As the temperature drops and snow falls, opportunities arise for magical snow photography. While some photographers are so good at it they make it look easy, it is challenging. And it takes place in conditions that are far less than ideal. Snow surfaces trick your camera settings, and icy patches create hazards that you don’t normally face. And yes, it’s cold.
Staying comfortable, protecting your gear, and capturing compelling images in snow requires preparation and planning.
From finding locations to setting up the camera, we offer some essential tips for snow photography.
The ideas and inspiration outlined below will help you improve your winter images and enhance the general experience of working in snowy environments.
1. How to Dress for Snow Photography
When preparing for photography in snowy conditions, dress for cold weather. Layering is the key to staying warm.
Consider wearing thermal base layers, insulating mid-layers, and a waterproof outer layer. Don’t forget boots to keep your feet warm and dry. Additionally, invest in photography gloves that allow you to operate your camera while keeping your hands warm.
2. Protect Your Gear
Protecting your camera gear is equally important when shooting in the snow. First, ensure that you have a waterproof camera bag or backpack that provides adequate protection against moisture and impact.
Consider using a rain cover or waterproof housing for your camera body and lenses to prevent water damage. In addition, expect shorter battery life in cold weather. Carry spare batteries and keep the batteries warm in an inside pocket. B&H Photo has an interesting section on cold weather gear.
Avoid the Foggy Lens
After you’ve been shooting in the cold, what happens to lenses when you take the camera into a warm house? Even with weather-sealed lenses, you end up with condensation on the lens and possibly on the camera’s circuitry. This is a mistreatment of your gear. But there is a solution. When you’ve wrapped up the shoot, put the camera into a plastic bag, even a zip-lock bag. Then, inside the house or a warm environment, put the camera in a place where it can warm up slowly.
3. Use a Lens Hood
Snow photography takes you to extremely bright conditions, with glare and random reflections. However, a lens hood can remedy this, helping you create pristine images.
In addition, a lens hood keeps the snowflakes from landing on the front element of your lens or filter.
4. Stay Safe in the Snow
Safety should always be a top priority when photographing in snowy conditions.
Be cautious of slippery surfaces and potential hazards such as icy patches or deep snowdrifts. It’s recommended to wear sunglasses with UV protection since the reflection of the bright sun off the snow can lead to snow blindness and may cause long-term damage to your eyes.
Also, check the weather forecast and be prepared for sudden changes in conditions by carrying extra supplies like food, water, and emergency equipment if necessary.
If you work a snow scene alone, make sure someone knows where you’re headed and when you expect to return. Also, have some method of communication with people in the area or emergency services so you’re not on your own if you run into trouble. Ensure a successful snow photography experience. Prepare for adverse conditions, keep yourself reasonably comfortable, and safeguard not only your camera equipment but yourself from potential damage in bad weather.
5. Camera Settings for Snow Photography
First of all, shoot snow photos in RAW format. This gives you greater flexibility during post-processing. RAW files retain more information and provide better control over white balance adjustments, ensuring an accurate representation of colors in your snowy scenes.
Utilizing the right digital camera settings is crucial to snow photography. You may choose to shoot in full manual mode. However, when working in the snow, some photographers prefer aperture priority mode. You manually select the aperture setting, and the camera automatically adjusts the shutter speed and ISO for optimal exposure. This gives you greater control over the depth of field.
Sometimes, auto-focus struggles in snowy conditions. Autofocus systems look for contrast, and a snowy landscape tends to be short on contrast.
Look for a tree, animal, or some object to lock focus. You may opt for single-point focus or manual focus. Also, experiment with different focus modes to find what works best for you when shooting snow photographs.
Exposure Compensation and White Balance
Exposure compensation can enhance your snow photography. Light reflecting off bright snow may result in underexposed images. This creates an image of grey snow rather than true white snow.
To avoid grey snow photography, set exposure compensation to increase the exposure by 1-2 stops. This will ensure that the snow appears crisp and white in your photographs.
Also, a camera’s white balance may get confused in bright snow. In this case, it automatically adjusts the image to the blue side of the color spectrum. Again, this results in grey or bluish snow photos. Try using the cloudy white balance setting or manually set your white balance at around 6,500.
Metering mode depends on the situation. Start with Evaluative metering or Matrix metering on Nikon cameras. This mode analyzes the full scene to achieve optimum exposure. However, you might switch to Spot or Partial metering in bright sunlight. Shooting the same scene with different metering modes allows you to select the best option in post processing.
Use the Histogram
Judging exposure on the small LCD screen in the mid-day sun is difficult, maybe impossible. Therefore, rely instead on the histogram to get a precise reading of the image and ensure correct exposure. We have a previous article on how to read a histogram if you need to review it.
6. Attach a Polarizing Filter
A circular polarizing filter enhances contrast and color saturation and improves the highlights. When photographing snow scenes, a polarizing filter helps to reduce glare and reflections, resulting in higher contrast and richer colors.
In snowy landscapes, a circular polarizing (CPL) filter helps to eliminate unwanted reflections from the snow surface, allowing for clear and vibrant details. And you can avoid blown-out highlights caused by expanses of bright white snow. If you want a detailed look at polarizing filters, we have an article about how a CPL filter works.
7. Shoot in the Golden Hour and Blue Hour
The golden hour refers to the period shortly after sunrise or before sunset, when the sun is low in the sky and casts a warm, golden light. During this time, snow-covered landscapes are bathed in a soft, warm glow that enhances their beauty. The contrast between the white snow and the warm hues of sunlight creates a stunning visual effect, making for breathtaking winter wonderland photographs.
