7 Tips for Snow Photography

7 Tips for Snow Photography, by Jeff Parker

February often brings winter’s biggest storms so I figured now made a good time to post these “7 Tips for Snow Photography.”

I kept them simple, but feel free to shoot me an email if you want more details.

1) Watch the contrast.

Dark objects in a snowy scene make getting a good exposure a challenge. In fact, it might not be possible on a bright, sunny day. You’ll either have to let the darks block up with no detail or wait for the light to moderate.

2) Overexpose.

Yes, you read that correctly! It may seem counter-intuitive; however, it’s necessary because your light meter wants to make everything medium gray, but YOU want the snow in your pictures to be beautiful white…which brings us to Tip #3…

3) Take charge!

You have to take control of your camera. If left to its own devices the snow that shows up in your image won’t be bright enough. I generally work in Manual mode and set my exposure so that it reads about 2 stops overexposed when the frame is filled with snow. If using one of the other modes adjust your Exposure Compensation to +2. Take a test shot and check that histogram. A snowy scene should have data almost to the right edge of the histogram.

4) Play with shutter speed.

If shooting in falling snow, try different shutter speeds. A fast shutter speed like 1/500sec. will “freeze” the snow into flakes. A slower shutter speed, less than 1/100sec will cause the falling snow to appear as streaks. Of course if you change the shutter speed you will also have to change the aperture or ISO to keep a proper exposure.

5) Don’t tread on it.

This may seem obvious, but it’s a really easy mistake to make, especially when you get absorbed in planning your shot and getting creative — you tend to forget where you’re walking. True — footprints can add interest to an image, but add that interest AFTER you’ve created the other types of images you can make at the scene. There’s no going back once you’ve left tracks.

6) Protect against camera condensation.

One of the biggest problems for cameras in cold weather is condensation. Condensation commonly occurs when bringing your camera from dry, cold temperatures outdoors into warm and relatively moist conditions (e.g. your home or car). To avoid condensation remove your memory card and battery(s) from your camera and transfer your gear into your bag and seal it while you’re still in the cold air. Now when you bring the camera gear inside, everything can warm up gradually.

7) Bring extra batteries.

Batteries drain faster in colder temperatures, so while doing snow photography it’s wise to carry extras and keep them in a pocket inside your coat, closer to your body heat, until they are needed. Newer lithium ion batteries have less problems with this, but it’s still a good idea to keep extras close by.