Winter in Canada can suck, but these photographers made the most of it with their breathtaking images
Now that we've (finally!) safely reached spring, we can look back on the beauty of winter
Winter in Canada can be cold and ugly for all involved — but, as these photographers prove, it can also be spectacularly beautiful. It's been a brutal winter this year and we're certainly ready for spring, but let's look back one last time at the shimmering, foggy, snowy beauty of a Canadian winter as seen through the eyes of Canadian photographers.
From an "aurora chaser" in Manitoba to a photographer in downtown Montreal, talented folks from across the country shared the stories, challenges, processes and love behind their breathtaking photographs of winter in Canada. Here's a roundup of some of our favourites, with the artists behind them explaining how each shot came to be.
Homebase: Banff, Alberta
The photo: In this scene you are seeing four ice climbers (two climbing and two belaying) under a starry night sky, climbing their way up the frozen Panther Falls in Banff, Alberta. They're using ropes for protection and headlamps to guide the way up as they swing their axes and boots into the ice.
The challenge: Definitely dealing with cold weather. Often the best scenes in winter happen during frigid temperatures such as -20 degrees Celsius or colder. Lots of layers, charged batteries and hot tea make it manageable when I trek out to capture winter scenes.
The method: This photograph is what you would call a composite. I use this technique often in night photography to balance the light in a photo and, in this case, to show what I was seeing with my own eyes. It's a blend of several exposures to capture the landscape, climbers and stars. To get this photo I had to hike my way through deep snow further down the valley until I had a good angle on the scene. Once I was set up with my equipment I captured the stars, then the landscape, and finally waited until each of the climbers were in a good position to photograph the climbing scene using a shorter exposure. By using this technique I'm able to minimize the stress put on climbers as it's a lot of hard work hanging onto the ice. I always use a tripod, remote shutter release and love using my prime lenses for shooting at night.
Winter love: I love that I can be out in beautiful locations and completely alone to enjoy them. Banff is a big tourist destination, so many of my favourite spots to photograph become quite busy in summer. But in winter, I'll often be the only one out. This makes the experience more enjoyable and allows me to connect with my surroundings better.
Photographer: Saige Mukash | @littlestars_photographs
Homebase: Whapmagoostui, Quebec
The photo: The photo was taken in February during a car ride outside of my community.
The method: I wanted to capture those days where you just need to get out, relax and go for a drive on a beautiful day. I edited the photo to have a pink sky to add a dreamy effect, almost like a daydream.
Winter love: The winter is long and very harsh up north. There are moments in between where it is a really beautiful day, and I loved going out there to capture these moments to remind myself — and show others — that the weather up north isn't always so harsh, cold and dark.
The photo: This photo was taken at the CNE in February. It's a low angle shot of the princess gate during an extremely foggy winter morning. As I was walking the grounds, I was amazed by the atmospheric mood of the the fog which made the gate structure appear so cinematic. Just as I got close to the gate, I noticed that a puddle formed near the side of the road reflecting the gate perfectly and giving the scene the right level of dramatic impact.
The challenge: I've had multiple cameras frozen solid more than I care to remember, with ice forming in the viewfinder and on the controls, making it next to impossible operate. These are all minor details that can be solved and are part of the process which usually results in capturing amazing shots of our city — I wouldn't trade it for anything.
Winter love: Shooting Toronto in the winter makes for incredibly dramatic photos. The inclement weather elements bring a completely new layer that amplifies the visual narrative by diffusing the ambient light in just the right way.
Homebase: Laurentian Valley, Ontario
The photo: This photograph is called "Old Man" and it was taken in Algonquin Park.
I have photographed the family of the "Old Man" in this particular location before, but on this day, I was hoping to feed grey jays that hang in this area. When the "Old Man" appeared I couldn't help but think how fortunate I had just become. Any animal I really photograph is my dog Luna. Most of my work is very adventure-based, and then of course I photograph people. The odd time I'm in the park, I can't help but photograph moments like this. Experiences such as this one are why I absolutely love the wild feeling of Algonquin Park.
The challenge: I think any photographer can agree that playing with lighting in the winter can be very challenging — but also rewarding!
