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A Photographer’s Guide To Capturing Winter Landscapes In The PNW

We are fully into the winter season and all the magic that comes with this time of year. One of our favorite things to do is photograph winter landscapes, and across the U.S, there are fantastic places to create splendid winter scenes. We’ve connected with a few photographers in our Sony community to learn about where they recommend capturing a winterscape, the gear they recommend, and any other nuggets of advice from their experience.

Today, we are traveling to the picturesque Pacific Northwest region with Sony photographer Sarina Pizzala (@sarina_pizzala). Sarina is a photographer, writer and lover of all things outdoors. She is originally from the flatlands of Minnesota, now a transplant to Seattle. Sarina is inspired by far, remote mountainous places in the cascades and she is an advocate for public lands, Leave No Trace, and taking care of our wild places. She is a skilled nature, adventure and elopement photographer who uses her camera to share stories of wild places.

Product Preview – In This Article You'll Find:
Sony Alpha 7 IV
Sony Alpha 7 III
Sony 24-70mm f/2.8 G Master
Sony 70-200mm f/2.8 G Master II
Sony 24-105mm f/4 G
Sony 24mm f/2

Photo by Sarina Pizzala. Sony Alpha 7. Sony 16-35mm f/4. 1/1250-sec., f/4, ISO 400

Photo by Sarina Pizzala. Sony Alpha 7. Sony 16-35mm f/4. 1/1250-sec., f/4, ISO 400

Career Snapshot

Sarina has been photographing since she was 14, when she picked up a point and shoot and in her words, “has never put a camera down since.” Growing up, she did high school portraits and family photo shoots, and after college, she moved to Seattle. “I had never really done any landscape photography before but as soon as I moved out here I found the mountains very inspiring and I started to shoot more landscapes.”

Then one of her friends got married in the mountains and asked Sarina to photograph it – that was her first experience shooting an elopement and she loved it. From there, her career as a mountain elopement photographer took off. She also does commercial outdoor and tourism photography. “I kind of just do a little bit of everything at this point, with my specialty of working with natural light and natural beauty.”

Photo by Sarina Pizzala. Sony Alpha 7 III. Sony 24-105mm f/4 G. 1/800-sec., f/16, ISO 1600

Photo by Sarina Pizzala. Sony Alpha 7 III. Sony 24-105mm f/4 G. 1/800-sec., f/16, ISO 1600

Top 3 Winter Landscape Locations

Sarina shared with us her top three recommendations for where to photograph landscapes in the Pacific Northwest. She bases these recommendations off accessibility and best views.

First, she says that Paradise in Mount Rainier has the best views. “The road takes you up to 5,000 feet, which is pretty impressive in the winter because it’s really hard for them to keep the roads clear.” She says that from there, you can snowshoe or ski, or Sarina’s favorite, snowcamp. “It’s a super accessible and beautiful location. From there you can see the Tatoosh mountain range. And if you hike a little higher you can see Mount Adams and Mount Saint Helens and even Mount Hood on a clear day. So that's super beautiful.”

Her next recommendation is the Mount Baker wilderness. It’s a few hours north of Seattle and is a popular skiing destination. Sarina highly suggests checking out Artist Point, which in the summer is a parking lot but in the winter you can snowshoe to it and “it kind of brings you to this flat vista at the top where you can see Mount Baker and Mount Jackson and a lot of the North Cascades. I love to snowshoe and snow camp up there as well.”

Photo by Sarina Pizzala. Sony Alpha 7 III. Sony 24-105mm f/4 G. 1/25-sec., f/4.5, ISO 100

Photo by Sarina Pizzala. Sony Alpha 7 III. Sony 24-105mm f/4 G. 1/25-sec., f/4.5, ISO 100

Her final suggestion is Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park. “This road also goes up to 5,000-some feet and it's hard for them to keep open in the winter, but when it is open it brings you up to beautiful views of Olympic National Park and all the mountains there and on a clear day. You can even see into the Puget Sound in Canada. A really beautiful location.” 

“For me, I want to see the best views for I would say sometimes the minimal amount of effort. These places are not a lot of effort for amazing views.”

To find good locales, Sarina utilizes Washington Trails Association, a great nonprofit where people post trip reports and talk about the conditions of the trails as well as what gear is needed. She’ll look through the recent trip reports to see where people are headed and what conditions to prep for.

Safety Considerations

Safety concerns are a bit different in the winter. In this mountainous area, Sarina says you really need to have avalanche awareness. She herself has taken an AIARE 1 course and learned how to navigate avalanche terrain. She highly recommends these courses as well as keeping an eye on the forecast and only going out on days that look safe.

Capturing Winter Scenes

Sarina loves shooting landscapes at sunrise, sunset or at night as an astroscape. To make her stunning shots, she relies on her Sony equipment, shooting with the Sony Alpha 7 IV and Sony Alpha 7 III along with the Sony 24-70mm f/2.8 G Master, Sony 70-200mm f/2.8 G Master II, Sony 24-105mm f/4 G, and Sony 24mm f/2 lenses. She loves the lightweight nature of Sony equipment and says between her and her partner, they tend to bring the whole kit when they go out snowshoeing and camping. “We pretty much bring everything else because I don't like to pick and choose. I love that my camera gear isn’t weighing me down that much.”

When shooting in the winter, Sarina is always sure to bring enough layers for herself and to keep her batteries near her body to keep them warmer. She will also always pack a tripod so she can do long exposures for sunsets or astro. “Astro is a specific kind of dedication, I will specifically bring my Sony 24mm and do 30 second exposures. I can spend 30 to 40 minutes in the freezing cold just to get one shot.”

Photo by Sarina Pizzala. Sony Alpha 7. Sony 28mm f/2. 15-sec., f/2, ISO 640

Photo by Sarina Pizzala. Sony Alpha 7. Sony 28mm f/2. 15-sec., f/2, ISO 640

For her daylight work, she will either use a wide lens to capture the mountain scene with a subject, often a person, in the frame. This will offer a perspective on the scale and grandeur of the landscape. She always has her friends wear bright colors, “yellows and reds are my favorite in a snowy landscape that just really pops.” If she’s not going for that perspective in her shot, then she’ll grab her Sony 70-200mm and use the zoom to help her capture more details. “I want to see things like mountain peaks up close and really appreciate their detail.” 

Photo by Sarina Pizzala. Sony Alpha 7 IV. Sony 70-200mm f/2.8 G Master II. 1/1600-sec., f/2.8, ISO 50

Photo by Sarina Pizzala. Sony Alpha 7 IV. Sony 70-200mm f/2.8 G Master II. 1/1600-sec., f/2.8, ISO 50

For The Love Of Mountains

As a kid living in Minnesota her whole life, Sarina says she didn't see mountain landscapes growing up or do a lot of traveling. She credits the move to Washington with fueling her creative fire. “I was just so inspired and awed by the landscapes and the mountains here are very powerful. I've been gravitating toward them for over eight years now and keep going back and feel very inspired to photograph them and shoot them.”

“I think winter landscape photography takes a lot more creativity for timing and lighting. Since summer, you could just hike out on the trail after sunset in the dark with your headlamp on. It's a bit more dangerous in the winter, so it just takes a lot more planning and preparation. And especially for things like snow camping. It's like camping on the snow and that takes a lot more gear and expertise and honing that all in so capturing the snowy tents with astrophotography and all the stars. It takes a lot more work into that kind of photo than like a summer astrophotography shot…but it's all definitely worth it.”

See more of Sarina Pizzala’s work on Instagram @sarina_pizzala.

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