8 tips for beautiful snow photos
Updated: Jul 20
As a landscape photographer, I love photographing snowy scenes, but they do have their own set of challenges, so here are a few tips to help you the next time we get some of the white stuff.
1 Change your approach to focussing
Your cameras autofocus system works through identifying contrast, but this can become problematic when a landscape is covered in a uniform white layer of snow, and of course failing to gain focus will lead to blurred photos. The easiest way around this issue is with the following technique:
Firstly to change the focus area of your camera so that it is focussing on the central focus point (for DSLR's) or a central box (mirrorless cameras) rather than autofocus where the camera decides where to focus.
Next, find an area of high contrast in the scene (such as a snow free patch of ground or tree).
Now we do what is called the 'focus and recompose' technique. Place the centre focus point or central focus box over this high contrast area. Press the shutter half way down until the camera achieves focus. Then, whilst keeping the shutter button half way down (so that the focus remains locked), move the camera to the desired composition (recompose)
You can now press the shutter the whole way down to take the photo.
With touch sensitive camera screens (and indeed camera phones) the same can often be achieved by touching the screen on a high contrast area before taking the shot.
2 Get out while the snow is fresh
We all know that a snowy scene always looks best as soon as the snow has fallen, when the landscape is covered with an unblemished covering of white. And this is particularly true of snow photos, as with a uniform white covering, the eye is drawn to the blemishes such as footprints, which often can detract from the shot. So, it's important to try and time getting out with the camera for straight after the snow has stopped, and before it has started melting or gets messed up by footprints. The best scenario is often when it snows overnight, and you can be the first out with a camera as the sun rises the next morning. Do be careful though, as obviously snowy roads are hazardous, and it's always better if possible to stay on major roads which are usually kept clear. I have a number of locations where I know that I can travel on major roads, park and walk to scenic locations without risking driving on minor roads which may be treacherous.
3 Take care of your kit
Snow may be beautiful, but cold and snowy conditions can play havoc with your camera kit. It is possible to take photos while it's snowing, you do need to protect your camera from the snow by using some kind of rain cover (these can be purchased cheaply or you can improvise your own using a carrier bag!). Even after the snow, conditions are likely to be cold and if you're out for some time, your gear will get very cold. This can lead to problems with condensation when you bring your camera and lenses indoors, and condensation can cause damage to your camera. So after coming indoors from a cold and snowy shoot, I tend to make sure that my kit is left in a well insulated camera bag, and left to warm up slowly in a cooler part of the house.
4 Make sure you have spare batteries
Battery performance plummets in cold weather, and a battery that seems to last forever on a warm day, can go flat very quickly on a cold snowy day. So to prevent missing the best of the snowy conditions, always make sure you have at least two fully charged batteries before you venture out.
5 Beware of underexposure
A common problem in taking snow photos is underexposure (where the photo is too dark). This is often caused by the camera's light meter being confused by the bright white scene and not letting enough light into the camera. The simple way around this is to utilise your camera's exposure compensation function; on DSLR and mirrorless cameras, this is usually a dial which goes from +3 to -3. This allows you to 'dial in' more exposure compensation i.e. allowing more light into your camera (+1, +2, +3 being increasing amounts of light). In snowy situations it's usually worth dialling in +1 to brighten the photos a little (and if you know how to, checking your exposure using the camera's histogram or light meter). Many cameras allow exposure compensation whatever shoot mode you are using, but check your camera manual for details. Most phone camera apps also have an exposure compensation function.
6 Use a lens hood
Most lenses come with a detachable plastic hood, and these can be very useful in snow shoots. Firstly they help keep snowflakes off the front of your lens, and secondly they help to reduce glare which can lead to lens flare and other issues with the quality of your shot. This is true in any sunny situation, but more so on a snowy day where snow cover significantly increases the chance of glare.
7 Try a polarising filter
On the subject of glare, one way of potentially reducing glare issues in snow scenes is by the use of a polarising filter. These cut out polarised light; something that is common on bright snowy days. Simply by turning the polariser, you can reduce the amount of glare, however it's best to use it sparingly as it can also cause strange effects in clear blue skies. My suggestion is always to take shots with and without the polariser, and you can see which you prefer later.
8 Shoot in Aperture priority
If you're not comfortable with shooting in manual mode, then Aperture priority is a great choice for snow photos. This allows you to control the aperture (and therefore the depth of field) but you can leave the camera to worry about shutter speed and ISO. My goto aperture for most landscape scenes is f11. as it's a small enough aperture to give a wide depth of field (the amount of the scene in focus) without shutting out too much light from the sensor. Alternatively, in more compact cameras, you might be able to choose a 'snow' mode which will help the camera to get a better exposure in snowy conditions.
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