The contrasts in winter landscapes make minimalist images, like this one, possible. (Photo by Sony Hocklander)

When it comes to photographing the Ozarks outdoors, there’s no denying the lure of leafy reds and golds in autumn or the greens and pastels of spring. But what about the cold months in between? 

This is no time to let your camera stay idle. The bare, monochromatic landscapes of winter – whether snow-covered or not – have a beauty all their own. That’s why winter is a great time for capturing new images and a perfect excuse for getting outdoors.

There’s something so appealing about twisty old tree trunks and white-barked branches standing bare against straw-colored fields; about the stillness and mood of winter photography. And there’s more to shoot than some may realize. The loss of leaves reveals the bones of our landscape and you’ll find scenes hidden in other seasons.

Winter photography doesn’t rely on snow, stresses photographer Allin Sorenson, a professor of music and voice at Drury University, where he also serves as dean of Communications & Fine and Performing Arts. “If all I’m going to do is wait for snow, that’s going to limit me to what I’m going to do,” he says. 

Still, a blanket of snow provides a clean white canvas and fresh potential. Like many photographers, Sorenson happily anticipates a snowy forecast. With snow, he says, you can capture scenes with a “minimalist approach.”

Nature preserves, local parks and a multitude of creeks are perfect settings for winter photo opportunities, such as this bare tree reflection on Wilson’s Creek at Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield. (Photo by Sony Hocklander)

In addition to big landscapes, Sorenson finds beauty in frosty leaves or shriveled seed pods left in the wake of dying flowers. One of his most popular website galleries is called Garden in Winter. “My wife is an avid gardener, and I went out a few years ago and there were all these dead plants – all shriveled up – and I thought, those are kind of pretty in a stark and unconventional way,” says Sorenson, also a member of the Southwest Missouri Camera Club and a beta tester for Adobe photo editing software.

While Sorenson finds many subjects to shoot on Drury’s campus, he’s particularly fond of taking his camera out on Ozark Greenways trails, even in winter. He says cold season photography is appealing for its monochromatic nature and contrasts. Not that he doesn’t love the beauty of spring and summer foliage, he adds, “but by the time it gets to September, I cannot wait for something completely different.” 

LaDonna Greiner is an outdoor enthusiast and photographer whose work can be found in local art venues and through one of her businesses, Barns, Backroads & Byways Photography (found on Facebook). In winter, she says, “you can see so many things that you can’t see in other times of the year. I’m always on the lookout for old barns and old buildings and things like that. And many of them are totally secluded during the other seasons. But (in winter), I can get a nice picture of a barn that I could not get any other time.” That may include broad vistas, interesting rock formations, unfettered lake and riverbanks, or frosty foliage. Greiner also loves to hike and enjoys trekking along Ozarks creeks and chasing waterfalls and cascades.  

Take your time and look around for unexpected winter beauty like this close shot of frosty fallen leaves. (Photo by Allin Sorenson)

Rachelle Leonardo discovered a passion for photography in 2020 during the early months of the pandemic. A newer member of the Southwest Missouri Camera Club, the winter cold is not a deterrent, says Leonardo, who enjoys shooting at local parks and along regional trails. And like some photographers, she enjoys capturing wildlife images, including pelicans and songbirds.

She particularly loves the bright red color of a cardinal standing out against a snowy backdrop. “I think it has almost like a dreamy quality to me if they’re on the branch with some snow, so it’s almost like a fairy tale or magical to look at that picture —  like a Christmas card. It’s a feel-good photo,” she says. 

Sorenson’s advice for winter photography? Walk around with your camera and look for what may not be obvious at first glance. Slow down and look close to the ground, then look up – see what catches your eye. “What’s nice about winter,” he says, “is that you can see things differently.” 

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Gear Tips

  • Dress warmly enough to spend a few hours in the cold. “You don’t want to be a mile down a trail and be freezing,” Greiner says. 
  • Wear gloves with fingertips that work on touchscreens, or convertible glove/mittens to bare fingers when you need to take the shot. 
  • Cold temperatures drain batteries. Take extras and store them near your body to keep them warm, Sorenson says.
  • Keep a microfiber cloth handy for wiping off snowflakes.
  • If you shoot in freezing temperatures, don’t breathe on your lens. The moisture could frost over and ruin your outing.  
  • Don’t bring cameras from frigid to warm indoor temperatures too quickly, Sorenson says. Condensation could form inside its mechanical parts. Before taking it in, put your camera and lens into an air-tight plastic bag. Remove them after they’ve warmed to room temperature. 

Winter shooting ideas

Ready to grab a camera and go? Check out our winter shooting ideas for more inspiration.

Snow scenes

There’s no denying that fresh snow makes winter landscapes special. Snow brings a hush to your photo outing and a quiet mood to images. If possible, Sorenson suggests going out while snow is still falling to capture its movement. A favorite photo Greiner shot features falling snow at the Lake Springfield dam. 

If you can’t get out while it’s snowing, go soon after it stops to avoid footprints in your images, Sorenson suggests. 

Look for textures and patterns created by snow, Greiner says. For instance, hiking around a creek with her camera on the first snow day of 2022, she noticed a tangle of snow-capped tree roots that looked something like stained glass. She also found interesting snow “caterpillars” along wispy foliage.

Be open to discovery. A snowy trail at stop No. 3 of Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield resulted in a variety of favorite images for this writer, including a moody lone tree against a split rail fence, a snow-covered creek reflecting crisp bare trees, an image of a lonely cabin on a snowy field – and more. 

