Photography / Tips and Solutions

7 Tips for Taking Photographs in the Snow

         

You’re bundled up under appropriate layers, complete with warm, waterproof boots, fingerless mittens, and disposable hand warmers for added comfort. Spare batteries are tucked under layers, close to your body, to keep them warm in an attempt to prolong their life outside. Spare lens cloths for fogged lenses and an airtight plastic bag for condensation purposes ride in your bag. Now, how does one capture the perfect shot in the snow? Here are a few tips to help you catch the untouched landscape, the serene snowfall in the city, or the epic snow fight your kids have on their highly anticipated day off from school.

"A zoom lens will give you a range of focal lengths without compromising your gear."

Many photographers prefer a sharp, high-performance prime lens on a daily basis but, if you don’t want to be limited to just one focal length, you want to avoid the risk of condensation being trapped inside your camera body when changing your lenses outdoors. A zoom lens will give you a range of focal lengths without compromising your gear. While you’re at it, make sure a UV or clear filter is in place to protect that front element of your lens from moisture. Grab your lens hood before you head outside to avoid lens flare as a result of the highly reflective, freshly fallen snow. In addition, a polarizer can help minimize or remove the glare on snow- and ice-covered surfaces in frigid temperatures. A polarizing filter can also be used to darken a bright, cloudless sky, or aid in amping up the saturation.

Protect and Serve Your Camera

Once your camera is out, keep the lens cap on when not in use to prevent snowflakes from landing, and possibly melting, on the front element of your lens. If your lens does become fogged or smudged, avoid blowing warm air onto it, to inhibit the possibility of a thin layer of ice coating it. Rely on your microfiber lens cloths and don’t be afraid to pack extras. Holding your breath when bringing your camera up to your face to take a picture could prevent fogging on your LCD screen and viewfinder, as well. If temperatures aren’t quite cold enough and the snow is more wet than it is dry, consider some rain gear. While some cameras are fairly weather resistant, even a plastic bag and a rubber band with the opening of the bag positioned around the front of the lens barrel can be a fast alternative in sudden and severe inclement weather.


Keep the front element of your lens covered when you're not taking pictures.

 

Shoot in the Raw

Shoot in raw format. Capturing the correct exposure and color temperature when your scene is overwhelmed by reflective, white snow can be tricky. Setting your recording format to raw allows you to safely adjust your settings without being limited, the way you would be otherwise, with a JPEG.


Shooting raw format gives you more latitude to correct exposure and color temperature in post production.

 

No Gray on a Sunny Day

Consider overexposing to compensate for your camera’s metering system, which is standardized for middle gray. While this standardization is generally perfect for the diverse range of scenes you encounter and photograph, a bright, snowy day is one of the few exceptions. Matrix metering, combined with shooting in aperture-priority mode, is a reliable way to overcome your camera reading the range of light in your snow scene at an average 18% gray. If you’re not as confident shooting in aperture-priority, take advantage of your exposure-compensation dial. Adding one-third or two-thirds exposure compensation lets more light into your scene, preventing muddied gray exposures, and ensuring the snow stays white in your photos.


Overexposed to compensate for the light meter's reading of middle gray

 

Use the Histogram, Luke

Rely on your histogram readout instead of your LCD screen for an accurate reading of the scene. Just as it can be difficult for your camera to read and measure for the scene correctly, it can be difficult for you to judge an image on a small LCD screen under a bright sun or in the middle of a highly reflective, snow-covered landscape.


The camera's histogram function will give you an exact reading of your exposure parameters.

 

Keep Your Balance

Finding the correct white balance while photographing snow can be tricky. More often than not, snow reads on the blue side of the color spectrum. If you don’t plan on adjusting your white balance and prefer to get everything right in-camera, use the “flash” setting. It is intended to compensate for bluish flash lighting, and can warm up your snow-filled image. However, if you try to resolve all of the blue, your snow could suddenly have a yellow cast to it, which is obviously not ideal. A slight blue cast with neutral highlights results in a balanced image.

Correct White Balance Incorrect White Balance (too blue)


Stay Composed

Finally, the composition of snowy scenery works best when vast white areas are brought to life by contrast and, at times, a brightly colored scarf, sled, or taxi cab. If there isn’t a bright color that you want to capture, consider shooting in black-and-white for a more pristine image. Think ahead of time about where you’re walking and make sure your footprints won’t be in the frame. If snow is falling while you’re outside photographing, and you find the snowfall distracting, set up a tripod and slow your shutter speed down to erase the falling snowflakes from your scene. On the contrary, utilize a fast shutter speed to stop the action, highlighting the snowfall over your scene. Try not to waste time, as winter lighting tends to change quickly; chances are you won’t have as much time to capture multiple images with the same light as you think you will!


Here's an example of using color and composition to heighten drama in an image made on a snowy day.

 

Preserve Your Memories

Once you’re satisfied with your images, or the cold has gotten the best of you, pop your memory card out of your camera and zip up your camera in a zip-top bag before heading indoors. This way, any condensation that forms upon entering a warm interior can form on the outside of your zip-top bag instead of directly on (and sometimes in) your camera body and lens.


When you bring your camera back inside after shooting, bag it to prevent condensation from forming on lens and electronics.

 

Whether you’re uploading your images to review, edit meticulously, and integrate into your portfolio, or directly to your favorite social media account to share with your friends, hopefully your time shooting in the snow was enjoyable and yielded successful images, inspiring warm thoughts of cold weather!

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Nice article,

there are 2 types of shooters.

Those who charge for it and those who do it for fun.

Hopefully if you are charging for it, you understand everything in this article and this will make you that much better.

