A Few Words on Snow Photography
It is fast becoming the season of winter photography and developing a good technique for taking pictures of the snow can take a lot of practice. However, here are some tips for you to think about as you go about capturing your winter wonderland.
For scenic displays with little or no snow falling
Avoid the snowy picture. This means snow in the background, snow on the foreground, and snow in between. You need to break it up a bit or your shot will just be a gray frame of boring.
Find a little contrast for balance. Bright colored wildlife, bare branches, patches of mountainside, anything red against the white pops.
Dark storm clouds can add drama to the scene. If you notice some nasty looking weather heading in, get a few shots of it before it lets loose. Dark gray and black clouds add a certain feel to a picture.
Cloudy winter days are prime times for shooting pictures. I’m not talking about the deep dark clouds that are accompanied by terrible weather, I am talking about high, fog-like clouds that filter the light and bring out the colors that are surrounded by so much white. While the golden hours are the best, theoretically, a calm cloudy day can serve you well for soft light.
Use the snow setting on your camera. All of the white will throw your camera off. It will tend to turn your beautiful white and fluffy outdoors a dingy gray or even sometimes blue. Make use of your histogram on your camera (if it has one) and manually adjust your exposure until your curve looks right. You may find that fiddling with your flash helps you a little too. Not in all cases, though. Generally, exposure compensation does well at +1.
Photographing fog can add depth to your shots as well. It tends to make the shapes and architecture stand out against it. Use it to your advantage for some gorgeous pictures.
For full on sunny days, overexpose the scene for whiter snow. All of the reflection will cause the camera to adjust on its own and will result in drab snow with little detail. (this is where that +1 comes in too…although in sunnier conditions it may need to be higher.)
For falling snow
Think about how you want your photo to look. Do you want to capture the scene before you with hundreds of flakes falling to the ground, or do you want those flakes to look like streaks through the shot?
For freezing flakes in the air, adjust the shutter speed to a faster setting, one that works for you. The speed of the snow as it falls will influence how fast or slow your shutter should be. It is all a matter of experimentation.
Quite the opposite for having the flakes streak across your frame. Slow that speed down for a blurred effect that gives it the artsy flair.
Finding a stationary subject in your frame and enabling the flash will give your snowflakes a little reference as to the depth and helps your camera focus on something. You may still want a faster speed to prevent a lot of blurring, but the flash will highlight snowflakes in the picture.
Having the light to your back during the day gives you nice light for scenes with snowflakes, but if photographing at night, a light shining ahead of you, like a streetlamp, will create a halo that adds to the storybook feeling of falling snow. It can take you back to memories you may have of the stories by Charles Dickens…very timeless.
With either choice in technique, shooting in RAW will make it easier to post process. Use of a tripod will decrease any blurring for crystal clear imagery. If photographing winter sports, adjust your exposure and set your camera on the action setting to freeze your subject. This may require more light to keep from blurring, so peek at your ISO too. Set it to the highest number you can without it becoming grainy.
Most of your success with winter photography will come with experimentation and practice. I don’t feel anyone can tell you how to capture art, that comes from inside. But I hope some of these tips will start you on the right path to beautiful, white photos!