Do you know the tricks of taking pictures in the snow?
During winter, nature becomes a white carpet when snow takes over the grass, the roofs and the natural water streams (lakes and rivers), and the mountains are covered with ice.
Looking at the landscapes in winter is the same as looking at a cloudy sky, as if the sky had come down to the earth and hidden part of the urban elements, bringing another feel to houses and urban spaces.
Recording those moments when the icy white of snow takes over landscapes and urban centers is a challenge for anyone who likes to venture out with a good camera.
Photography in snowy environments requires being careful and using a few techniques. In this post you will get tips to help you shoot beautiful landscapes covered in snow, the peaceful rain of the snowflakes, children playing to build a snowman and many other photos that you can take during winter.
Let’s see how to take photos in the snow.
Prepare your gear
Before you go out to take photos in snow, there are a few things you can do to keep both your camera and yourself safe. And it doesn’t matter what camera you’re using, it can be your smartphone’s camera, a DSLR, Mirrorless Camera or an Action Camera, either way, so it’s good to follow the tips ahead to get the best results possible when you’re taking photos in the snow.
Protect your camera from damage
Snow is crystallized water, so it can damage electronic devices. If it is snowing, wrap up your camera with some waterproof material such as a waterproof case, or take a dry, soft cloth with you to frequently clean your camera. Many photographers protect their cameras with raincoats. If the weather temperatures aren’t cold enough and the snow is more humid than dry, consider covering your camera in waterproof rain clothes.
Also, a big issue happens when you return from an outdoor space with snow to an indoor warm place: cold air is very dry, but the air in warm places often contains moisture, so when you take a very cold camera into a room with hot, humid air, the moisture will condense on cold surfaces. The problem is not the moisture that you can see on the outside of the camera or on its lens, but the moisture that condenses on the inside of the camera. Electronic devices and humidity don’t mix well.
Water condensation is an ongoing concern for cameras in snow photography. The accumulation of moisture behind the lens can result in mold growth (fungi). Yep! Your camera can have mold inside, and you don’t want that! The least that can happen to your camera if you get it from a snowy place to an indoor warm place is that it will get a blurry lens and you won’t be able to use it until it’s completely dry again.
To avoid the water condensation issues, when you finish taking your photos, remove the memory card from the camera and put it inside a Zippered Camera Bag or inside a waterproof dry tube bag before you get from a cold snowy outdoors place to a warm indoors place that will absorb the water condensation.
Get extra batteries for your camera
It’s very important to have extra batteries for your camera when shooting photos in the snow because in a cold environment the batteries discharge faster. During the time you are in the snow, keep the batteries close to the heat: very close to the body, preferably in an internal pocket of your clothes. If you use your smartphone’s camera, remember to fully charge it before going into the snow.
Wear winter clothes and waterproof clothes
This may seem obvious, but you will be impressed by how quickly you lose body heat in the snow. You don’t want to be shaking when taking pictures! So remember to wear winter clothes and also consider wearing waterproof clothes as a way to protect both you and your camera from water that comes from melting snowflakes.
Make the best use of your camera in the snow
Now you will get some tips to use your camera the best way possible when taking photos in the snow. Just remember that most tips are for DSLRs or Mirrorless Cameras. So if you use your smartphone’s camera you can search on the Internet or on YouTube for tutorials on how to set up a smartphone to the specific settings ahead because there are different ways to do that based on the phone brand and model.
Set the right exposure on your camera
The white snow shining can mess up your camera exposure a little, resulting in underexposed shots, which will cause the snow to appear gray in the photos. To avoid that, you will need to set up your camera in one of the following ways:
- Frame the photo (position your camera to capture a specific area), and set the focus to any desired spot. After that, zoom in on a bright area with snow in the framing scene (the area your camera will shoot). Using the Exposure Compensation button of your camera to set a value between +2/3 and +1 2/3 EV meaning (Exposure Value), depending on the brightness of the snow. Then, read your camera’s exposure meter, memorize the settings, switch to manual mode and set a new shutter speed and diaphragm aperture. This overexposure will ensure that the snow appears white without overlapping other objects in the photo.
- Check your camera settings. If any mid-tone objects are visible in the scene (such as gray stones or buildings), see what value the exposure meter is marking. Changing your camera to those settings will help you to capture the snow correctly. You may have to mark a small negative offset (such as -1/3 EV) to prevent highlights in the snow from being overlapped.
- Correct the exposure with your camera’s histogram. Pay attention to the histogram marking for the snow. It is always nice to leave it almost against the left, since the photometer always processes snow as a medium tone (gray). If the histogram has slightly high peaks in the middle, just mark a small positive offset to add brightness. If the histogram is falling to the right margin, just mark a small negative offset to avoid white and uneven spots in your final shot.
Try different shutter speeds on your camera
If you’re taking photos of a snowstorm (winter storm), you will need to use a much faster shutter speed on your camera. If there is no wind, you will probably need to set your camera to a slow shutter speed of around 1/15 seconds. Use a slower shutter speed to capture variations in light, especially during sunrise or sunset.
If the snow is falling while you are shooting outside and you think the snow is distracting you, set up a Camera Tripod and slow down the shutter speed of your camera (if it’s a Mirrorless or a DSLR) to erase the falling snowflakes from your final shot. You can also set a faster shutter speed to your camera and to highlight the snowfall in your scene.
Managing light reflexes
Avoid using your camera’s flash when taking photos in the snow because it can result in white spots on overexposure in your photos. If it is snowing while you’re shooting, the flash will likely turn the snowflakes into balls of light. You don’t need a lot of light to take photos in the snow because the snow itself is a great natural reflector, which means that you will be able to take great pictures without additional lights most of the time.
Also, you can use a sunshade when taking photos in the snow, which is an accessory that is attached to a Camera to prevent sunlight from shining on the lens and also to rectangle the area of view of the lens by reducing the entry of light in order to optimize the photo contrast.
You can use a polarizing filter in your camera too, to darken a clear, cloudless sky or to help increase the photo saturation.
Bonus tips on how to take photos in the snow
There are a few more things you can do to get great snow photography shots:
- Think in advance about where you are walking in the snow and make sure that your footprints don’t enter the photo scene unless you want them to be part of your final shot.
- Try not to waste time because the sunlight lighting tends to change quickly during winter and chances are you won’t have as much time to capture multiple images in the same light as you would in summer or other seasons.
- Hold your breath while you bring the camera close to your face to take a photo to avoid fogging the LCD screen and viewfinder.
- If there is no bright color you want to capture, consider shooting in Black and White to get clearer images. See our post How to Compose Black and White Photos to learn more about this photography style.
Awesome! Now you know how to prepare your gear to take photos in the snow! You also know how to set up your camera for this type of photography. So don’t hesitate to put what you’ve learned into practice!
You can also share your thoughts in the comments below!