If you dont charge, then spend time learing your camera better so you too can make great shots. Pratice make you better and better, you must walk before you run (no matter what APP you buy, its only a tool and all tools are only as good as the person using them:-) )

Shoot from a blind. First you will stay dry, wildlife have no idea you are there, can use a tripod and see your LCD/Histogram. Corrections can be made and lenses changed without interference from the weather conditions. Anything can be a blind just not the commercial type. Wear proper footwear and clothing to get those shots at ground level. think like your subject-wildlife, and shoot fast or slow if able to hold the camera steady enough. Do not use a enclosed weather cover with a clear plastic window to see what you need to see while adjusting your camera- they will fog up every time. Your hand heat along with the cool weather conditions will cause fog to condense onto the clear viewing window. I found this out the hard way and almost lost my contract in doing so. Rely on yourself, and your knowledge plus the feel of the camera you plan to use. Enjoy what you are doing and breathe in some fresh air too!

Using AE lock on a neutral tone or gray card helps to get the Snow White 

I also wrap the bagged camera in a towel or down jacket so it can come up to room temperature slowly...on extremely cold days -10 deg or more I put the wrapped camera in a cooler as well to slow down the warm up and lessen the condensation

Great tip! Thanks James!

HELLO!!! PLS WRITE IN SPANISH. TKS

¡Lo siento mucho Jose! Mi español no es tan grande! ¡Estoy trabajando en ello!

we Are in America correct?  English pls, n Always..

Love the tip about bagging your rig before coming in out of the cold, how does that work for heat and humidity/AC to exterior...  RM

Going from a cold air-conditioned room to a humid outdoor environment will cause your lenses/viewfinders and filters to fog.  This is another situation where it is best to acclimate the gear a bit before using.  I typically will set my camera bag with the zippers opened and the bag remaining relatively closed outside for about 20-30 minutes prior to shooting.  By the time I get to start the gear has had a chance to acclimate and there is little to no fogging.  I’d also recommend the reverse for going back from the humidity to an indoor air-conditioned environment.   Silica dessicant packs stored inside your camera bags can also help deal with any moisture that may build up when in humid environments. 

For me exposure is my top concern, along with lighting, and composition. With todays cameras is is very easy to get the correct exposure all the time. Read your histogram! I mostly shoot in manual mode, make a test exposure, and adjust from there. You want to get as much information as possible in the far right box on your histogram without blinkies. A small blinkie or two may be o.k. anything other than that will be too overexposured to recover the detail, unless you are going for the high key effect. Happy holidays...

Absolutely Tony! Reading the histogram is anyone's best bet! Happy holidays to you as well!

Thank you so much for the article. Especially about protecting our cameras w/o zip lock bag.  I look forward to your future articles.

Thanks so much! Glad you enjoyed the article.

If, as recommended, you shoot raw, the problem of what to set your white balance to basically disappears, as you can adjust it in post.Just leave it on AUTO WB. As a professional I have shot many thousands of photos like this, in all conditions and never had a problem. My advice to most people is to use the auto setting "P" (for Program)  mode unless there really is NO option but to use manual. This way your camera is ready to shoot at all times and you won't be messing around with manual settings while your picture gets away from you, this is how most "pros" work!  BTW "P" is a much more verstaile setting than "Av" or "A" allowing you to choose to alter shutter speed OR aperture as you need. Both P and A are automatic modes using the same internal light meter so the end results are the same. As for metering, you could use a separate light meter and get "perfect" results, but once again, the internal light meter on your camera is usually sufficient , but setting it for measuring  SPOT readings may help get a correct photo.Try taking the reading from the  face for portraits or from neutral buildings or trees..you may need to try a few different shots to get it perfect.However, most decent DigitalSLRs will return pretty good resluts on the matrix settings..Good shooting and have a great Chritmas!

Useful tips. I also agree with the idea of using an external esposure meter. 

Many people don't understand how to use a histogram. Why short change them on this in the article?

Search in Explora, there was an excellent tutorial in 2015 called, "How to Read Your Camera's Histogram". I bookmarked it so as to be able to refer to it.

Thank you for that.  I was wondering that exact question.  How to read a historgram.

Good point Rodrian. I should have provided a link to the B&H article! So sorry to have left that out! How to Read Your Camera's Histogram is a great read! 

When shooting relatively close to your lens (50 feet - infinity), try B & W, trees w/o leaves, and people walking alone - away from (insteadof towards) the camera; similar to the image shown here, but all in B & W rather than with a blob of bright color.  This gives a feeling of intense serentiy and quiet.  Keep focus on the person, trees and footsteps; as here, an umbrella adds to the wintry, solitary feel.

Absolutely Stephen! Those quiet shots of winter can tell a great story as well! Thanks for sharing! 

How about recommending a custom white balance? Shooting in manual? Using an external incident light meter? If people want to create photos like a pro, they need to learn how to use their equipment like a pro.

Most pros I know (at least those that grew up in the digital era) shoot aperture priority (unless using flash) and set white balance to "sun" or "auto" and then correct in post. Thta's todays' reality.

Tony, your comment about today's 'reality' is a sad statement about the state of the craft.

Surely, many film photographers of old found the "reality" of using digital means to capture a photo a "sad statement about the state of the craft."  I am surprised, Mr. Moore, that you would even think of using a digital camera. Please tell me that you do nothing in post; rather, you rely totally on "getting it right in camera."

Bill, Unfortunately being a 'Pro' these days doesn't mean getting it right in camera. I always use a custom white balance, rely on my incident light meter and shoot in manual mode to absolutely control everything about making the image. So many so-called pros don't have a clue about how to do this. So sad...

Hi Bill!

Thanks so much for reading and taking the time to suggest even more avenues one could go down to improve their photography out in the snow! Those are all great tips that would work great in a more in-depth article! 

Happy Holidays!

you must remeber that your hand held light meter even in incident still is set up & calibrated to 18% gray

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