Winter love: I grew up in Southern Ontario which doesn't always provide the best scenery in the winter. When I moved north, I couldn't help but fall in love with photographing fresh heavy snow on pine trees.
Photographer: Tom Cochrane | @tomcochrane
Homebase: Woody Point, Newfoundland
The photo: This is the Humber Valley in western Newfoundland, just after the first thick snowfall of the season. It wasn't the very first snowfall, but it was the first that had that amazing look where everything was coated in white. It completely changed the look of the valley!
I really wanted to capture the calm feeling in the valley. Everything was quiet and still, save for a few cars, and it was the time of year when snow felt novel and fun, shortly before Christmas, before we start grumbling about shovelling. I came upon this view while driving home from another shoot — I got lucky!
The method: This was shot with a small camera drone, which I love to use to get a different perspective on a scene. Even though this wasn't very high (only just above the trees), it was just high enough to get a completely different view of the valley.
The challenge: It's cold! Ha, I find it very hard to keep my fingers warm, and keeping your camera batteries charged in -20 degree temperatures is never easy either. But as long as I have a pair of snowshoes I can get pretty much anywhere. Winter adventuring and photography is some of the best!
Sometimes it can feel like there's an absence of colour in winter, but I think the colours are just more subtle and you need to look harder to find them.- Tom Cochrane , photographer
Winter love: I LOVE the look of trees under a blanket of snow, when the tree branches are weighted down from the heavy snow. The colours change too. Fall is bright and full of reds and oranges and yellows, but winter changes all the colours to deep greens and blues. Sometimes it can feel like there's an absence of colour in winter, but I think the colours are just more subtle and you need to look harder to find them.
Homebase: Salmon Arm, BC
The photo: This is an image of my Alaskan Malamute dog Jack, jumping in the air to catch snowballs. My husband threw snow for Jack and I crouched down with my camera and grabbed a few shots!
The muse: Jack is an 18-month-old Alaskan Malamute. He has boundless energy and needs to be entertained both physically and mentally to prevent him from destroying our home! We absolutely love him but he is a lot of work and my constant companion, so as a photographer, he inevitably ends up in quite a few of my images. He also has his own Instagram account: @jack_thewolfskin.
Winter love: It is always challenging keeping warm whilst shooting. Cold hands mean it can be difficult to operate a camera, but the fairytale nature of snow and how it completely transforms a landscape make it absolutely worthwhile for me!
The photo: This photo was taken in Prince Edward County. I was getting a bit bored of the downtown scene, so I decided to take a road trip out to the country. Took a little bit of exploring, but I found a beautiful vantage point to capture sunset over the county. I spent nearly an hour taking photos with my camera. I was frozen and started to pack up, but just as I was ready to drive away, I saw the ferry making its way across the lake. It was getting dark quick and my fingers were numb...I launched my drone as quick as I could and was able to capture a few photos, one of which you see here.
The challenge: Winter photography can be challenging. The cold weather can be unbearable if you're not dressed appropriately, your batteries die quicker than usual, your lenses fog up and sometimes getting the right exposure can be difficult.
Winter love: Overall, like many photographers, I love capturing photos in the snow. While most people avoid going out in the cold or snow storms, I embrace it. Winter is definitely my favourite season for photography.
Homebase: Yellowknife, Northwest Territories
The photo: I was in Iqaluit for a commercial shoot at the time and I decided to do some personal shooting for myself, so I bundled up and wandered the streets of Iqaluit. I made sure I was going to be walking around during the time the sun was setting in. I was watching this resident walk their dog near the bay and stopped eventually cause I knew I wanted to capture it. I really wanted the dog to be looking directly in the camera, so I waited till its attention was on me to take the shot.
The challenge: I regularly travel across the north for commercial and editorial assignments. I love photographing during the winter because of the amazing light. We have such short daylight hours, which makes it so I have limited times to schedule my shoots but beautiful light mid afternoon because the sun is going down so early. One of the major issues is shooting in crazy cold conditions, sometimes even -50. I also wear glasses and it's a giant pain when they fog up and I have to get the ice off them during a shoot or being on the land.
Winter love: Despite the conditions, the north is an incredible place to photograph. I love being able to share images of the Canadian north with the world.
The photo: This is a small alleyway near St-Pierre street in Old Montreal and it was a one time set-up for a special event at a trendy night club.
