How to Photograph Snow

Written by Robert Lowdon

Robert Lowdon is an internationally published commercial photographer based out of Toronto, Canada. He spends his time photographing architecture and industrial projects for the most part.

Published November 17, 2013

how to photograph snow

Photographing the snow can be difficult at times. Although it can be rather easy if we know what we are in for before we head out to take photos.

First and foremost, make sure that your camera is properly equipped for cold-weather photography. This means that you should have a camera that can handle extreme cold. If you do not have a cold-weather camera, then you will need to take extra care of your camera to prevent it from freezing.

Here are some quick photo tips to get you started taking great images of winter scenery.

Quick Tips on How to Photograph Snow

Over Expose by One Stop

Now, because of the highly reflective nature of snow, it can play havoc on a camera meter. Often your camera meter will be tricked, so you will want to increase your exposure by one stop to compensate. Any budding photographer shouldn’t be stuck with the camera’s metering system. Make adjustments as needed. The great thing about digital cameras is we can see our images immediately. Have a look pixels are cheap.

Long story short, adjust the exposure compensation to +1.0 this should give a more accurate frame. Or use exposure bracketing and take the guessing out altogether.

Choose the Right White Balance

If you are shooting in RAW, then you can change your white balance later in post-processing. But, if you are shooting JPEG, then it is important to get the white balance right in the camera.

For snow photography, I recommend using a white balance of between 4000K and 5000K. This will give your photos a nice bluish tint, which helps to really bring out the colors in the snow.

You can change your white balance in-camera by going into the menu and navigating to the white balance settings. From here, you can choose between different white balance presets or set a custom white balance.

Use a Low ISO

When shooting in snow, you will want to use a low ISO setting to avoid getting too much noise in your photos. I generally like to keep my ISO at around 100 or 200 when shooting in the snow. This will give you the best image quality.

Finding Focus

Your camera is going to have a hard time finding focus on a pure white landscape. Either focuses manually or find a reference point to make it easier. Meaning use AFS to lock in your focus on a stationary object. Then we want to re-frame the image.

Cameras use a contrast-detection system when focused. The camera needs that contrast to determine focus. The system is great, but as I mentioned it has a bunch of travel with low contrast scenes, like snow.

If you have a DSLR with an advanced AF system, then you can focus on the rule of thirds gridlines. This will give your camera something to focus on.

Take Advantage of Elevation Changes

One great feature of snowy landscapes is that they often feature a lot drifts and changes in elevation. Take advantage of this in your photographs to really show a flowing motion in the landscape. Flat landscape can get stale over time. Fill the top of the frame by adding elevation shift.

Go Out on Windy Days

Use the wind to your advantage. Snow being blown by the wind can create some really great effects. These can include drifting and fogging to name a few.  Of course, it sucks to be out in such conditions, but sometimes it leads to the best photographs. And, also great conditions lead to great photographs, so just have fun with it.

Pay Attention To The Direction of Light

Having shadowing in the photographs will really help you define the texture of snow. Shadowing is complimentary. We want both light and dark tones to give depth to the image.

See how moving around relative to the sun can give some really different results in the pictures you take.

So those are five quick tips on photographing snow. With a little bit of planning and preparation, you can go out and take some really great winter photos. Just have fun with it and experiment. Also, don’t forget to dress warm!

I hope these 5 Tips help with your winter photography. If you have any questions feel free to ask in the comments below. Also, if you have any tips of your own please share them as well. Until next time, happy shooting!

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