Snow makes everything outdoors look amazing. Everyone loves the snow and once a storm passes, most photographers probably can’t wait to start taking stunning winter photos (weather permitting). There are few things you need to know about Snow Photography in order to get your images to reproduce accurately.
1. Shoot in Aperture Priority Mode
Aperture Priority (“Av” on Canon and “A” on Nikon camera) will allow you to quickly change your depth of field. When shooting in Aperture Priority, the camera will choose the appropriate shutter speed. Aperture Priority is great in cold weather because it allows for a lot of creativity.
2. White Balance
Snow pictures using default or automatic settings on your camera can turn out grey. The reason for this is exposure and white balance. The camera gets confused in the bright snow because your camera thinks the world is grey. So when it sees a bright snowy image, it will automatically try and adjust the picture to make your image look grey. Snow usually shows up on the blue side of the color spectrum. Try using the cloudy white balance setting or manually set your white balance around 6,500 kelvin.
If you want your snow to be white you have to overexpose because your meter wants everything to be grey. With snow photography, it’s a good idea to overexpose to compensate for your camera’s automatic metering system (which is calibrated for middle gray). Just move your exposure compensation dial up by 1 to 2 stops and you will have perfectly white snow in your image. If you don’t, you’ll end up with different tones of dull gray images.
Shoot in RAW format (or RAW+JPEG). Capturing the correct exposure and color temperature when your scene is overwhelmed by reflective white snow can be tricky. Setting your file format to RAW allows you to safely adjust your settings without being limited to the restrictions found in JPEG files. If you shoot in raw, you’ll be able to recover highlights and adjust shadows afterwards.
5. Winter Sky
Winter skies can be beautiful this time of year. Warm and cool tones can create a different mood and will make your snow images pop. Use sunrise and sunset to capture warm tones from the sky reflecting on the snow. If you want to create a more dramatic image, expose for the sky and everything else will be darker. This technique adds a little mystery and changes the mood of your image.
6. Keep Extra Battery Warm
Batteries lose charge in the cold and in the extreme cold they can lose their charge very quickly. So not only do you want to have an extra battery, be sure to keep that extra battery warm.
7. Camera LCD Display
Don’t trust the preview of the images you see in the LCD screen on the back your camera. Shooting in the snow is like shooting on a really bright day at the beach. The LCD on your camera is going to be washed out so you’re not going to get an accurate view of your image. It’s easy to be fooled by what you see on the back your camera. You may want to bracket your photos and be sure to save everything until you get home and you’re able to view your images on your computer.
8. Check the Histogram
Another idea for checking your exposure when shooting in the snow is to take a look at your histogram to be sure you are not losing image details in the snow. The histogram will tell you if your highlights are overexposed or blown out. Conversely, you want to be sure you’re not overcompensating and underexposing everything. So it’s a good idea to shoot in raw so you can make adjustments when you get home.
Most DSLR cameras a different light metering modes to select from. The most common metering modes are:
- Matrix Metering (Nikon) or Evaluative Metering (Canon)
- Center-Weighted Metering
- Spot Metering
Try experimenting with different metering modes when shooting in the snow. If you have a Canon, start with Evaluative Metering, or Matrix Metering for Nikon users. For sunny days, try Spot Metering.
10. Protect Your camera
Before heading out in the cold winter, be sure you have either a UV or clear filter to protect the front elements of your camera lens from moisture and condensation. To avoid condensation buildup in your camera when you come in from the cold, grab a large zip-lock bag for your camera and seal it tight. Throw a couple of silicon paks in the bag to help absorb moisture. Keep the bag closed when you get home and don’t open it until the camera reaches room temperature. Allowing your camera to return to normal temperature gradually will significantly reduce that chance of condensation.