The method: I stumbled on this by pure luck, I was shooting with a friend and we turned a corner and bam! I saw the amazing display of neons straight out of Blade Runner! I like the vibe of cities at night, especially Montreal. There's always a great energy and you get really nice moods and shadows from the streetlights. I think everything looks better at night. Of course it's a bit more challenging to shoot at night since you have less light, but with today's cameras this is less of an issue. I use a lens with a large aperture of f/1.8 and I bump my ISO the rest is practice.
Winter love: One thing that's great when you shoot in the winter especially at night is that there's almost no one on the streets, so if you're like me and like to shoot deserted streets, it's a perfect time.
Homebase: The Pas, Manitoba
The photo: This photo was taken at The Caves along the shores of Clearwater Lake, Manitoba. I generally like to frame my shot or have a nice leading line in my images; this particular shot I decided to frame it. After a walk through the bush and down to lake level I knew what kind of shot I wanted — just had to find the right spot. Then I came across this little cave and loved how the snow hugged the rocks with its windswept edges. After checking the cave for any critters I crawled in; it was just big enough for me to lie down in and wait for the lights to pick up. I took a few test shots to find focus while painting the snow with a soft light until I achieved the look I wanted. Shortly after that the lights started to get higher in the sky and I snapped away, focusing now on the sky. I always focus-stack my shots so that the finished product is nice and sharp from the front of the image right to the sky.
The method: My first camera was a Sony a6000 but have since upgraded to a full frame mirrorless Sony A7R iii. I shoot with Zeiss prime lenses; for this image I used my 12mm lens. A steady tripod is a necessity for long exposure shots.
The challenge: Shooting in winter is my favourite — the colder the better! The long winter nights bring extremely clear skies and crisp shots. Being prepared for the cold weather is a must but definitely not a deterrent — many layers of clothes, extra batteries, coffee and most times a lot of patience. For me the challenge in winter is finding spots that are accessible, weeks of cloudy weather and, the odd time, some territorial wildlife. Beautiful locations are everywhere in Northern Manitoba, so finding a new spot or a different angle of a popular place is what keeps me going out time after time.
Winter love: I bought my first camera 2.5 years ago, the same time I moved to The Pas. It was shortly after then that I took my first Aurora picture and I was instantly hooked. The northern lights are so amazing to see with the naked eye, but seeing what a long exposure picture captures is truly amazing. I love the challenge that shooting the lights brings — the planning, scouting for spots, watching the weather, the cold nights and Tim Hortons coffee! The anticipation of a big aurora storm while driving to my location, not knowing what the sky will do, keeps me going out night after night. Many nights I come home with next to nothing, but it's those nights where the sky explodes with pillars of colours 360 degrees around you that are the short moments I live for! The greens, magentas, blues and pinks dancing across the sky; coronas overhead, scrambling with settings trying to capture the part of the sky that is the brightest. Mixing a sky full of aurora with a point of interest in the foreground, then coming home and editing those shots — there's nothing more exciting. The entire process is so exhilarating, then sharing it with the world to see and printing them for clients makes all those cold nights worthwhile.
Homebase: Edmundston, New Brunswick
The photo: This photograph was taken this winter at a spot I use to go to a lot very close to my house in Edmundston, New Brunswick. We're seeing a very nice forest area close to the urban area. I parked my SUV in the middle of the trail and flew my drone directly, controlling it from the inside of my car. I wanted to capture the beauty of the landscapes of winter in Canada, and I also wanted to capture the beauty of the spots that are usually not as far from where you live that you would think!
The challenge: Even though we have amazing landscapes at our mercy in Canada, some of the spots are harder to reach during the winter because we get so much snow and not every spot is accessible. Also I find it challenging sometimes to shoot portraits in the winter, because your subjects get so cold and it's harder to get the results you'd wish. But in the end, all that cold and extra work to reach the spot is all rewarded with beautiful images and breathtaking landscapes! I love my country!
Winter love: I love the beauty of the Canadian winters. We get a decent amount of snow here in New Brunswick and we are super privileged to get such beautiful landscapes in our backyard. Canada is a very beautiful country to photograph!
These interviews have been edited and condensed.