring a soft cloth to wipe moisture from your equipment.
  • attaching chemical hand warmers to your lens (taped near the actual lens but not covering it) can also keep your lens from fogging.  This works very well for extended photo shoots when the temperature and humidity levels change, causing lenses to fog up.
  • consider wearing a pair of gloves that allow you some dexterity in making camera adjustments.
  • try to minimize changing lenses as often as possible.  With colder temperatures, you will either be wearing gloves or have less finger dexterity and it is easier to drop your lenses or gear.
  • if your camera has the option, disable Live View as this feature is a large drain on battery life

General Winter Photography Tips

  • a circular polarizing filter will really assist in making those blue skies pop.  They also help by reducing the glare on reflective surfaces like ice or snow.
  • when shooting wildlife against a snow-white background, try overexposing your image by a stop.  When shooting a predominantly white scene, your camera gets tricked into thinking the overall scene is overexposed so it will automatically underexpose the image.  When this happens your subject will become considerably underexposed.   By overexposing (either manually or using exposure compensation) you will notice that the white snow becomes less grey looking, and your subject will be properly exposed
  • scan the forest for wildlife often as animals can be easier to spot in the winter due to the white snow.  Scan from right to left (opposite of how our eyes have been trained – this helps us pick up things better) and look for darker masses and objects that appear more horizontal in the forest.  A pair of binoculars or a zoom lens can really help!
  • learn to identify the tracks of wildlife you are hoping to shoot.  If you find a fresh set, follow them for a bit!  Be careful to keep your bearings and not get lost.  It’s often not possible to rely on following your own tracks to get yourself back to the trail if it is snowing heavily.
  • try some night photography.  A cold winter night often yields incredibly clear skies with spectacular stars and if you get really lucky, the aurora borealis!

Winter can be an amazing time to take pictures in Algonquin Park.  If you come prepared for cold weather and snow, you may be rewarded with some of the most unique and incredible photographs ever!

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Steve Elms

Steve Elms is a photographer and outdoor enthusiast from the Southern Ontario area. He has been visiting Algonquin Park for over 40 years and has spent extensive time exploring the park by foot, canoe and snowshoe.

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