Snow and ice add frosty caps to seed pods, evergreen branches, rocks and other natural items that lend themselves to close photography and intimate landscapes, Sorenson suggests. When temperatures are freezing, Greiner looks for icicles tucked along a trail bluff.

Get creative in your own yard. Google how to make frozen bubbles for close shots captured mere steps from your door. Or before the snow falls, set up an unexpected still life using found objects in your home – for instance, seashells. Have a macro lens? Try capturing individual snowflakes.

Winter is a great time to capture minimalist landscapes. When there’s snow, look for contrasts such as this grove of trees against a bare snow-covered field. (Photo by Allin Sorenson)

Trails

Lace up your boots and start exploring Ozark Greenways Trails, rich in photographic subjects, Sorenson says. He particularly enjoys the Wilson’s Creek Trail for its variety, both along the creek and while passing open fields. 

Or take winter photo walks at the Missouri Conservation Nature Center and Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield. Bare trees, bridges, waterways, winter grasses, wide-open spaces, tree-lined trails and interesting structures (including a cabin at the battlefield) provide hours of fresh air photo-ops.

On the north side of town, the new Dirt 66 trails and the Nature Trail at Fellows Lake offer water and wooded views. And a new section of the Fulbright Trail includes creek views, wide fields and winter grasses. Nearby, Lost Hill Park is worth a visit. Look up more great trails at Ozark Greenways.

Bare trees make moody winter landscape images, even without snow. (Photo by Sony Hocklander)

Foliage

For a quick cold-weather outing with easy parking, find winter grasses and interesting foliage at many Springfield area parks. The Springfield-Greene County Botanical Garden in Nathanael Greene/Close Memorial Park provides a wealth of natural subjects for intimate shots. Sorenson looks for dead florals, seed pods and tall pale grasses that look like wheat against winter skies. Evergreens, berries and even fallen leaves make interesting subjects, especially when covered with frost, ice or snow. Other parks throughout the city offer similar opportunities. Too cold to go far? Look in your own backyard!

Winter is a good time for intimate landscapes and close photography. (Photo by Allin Sorenson)

Wildlife

Winter’s bare landscapes make bald eagles easy to spot, luring many photographers to brave the cold. Try spotting eagles at Lake Springfield, James River, Fellows Lake or Wilson’s Creek Battlefield. Farther afield, visit Stockton Lake or Roaring River State Park. South of Monet, the tiny town of Stella is known as an eagle haven. For more Missouri suggestions, explore visitmo.com.

Eagles aren’t the only photographic winter prey. Try capturing birds at your own backyard feeder. Or visit a natural area to look for wildlife, including deer, which are more easily viewed against winter backgrounds, Leonardo says. “And you can see the ducks walking along the frozen lake..” Up for an adventure? Take a road trip in hopes of finding the elusive wild horses of Shannon County. 

The bright red color of a cardinal against a snowy backdrop has a dreamy almost magical quality. Birds and wildlife may be easier to see during bare winter months. (Photo by Rachelle Leonardo)

Reflections

Bare trees and evergreens reflected on lakes and creeks make compelling, monochromatic, often minimalistic images. A few local places to try include Drummond Lake at Nathanael Greene/Close Memorial Park, Lake Springfield, Fellows Lake, McDaniel Lake and the small lakes at Sequiota, Ritter Springs and Valley Water Mill parks. 

Creeks along trails, or local rivers, offer similar opportunities. Also, look for interesting old structures such as a railroad bridge reflecting on the James River Water Trail near Lake Springfield, the trail-connecting bridge at the Nature Center or the Riverside Bridge at Finley Farms in Ozark.

Area lakes and bodies of water provide interesting backgrounds for minimalist winter images, like this one of snow-kissed trees reflected on Drummond Lake. (Photo by Sony Hocklander)

Explore

Drive around country roads beyond the city to explore for interesting images. Look for a lone bare tree on a wide-open field, old and abandoned barns, tree-lined backcountry roads — all favorite scenes for Greiner. (Look for safe places to stop your car and be careful not to trespass.) Or visit regional protected natural areas, including Busiek State Forest, where it’s easy to reach a creek. Boat launch areas along the James River provide some interesting views, including the Delaware Town Access not far south of Springfield.

This impactful image of snow falling at the Lake Springfield dam makes you feel the winter chill. (Photo by LaDonna Greiner)

Road trip

Winter is a great time for an overnight Ozarks getaway. You’re guaranteed new landscapes to shoot in wintertime, even along familiar trails. Greiner recently spent time in the Upper Buffalo River area in Arkansas, exploring trails and icy waterfalls. At the Sweden Creek Falls, she captured an image showing an ice circle at the falls’ base. You won’t find that scene in summer. Trails and natural areas at Ha Ha Tonka State Park, Lake of the Ozarks, Table Rock Lake, and the many Missouri springs near Echo Bluff State Park and Eminence are good locations too.

A close photo of frozen icicles against green lichen at Bridal Veil Falls in Arkansas is a study in winter contrasts. (Photo by LaDonna Greiner)

Sony Hocklander

Sony Hocklander is a freelance journalist, video storyteller and photographer who produces creative content through her small solo business, Sony Hocklander Creative LLC. When she’s not telling community stories, she loves wandering the Ozarks outdoors with a camera in hand. You can follow her on Twitter @SonyHocklander and on Instagram @shocklander or email her at: sonyhocklander@gmail.com More by Sony Hocklander