As a Washington DC photographer, I can generally anticipate that every winter I’ll be dealing with a very white, very cold, winter variable: snow. And as lovely as those little white flakes may be, they do present a bit of a photography challenge.
Though to the human eye snow appears crisp and white, camera lenses have a tendency to see things quite differently. It’s not uncommon snow to appear bizarrely blue in photographs, or for snowflakes to blur across the screen, or for images to be shrouded inexplicable shadows. Rather than simply relying on your digital camera’s settings to “to the best they can” in snowy conditions, read through a few of my snow photography tips. I rarely get to practice these tips myself because I don’t often have a willing participant to experiment with (ahem, dear son). I have yet to convince my 6-year old to go out and model for me during some of the snow we’ve had so far this season, but I dug back into my archives to find a couple of examples to share here. Trust me, apply just one or two of these suggestions and you’ll notice your pictures improve with each click.
5 Tips for Stunning Snow Photography
Use a relatively fast shutter speed for falling snow.
Capturing large, chunky snowflakes on film requires a quick shutter speed, otherwise falling snow tends to appear as indistinguishable white streaks across the frame. Try setting your shutter speed to 1/250th of a second and adjust it from there. Not to mention that if you’re trying to capture your children sledding, skiing, skating, or slinging snowballs – quick shutter speed is absolutely essential for those classic action shots.
Aim for a cloudy day.
In a recent blog post we talked all about photography lighting tips and why cloudy days actually make for better photography conditions. That’s particularly true when there’s snow on the ground. Highly reflective snow cover can overexpose your images or cause strange contrasts, so keep an eye on the forecast and practice your photography skills on those overcast days.
Overexpose on purpose.
Even though snow is remarkably bright, it is not uncommon for amateur photographers to wind up with dingy, dark images shot on a clear day. Though it seems counterintuitive, you actually want to adjust your camera’s settings to allow more light in, which will likely correct this inexplicable shadow. If you’re frustrated by dark images, switch from Auto to Manual mode and adjust your aperture accordingly. Most digital cameras have an “exposure compensation” button that will allow you brighten things up a bit.
Don’t trample on your shot.
Unless you’re interested in capturing footprints in the snow, be sure to snap your landscape pictures before taking another step! You only get one shot at photographing freshly fallen snow and as soon as you touch it there’s no going back.
Keep your camera cold.
It’s true, extreme cold is harmful for camera equipment and battery life, but the more imminent threat is extreme changes in temperature. Hopping from hot to cold environments can cause condensation to build up inside the lens and may even break some of your digital camera’s electrical components. Don’t keep your camera inside your coat in hopes of keeping it at body temperature, or place it next to a heat source in hopes of “warming it back up.” When you get home from a winter shoot, put your camera in a cool part of the house and let it warm up slowly. This will help you avoid condensation buildup.
Photography snow and practicing your winter photography skills is an excellent way to learn more about your camera’s settings and to capture candid family portraits that may otherwise be lost in our memories. Encourage the kids to get bundled up for a walk in the woods, initiate a snowball war, dig out the family’s toboggan – whatever it takes to enjoy these frigid winter days. Just be sure to have a camera on hand and these tips in mind so that you can make the most of it.
Ready for a challenge? I want to see your winter snow images! Pick a snow photography tip from the list above, put it into practice, and share your work in the comments section below. I look forward to seeing what you come up with!