THE BLOG
01/23/2014 05:59 pm ET Updated Mar 25, 2014

6 Ways to Improve Your Photography This Winter -- On a Budget

Winter may mean heading indoors with a lack of greenery to shoot, but it doesn't mean you have to stop shooting and improving your photography. Whether you mostly shoot your own kids or shoot for a living there's no excuse not to keep improving your skills.

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Photo: Nichole Van

1: Be Up For the Challenge
If you're not getting out much over the winter it can be easy to lose your motivation to take photos. Fortunately, there are some very low-cost ways you can challenge yourself until it warms up. All under $20.00 are The Unexpected Everyday by Courtney Slazinik from Click it Up a Notch which contains 30 photo prompts you can do over the course of the winter. It's a perfect fit for Momtographers who want to learn how to capture their kids better. Another great option for those who photograph primarily people is People Pictures: 30 Exercises for Creating Authentic Photographs by Chris Orwig. The challenges in this book will not only get you clicking but also get you socializing with your subjects. The Visual Toolbox by David DuChemin is a like a self-paced photo course. With 50 exercises you can take in order or as you like, this book is a great way to learn about and practice new techniques.

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Photo: Nick Klesh

2: Embrace the Winter
Photographer Nichole Van of Flourish Emporium loves the calmness of winter, when things slow down and she can enjoy her craft. Her refreshing look at winter is that it provides endless opportunities to create wonderful images from the amazing natural light as a result of the sun being lower in the sky, gorgeous, flattering light bounces off of snow, and no worries about color casts from greenery. Nichole also loves the simplicity of winter backdrops -- bare trees don't compete with your subjects for attention and simple landscapes mean that nearly any color combination for clothing will look good. The cold also mean that preparing for photos can be no-fuss. She recommends throwing on a hat to hide a bad hair day, a cute coat so you don't need to worry about finding clothing that will hide problem areas on women, and even throwing a coat on over pajamas to catch some nice outdoor shots of children outdoors.

And, if you shoot professionally, sessions tend to be shorter since everyone wants to get back inside as quickly as possible. Nichole's seven digital self-paced workshops are a steal at under $50 each (with a hefty discount for purchasing a bundle) and explain well how to shoot well in any conditions. Going through them over the cold winter months and embracing her philosophy of taking advantage of the unique conditions winter presents will allow you to emerge a better photographer when the flowers start to bloom.

3: Focus on Capturing Real Life

When you are shooting all the time it's easy to get caught up on getting "the" shot. Months spent indoors in the perfect time to focus on working on capturing real life and real emotion. If you are a Momtographer or a pro practicing capturing your own family's stories and emotions will add an enormous amount of value to your photos. Davina Fear, a family counselor turned photographer created the concept of Familyness (family + happiness) to create a storytelling approach to photography that is just as applicable to Momtographers as it is to professionals trying to tell their clients' stories. Her completely free eBook, The Art of Familyness Photos, is a great introduction to Familyness. Davina also offers Familyness workshops for those wanting to learn more. The Beloved Collective was founded by Jesh DeRox, a photographer with a background in psychology. The Beloved technique focuses on evoking true emotion by progressing through a series of invitations starting with the silly and working up to evoking deeper emotion. The Family Field Guide is an excellent introduction to Beloved which can be used with your own family during the winter. An online training and additional guides are available for those wanting to gain a deeper understanding of the technique. For professionals, Laura Seibert from Eyesmiles Photography's book Get Real has several techniques for capturing real emotion and posing ideas to covey closeness. If business is slow this time of year, it's a perfect time to study up and practice and friends and family.

4: Master Low-Light Shooting

With dreary days and darkness falling early in the winter, this is the perfect time to work on your low-light photography skills. A fast lens with a low f-stop (such as f/1.4 or f/1.8) can help you get the pictures you want. Nikon and Canon both make 50mm f/1.8 lenses for around $100.00 For those wanting good low-light lenses on a budget, Sigma makes sharp 50mm, 85mm, and 35mm lenses. In fact, some think that the Sigma 50mm 1.4 lens outperforms its name-brand counterparts. Being able to shoot with a large aperture can transform your low-light photography and help you get closer to the photos you want. A tripod can also help you get great shots with the settings you need to get great images in low light. A Joby Gorillapod at around $100 is one of the most versatile tripods on the market since it can be bent to be placed just about anywhere and it's small enough to pack in a camera bag once you start venturing out again. Adorama recently released a new line of 3Pod tripods. One of the most versatile in the line is the P4CFH 8X, which folds completely flat making it easy to take or store just about anywhere while being strong enough to handle over 28 pounds of equipment. Essential for those photographing kids, it's easy to adjust on the fly. This gear and your new-found skills will take you into the spring and beyond as you spend more nights outdoors.

5: Edit
If picking up your camera in the cold days of winter just isn't your thing, you can still improve your skills by working on your editing skills. PicMonkey is a free online editing tool that is a great place to start and there is even a class to help learn how to use it to its fullest potential. Nick Klesh's online editing course utilizing Adobe Lightroom (available for under $100) is a great way to learn how to use Lightroom's seemingly confusing features to give your photos a professional polish. Adobe's Photoshop Elements is another powerful editing tool (that is priced much lower than the full version of Photoshop) but it also takes time some practice to learn. Everyday Elements offers periodic free webinars and provide access to recorded webinars, as well as supplemental written material, for $30.00. For those already familiar with Photoshop or Elements but wanting to learn more Photoshop legend Damien Symonds offers three different facebook-based courses to demystify Photoshop and Photoshop Elements.

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Porteen Bag, Photo: Robyn Porteen

6: Just Keep Shooting
One of the best things you can do is to just keep taking photos. If you can't find the motivation to do it yourself, a free option is to start a 365 or 52 project where you take a photo a day or a photo a week. This year I'm participating Capture Your 365, a completely free photo challenge you can join at any time. You can sign up for daily photo prompts and photography tips and also have the option of participating in an online gallery to receive comments on your photos and be inspired by what others are shooting. To be successful at keeping up your shooting you should plan on having your camera with you when you go out. For a quality camera bag that is completely customizable from leather from Italy or found by a former truck driver with an eye for quality that is paired with unique fabrics, check out Poteen bags. I loved looking at all of the available combinations, including leathers from basic browns and blacks to reds and pinks and fabrics including vintage and "found" designs, but ready-to-order bags are also available for those who would rather let a designer make the tough choices. Each bag is handmade by Robyn Porteen, a photographer who understands what you need to safely carry your gear in style. Bags run in the $140 range, which is less than many mass-produced synthetic bags that won't last as long sell for.