Meet the East Coast photographer changing our minds about hibernating this winter
Alexa Cude dishes on shooting Canadian winters and why snowy climes are kind of the best
If the past few weeks of winter have left you feeling stuck inside, we're with you. While most of the country has been in and out of a deep freeze, some parts even experiencing a very intense-sounding bomb cyclone, many of us non-skiers, skaters and snowboarders have spent our afternoons honing our hygge, daydreaming of patio season and scrolling Instagram more than we probably should. As irony would have it, that led us to the discovery of one East Coast professional photographer's seriously stunning account, featuring Canadian winter views and adventures so breathtaking we are quickly considering swapping our PJs for boots to trek out into the cold ourselves. We quickly connected with Halifax-based photographer Alexa Cude about her love of winter and to get her tips for actually enjoying and exploring these cold days of our Canadian lives.
What is it about winter that you love capturing?
Winter has always held a sense of magic for me. I've been a book lover since birth and some of my favourite books growing up (Watership Down, The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings to name a few) really drove home how captivating winter can be. I've also been lucky enough to live my life in a corner of the world with a lot of untouched yet accessible nature and a family that always encouraged me to get out and explore my surroundings. As an adult I love living in a place with such pronounced seasons and am always amazed by the transformative nature of winter.
Can you provide us with any insights into how you capture winter on camera?
In the winter I end up getting a lot of mileage out of my tripod. To be able to properly expose snow, skies and everything that falls in between I end up merging multiple exposures so everything is properly exposed. I also like to nail down my camera settings in the warmth and comfort of my car through the window whenever possible so I'm not adding extra time in the cold to get settings figured out. I also tend to favour my 24mm-70mm lens in the winter. During other months I tend to prefer a prime lens but in the winter it's nice to be able to switch focal lengths without worrying about changing lenses outdoors.
What are your winter travel tips?
As far as photo gear is concerned, I pack a weather resistant DSLR, a durable tripod, a second camera battery and a quick release clip that attaches to my backpack or belt so that I have my hands free for climbing, falling or swimming depending on whatever unexpected adventures (or accidents) come up. Practically speaking, safety is always more of a concern in the winter. I try to always let someone know where I'm going, fully charge my phone, bring a back up phone charger, download offline maps, drive with winter tires and pack a change of warm clothes, footwear included. Getting lost in freezing temperatures without dry clothes or anyone knowing where you are is a scary feeling and all of these tips are ones I've picked up through a personal lack of preparation on past adventures.
You seem to love being outdoors in the winter despite the temperatures. Any tips for adventuring in the winter when we all just want to curl up indoors?
For me getting outside has become integral to my wellbeing. There have definitely been previous years where I've taken on a more hibernation oriented approach, but I ended up feeling the weight of the season a lot more. Now that I've made being outside a part of my day-to-day life going outside is just another habit, even in winter.
As anyone interested in photography would likely vouch, the most beautiful photos often occur in the most extreme conditions. Blizzards, rain, extreme cold and fog all make for extra good shots. Adding sunset or sunrise into the mix only makes things better. For me the promise of a good shot is the best incentive to get out no matter the weather or time of day.
I love that winter can show familiar places in a new light. Between the visual differences and the lack of people outdoors, going out in the winter feels like discovering a new world.
We really love how you highlight places in Nova Scotia that aren't your typical stops. Do you make a conscious effort to show off a less-travelled side of the province?
Taking your home for granted is something a lot of people are guilty of and I was a perfect example of that attitude for most of my life. It took some time away from home to realize what a beautiful place Nova Scotia. Now that I more fully appreciate my province I want to showcase it as best as I can, which means going off the beaten trail more often than not. This is especially motivated by nature of belonging to a generation which spends a lot of time on social media where the beauty of the West Coast often dominates attention in terms of North American landscapes.
By contrast, Nova Scotia is a small province that is well recognized for a few key landmarks (Peggy's Cove and Skyline Trail, I'm looking at you) but we have so much more beauty to offer. Rugged coastlines, white sand beaches, lush vineyards, epic waterfalls, Jurassic fossils, mountainous highlands and even Eastern rainforests all exist within Nova Scotia which is truly amazing when you consider the fact that Nova Scotia is the second smallest province in Canada.
Any tips for finding wintry places to adventure to this time of year?
Summer is the perfect opportunity to explore new places and stockpile a list of locations to come back to once the seasons change. Winter is an ideal time to rediscover locations that are usually congested with tourists or to see a different side of locations that are transformed by snow or freezing conditions. I'm also a master of procrastination and when I'm looking to kill time it's easy for me to spend hours zoomed in on Google Maps satellite view to try and find new sights to see.
What's your favourite part about photographing the beach in winter?
Like a lot of people who grow up near the ocean I feel a constant pull to it, even in the worst weather and selfishly I love that in the winter you can have even the most popular beaches completely to yourself.
What's your ideal Canadian landscape?
Because there is still so much of Canada I have yet to discover and the landscape is so vast, I can't succinctly summarize the ideal Canadian landscape through specific geographic characteristics. Instead I understand the ideal Canadian landscape to be one that is wild and open, invoking a sense of adventure no matter which part of the country you find yourself in.
Any tips or advice for making the most out of a long, cold Canadian winter?
Winter is the opportune time of year to focus on personal growth. With shorter days I like to take time to watch and read tutorials to gain inspiration and refresh my skills, a practice which can be applied to any profession or passion. Staying active also makes a huge difference and even if going out in the cold isn't your style, there's always a warm yoga studio or a community gym to drop into. Reconnecting to your goals for the rest of the year is also a great thing to do in the winter and can get you refreshed and motivated for the seasons to come.
This interview has been edited and condensed.