In many parts of the US, winter has gotten off to a paralyzing start. A little snow here and there is fine, but when it’s measured in feet, snow can bring your picture-taking efforts to a freezing halt. Assuming that you’re safely snuggled up on the inside looking out, here are some photo things you can do while watching a winter snowstorm turn travel treacherous.

1. Learn the difference between normal flash mode and Slow Synchro (second curtain) mode. On most cameras, the icon for Slow Synchro is the traditional lightning bolt on the left and a plump human on the right (shown from the waist up). Over the human’s shoulder is a star. The pictogram conveys that the subject will be lit by ambient light as well as flash. When you use normal flash mode, ambient light plays a much lesser role.

To see the difference dramatically, step outside at night while snowflakes are falling and focus on a nearby house. Try both modes. In normal mode you’ll capture the reflections from the falling snow and little else. Using Slow Synchro, the house will be visible and the snow will be just an accent.

2. Read your Owner’s Manuals. At the risk of sounding un-American, OMs are worth reading. Can’t find yours? No problem—most manufacturers offer PDF versions online. You’d be surprised by what you can learn from the OM. You can learn about the Slow Synchro flash mode, for example…

3. Pick out your next notebook computer. I’ve got my eye on the new Mac Book Air. My back hurts if I lug anything heavier than a cough drop, so I try to trim ounces off the load I carry whenever possible. This isn’t an Apple commercial, but if you travel at all and haven’t checked out the new Mac Book Air, it’s worth a look. The 13.3” model has a built-in SD card slot and goes for about $1400 with 4GB RAM and a 128GB SSD. And it weighs less than three pounds.

4. Feed the birds and squirrels. Some folks take photos of birds and squirrels in the spring and summer, and then ignore them when these animals need human interaction the most—in the winter when snow and cold chokes off their food supply. We give our menagerie a mixture of birdseed, sunflower seeds and peanuts (unsalted, in the shell). Cracked corn is good, too, and a little suet now and again doesn’t hurt.

5. Polish your Macro techniques. If it looks like you’re going to be confined to your crib for a few hours, break out the macro lens and practice. Sit by a sunlit window and use a tripod. A sheet of plain white paper (as large as possible) will provide a passable “sweep” so you can produce images that have a clean, white background. Use a second sheet as a reflector to fill shadows. Just be sure to take a custom white balance using that same white paper and the same light source. If you’re not sure how to set a custom white balance, see point 2 above.

—Jon Sienkiewicz