On the other hand, the blue hour occurs just before sunrise or after sunset when the sky takes on a slight blue cast or a deep blue hue. This time of day provides a unique opportunity for snow photography as it offers a different atmosphere and mood compared to daylight hours. The cool tones of the blue sky combined with the pristine white of the snow create a serene and ethereal ambiance in photographs.
Capturing this tranquil setting during the blue hours of early morning or evening can result in captivating images that evoke a sense of calmness and tranquility.
In either setting, take advantage of how light changes during these times to create visually striking compositions. Whether you prefer capturing the warm tones of the golden hour or the cool hues of the blue hour, understanding how light interacts with a snowy scene helps you capture the beauty of the season.
8. Snow Landscape Photography
Photographing snowy landscapes can be a captivating and rewarding experience for photographers.
When composing your shot, consider the rule of thirds to create a visually pleasing composition. Place your main point of interest, such as a tree or mountain peak, along one of the intersecting lines to add balance and interest to the image. Additionally, look for leading lines in the landscape, such as paths or fences, that can guide the viewer’s eye through the scene.
Snowy landscapes can be quite bright due to the reflection of sunlight off the snow. Pay attention to shadows and highlights to add depth and dimension to your photographs. Experiment with different angles and perspectives to capture interesting patterns created by light and shadows on the snow.
Shooting handheld or with a tripod depends on various factors such as stability, personal preference, and desired outcome. Shooting handheld allows for more flexibility and spontaneity but may result in images that are less sharp due to camera shake. On the other hand, using a tripod ensures stability and sharper images but limits mobility. Consider these factors based on your shooting style and conditions when photographing snowy landscapes.
9. Winter Wildlife Photography
Winter snow offers a unique backdrop for wildlife photography. The pristine white blanket of snow creates a visually stunning contrast against the vibrant colors of animals, making them stand out in a way that is both captivating and striking.
The quiet and serene atmosphere of winter also provides an ideal setting for capturing wildlife in their natural habitat.
However, photographing wildlife in winter presents its own set of challenges. The cold weather and limited daylight hours make it more demanding. Additionally, the white snow can often lead to overexposure or underexposure of the photographs, so adjust your camera carefully. Patience and persistence are key attributes.
Animals may be less visible or harder to find due to their natural adaptation to blend in with the snowy surroundings. Yet, the rewards of capturing unique images of wildlife against a snowy backdrop make the effort worthwhile.
10. Photography Tips for City Lights and Holiday Decorations
City lights during the winter months and holiday season showcase the festive spirit of urban landscapes. At night, the city comes alive with dazzling displays of colorful lights, holiday decorations, and twinkling ornaments.
Capture the enchanting glow of cityscapes, where buildings, streets, and landmarks are illuminated, creating a captivating atmosphere that evokes a sense of warmth and joy.
The contrast between the dark night sky and the bright city lights creates a visually stunning scene, adding depth and drama to the photographs. From iconic landmarks to bustling streets filled with people, photographing city lights during the winter months offers endless opportunities for capturing the allure of the season.
11. Look for Color and Tonal Contrast
In a world of white, look for objects that contrast with the snow. Contrast is difficult in sun-drenched snowscapes. Scenes with snow brighten the shadows by acting as a large reflector.
Incorporate bold and vibrant colors against the snowy backdrop. This can be achieved by highlighting a person wearing bright clothing against a white background, capturing the intense hues of winter gear, or including colorful objects such as sleds or umbrellas.
Another technique is to focus on the intricate textures and patterns found in the snow itself. The interplay between light and shadow on the snow surface creates natural contrast, revealing the depth and contours of the landscape. Additionally, juxtaposing the softness of the snow with the hardness of nearby structures or objects introduces a contrast in textures, adding a visually intriguing element to the photograph.
12. Find a Unique Perspective
Get creative with snow photography. Try different points of view and framing by going beyond traditional techniques to enhance the visual impact of snow photography.
Shoot through natural boundaries, such as the openings in trees, to frame a subject. Look up at snow-covered trees or capture intricate details from a ground-level perspective. Experiment with different angles and compositions, such as a bird’s eye view or leading lines in the snow.
Harness natural light to enhance the texture and contrast of snow. Snow photography offers endless opportunities for creativity and experimentation. Embrace the beauty of winter landscapes through unique perspectives and compositions.
13. Shoot Portraits Against a Snowy Background
Winter portraits are more challenging due to the conditions, so make sure that both you and your model are safe and comfortable. Find a background that’s not distracting. Use a reflector to add light to the model’s face.
Set your camera to a large aperture to create a nice bokeh. An aperture of f/1.2 to f/1.8 gives you a narrow depth of field. The soft background accentuates the model against their surroundings. Go for a magical look.
14. Photograph Falling Snow
Capture the delicate nature of snowflakes to portray a sense of tranquility. To capture falling snow, you may use a slow shutter speed to create motion blur. Or focus on the foreground or subject in the scene and use a faster shutter speed and wider aperture to create a bokeh effect, adding a dreamy quality to the image.
Falling snow can also present exposure challenges due to the high reflectivity of snow. Adjust the camera settings or use a polarizing filter to minimize the reflection. By mastering the techniques and overcoming the challenges, you can produce enchanting photographs of falling snow.
Snow offers endless opportunities for beautiful photos. But it is difficult and is done in demanding conditions. With good preparation and planning, you’ll find it rewarding.
With the right clothing and camera gear, an understanding of the optimum camera settings, and a feel for how snow reflects light, you can come home with magical snow images.
I hope this article gets you started and gives you some inspiration for snow photography. If you have any questions or comments, please submit them in the space below.