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How to Take Better Photos in Snow

How to Take Better Photos in Snow

snow photography

Winter scenes can provide some of the most iconic photographs.  Snowy environments offer a crisp white setting that makes your subject pop to the beautiful aura that snow gives when captured correctly.  Plus, a photoshoot for a wintry picture can be so much fun for both you and your subjects.

Shooting pictures in a snowy environment creates and captures memorable moments, but it may not be the easiest type of photoshoot.  You will have to overcome obstacles like keeping your hands steady while battling the frigid cold or balancing your camera’s settings for a perfectly focused frame while maintaining the proper white balance.  Although snowy pictures may come with a few challenges, there are plenty of tricks and tips to help you produce cute winter pictures and create a memorable experience for you and your subject. 

Prepare Your Gear

The first thing you need to consider is what you will need to have a successful wintry photoshoot.

  • Digital Camera – Obviously you will need a great camera if you want to produce great photographs, but what kind of camera will be a good choice for photographing in the snow? Look for features such as weather sealants, since you will be shooting outdoors and it could be snowing and wet.  Interchangeable lens options will also help you capture your vision and come in handy when shooting portraits or landscapes.  For pros, you will want to be shooting in manual mode, however for the novice photographers out there, you will find powerful Auto Focus, Auto Tracking, and active stabilization features very helpful.
  • Lens – Depending on the type of shots youre looking for will determine the types of lenses you should use. Typically, you will probably be more interested in a great zoom lens since you will be outdoors and a zoom lens will give you the options of shooting landscape or portraits.  You may also be interested in a specific prime lens if there is a particular shot you’re going after.  Whatever you decide, you should do so before you head out and have the lens prepared.  It is strongly recommended to stick with one lens throughout the photoshoot since it is cold and changing the lens mid-session may cause condensation.
  • Lens and Camera Accessories – Camera covers, and lens covers will help keep your equipment dry and protected. You should also consider adding lens filters since the white snow is bright and reflective of any light.  This will help you deal with harsh sunlight and the reflective nature of the snow while also reducing sharply cast shadows.  Include camera and lens wipes as it could be snowing.  You will need to keep your camera dry and your lens clean.
  • Camera Bag – You’re going to need something to properly carry all your stuff.

    snow photography

Your Camera & Settings

Managing your camera and finding the right settings is crucial to a successful snowy photoshoot.  First thing to do is to get your camera used to the cold.  You don’t want to keep it warm, it won’t make your camera work better but rather increase the potential for condensation and lens fog when you introduce a warm camera to the winter cold. 

Shoot in Manual Mode

For the best snow photography settings, use manual mode.  Many times, your cameras auto exposure features may overcompensate for the bright reflective snowy environment and skew your colors and lighting.  By taking full control over your camera’s functions, you can adjust your aperture, ISO, and shutter speed to get the perfect balance of exposure and focus.

Leverage RAW Mode

You have a great camera with awesome features.  Use it to your advantage.  Leveraging RAW mode will open up more possibilities and enable more flexibility when dealing with the white balance.  Shooting in snow is difficult enough, especially if you’re incorporating snowfall into your scene.  Capturing your photos in RAW mode will let you edit and perfect your shots postproduction.

Finding the Right Exposure

If you have ever taken photographs in a snowy setting, you may have noticed a change of color in the snow.  This is usually due to the exposure not being right.  Either you will get white snow that looks grey, which is from under exposing light, or you will see the snow with a blue or colored tinge which is caused by overexposing reflective light from the sky or other nearby colors.  So, finding the perfect balance is key.  Adjust your ISO, aperture, and shutter speed slowly until you are happy with the results.  Always perform test shots.  Feel free to toggle your camera’s auto white balance on and off to determine your cameras capabilities with this feature and if it will help you or hold you back.  It can be difficult to get your snow photography white balance just right.  Patience and adjustments are recommended. 

Shutter Speed

Take a minute to think about the types of photos you want to capture.  If it is snowing, you surely want to incorporate the beautiful and dreamy aesthetic that you get with snow falling in your composition.  You can determine how this appears through adjusting your shutter speed.  For sharper snowflakes, keep your shutter speed short.  This is a good choice for capturing full landscapes in your background with snowfall.  If you want the snow to be a bit blurry, maintain a longer exposure shutter speed.  This is the ideal snow portrait photography settings which will highlight your subject over a slightly blurred background with beautifully blurry snowflakes adding to the intimacy of the photo (use a shallow depth of field via your aperture).

Shooting Tips & Ideas

Snow can be gorgeous and provide some of the best scenery for a photoshoot.  Like any tool, it’s only as good as the way you will use it.  Besides ensuring you are using the right gear with the proper settings, there are some other things that you can do to enhance your photos and produce professional looking clean and polished images.

  • Silhouettes & Shadows – Since you will be working over a mostly crisp white environment, you will get a lot of reflective light and sharp shadows. While this may not be ideal for your classic style photographs, the winter sun and sharp shadows can provide you with very artistic details that you can include in your shots.  Think about capturing your subject’s silhouette atop a hill with the horizon in the background.  Leverage any evergreen trees or bare branches around you to make leading lines and add onto the aesthetics of your composition.
  • Pops of Color – Colors will shine beautifully over a crisp white snowy background. Use them.  Look around to find the perfect spot, sometimes all you need is one good pop of color to bring life to your photograph and will also add dimensions.  Your subject could also be the sole pop of color by wearing a bright coat or a fun scarf and hat.  You can also even include any exterior home decorations that you would find pleasing.  Icicles can be a very cool prop.
  • Go for Monochromatic Shots – Simple black and white shots in a wintry setting can be quite impactful and showcase tons of character in an artistic way. Although Color is important, try taking some black and white photographs as well.  They also look great.
  • Location – Where you decide to shoot your snowy pictures is just as important as everything else. Consider landscapes that will support a wide angled photo, and think about details on a macro level for closeups and portraits.
  • Composition Awareness – Look out for things you may not notice right away such as footprints in the snow, melted areas, and other small details that you wouldn’t want in your images. Always check your frame before giving yourself the green light.
  • Shoot from different angles – The best way to get your subject in the perfect position is to try shooting from different angles. In addition to capturing eye level shots, try capturing a few from below or above, or from the left and right sides.  You will likely be able to find the perfect spot and balance scene with subject.
  • Dress Properly – It’s probably cold, so dress the part. Working your camera’s functions while wearing gloves can be annoying.  Plus, trying to maintain a steady frame when shooting by hand may be difficult when you’re freezing.  Bring a warm coat, hat, scarf, and fingerless gloves.  Mittens with the semi removable finger section works the best.
snow photography
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