We’ve all seen those idyllic winter landscapes, white snow that’s up to the knees, blanketing forests and city streets alike. Some of us might even be experiencing some of that snowy weather right now.
But snow photography means an extra challenge for your camera, and your photography skills. Winter landscape photography is not just landscape photography with some snow.
Let’s have a look at 15 snow photography tips to take advantage of the winter weather for some great images.
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15. Don’t Let the Weather Stop You
When the adverse weather hits, most people run inside. The only reason you should run inside, is to get your camera. And maybe a coat or umbrella. This is your time to shine.
Snow is easier and much nicer to photograph in than rain. You’ll need less protection while capturing snow photography. This helps keep your motivation high.
As more people run inside, less people are outside photographing. But how else are you going to get those atmospheric shots of people dealing with the weather? You can’t do it from inside your home.
Look for people huddled up under awnings or bus stops – anything with a cover really. Or people struggling down the streets holding umbrellas.
Adding a human element to your images will help you tell a story. We can’t tell how cold it is by looking at a photograph, but we can when we see someone hiding inside their coat.
14. Photograph in the Mornings to Capture Snowy Details
With snow photography, you need to be fast. Get up early and get outside. Actually, the earlier the better, as it’s much colder in the mornings rather than midday.
You’ll notice that big yellow ball in the sky throws light all over our blue planet. While it does this, the light heats up everything that it touches. As soon as the light hits the snow, it will start to melt.
The bigger areas of snow will be less affected than smaller areas. This is because of a collective temperature. It will take longer to melt the snow blanket on the ground.
The smaller details, such as icicles and snowflakes, will disappear fast. Aim for the smaller details first, and the bigger ones later.
13. Dress in Layers to Stay Warm
It goes without saying – if you are out in the cold, you need to dress up warm. This means jumper, coat, hat and gloves. Perhaps, depending on the location and situation, you’ll need long sleeves and another jumper.
Staying warm means staying comfortable. That will mean staying out there in the elements for longer than a few minutes and taking more photos.
No matter how you feel now, you’ll quickly become miserable if you are cold. You won’t be able to focus if your brain is screaming ‘get warm!’. Plus, your fingers will be useless.
Don’t overdress though, as it is better to feel a chill while standing still rather than overheat while walking. Take sunglasses so you don’t feel the snow blindness.
For gloves that allow you to work with cameras and phones, get the Aquatech Sensory Gloves.
12. Capture Snow Photography Bokeh
Bokeh is the latest trend for creating interesting images. It is easy to capture, and will really help your snow photography reach a different level.
To create a bokeh mood, you need a lens with a really wide aperture. We are talking about anything between f/1.2 and f/2.8.
To bokeh the snow, focus on something other than the falling snowflakes. This will depend on where your subject is. If your subject is in the foreground, the bokeh will take place in the background.
For more interest, think about adding in a flash. This will help to pick out the snow. Otherwise, a fast shutter speed will freeze the movement of the snowflakes.
11. Focus on the Contrast
For snow photography, you’ll find it difficult to focus. This is down to the weather conditions of winter. The cold temperature can create a mist or fog, especially in the early morning or late night.
This is something that will soften the lines you would usually focus on. Also, trying to capture scenes where the colour white is predominant will make it difficult to focus.
Make sure you use the combination of live view mode and manual focus. Take a few shots, and double check the image before you move.
Zoom into the preview to check for focusing issues.
10. Use a Lens Hood
A lens hood is probably something you don’t use often, if at all. You may think you don’t have any, but, if you check the box your lens came in, you may have left it behind.
The lens hood will work in two different ways. The first is the most important and the most obvious. It comes down to stopping lens flares from hitting your lens, and therefore, your sensor.
With snow photography, the chance for lens flares is higher. This is because the snow is very reflective due to its white colour.
Secondly, a lens hood helps the lens fight against the cold. The problem with winter photography is the cold; it affects your camera like it would any object you bring from a warm place to a cold place.
This quick change in temperature creates condensation. It is the same principle you see at home, with the warm air turning to water on your cold windows.
Now, the change in temperature will cause fogging on your lens. This will decrease as your camera and lens gets acclimatised to the new temperature.
The lens hood helps to cut this down by acting as a barrier between the front element of the lens and the cold.
9. Try a Polarising Filter to Limit Snow Reflection
A polarising filter sits at the front of your camera lens. It has a few uses, such as suppressing glare from reflective surfaces.
It also helps to darken skies, and this is the reason why it might be helpful for snow photography.
If you are using a circular polarising filter, you can control how strongly the polarising affects your images. You have more control over the light balance over the sky and highlighted areas of the shot.
This is a great thing to have in areas with large amounts of snow. As we discussed before, white objects reflect more light. The polarising helps to bring back the detail in well lit areas.
8. Stock Up on Microfiber Cloths
Microfiber cloths are a godsend for photographers. They are great at cleaning the glass on your lens. Not only cleaning, but also wiping off a little moisture from your lens.
Breathing on your lens can turn the moisture into a thin sheet of ice. So use a cloth.
If you are looking to buy a microfiber cloth, get the Nikon Microfiber Cleaning Cloth. It comes with a handy pouch to ensure it stays clean.
7. Keep the Camera Acclimatised
Going from a warm area (house, office) to a cold outside area could affect your camera equipment. Your battery may struggle, your camera may not work as fast and your camera lens could mist up.
The reason for your lens misting up is down to condensation. It happens when warm air hits a cold object, resulting in moisture.
To solve this, you need to acclimatise your camera, lenses and batteries.
When it comes to the time your camera and lenses need to acclimatise, you need to make it as slow as possible. Moving it from warm to cold quickly ill create a fog that lasts longer.
Also, don’t hide it under your coat or clothing. The extra warmth from your body will just make the fog last longer. Using a zip-lock bag can really help. You can try a simple plastic bag too.
Before you leave the cold, place the camera in a zip-lock bag and close it. Take it inside, and leave it for a while. The condensation will stay on the outside of the bag, where the warm hits the cold.
Your batteries won’t last long in the cold either. Charge two, and keep one in an inside pocket. When the one in your camera runs low, replace it with the warm one.
Put the drained one in your pocket. You might find you are able to use it again once it warms up.
6. Buy a Rain Cover
I know, I know. We’re talking about snow photography. But winter weather is weird. Sometimes you’ll get rain mid-December.
Having a rain cover is a great way to protect your camera if there’s any sleet or rain.
We recommend the Altura Photo Professional Rain Cover.
5. Post-Process to Bring Out Details in the Sky
We assume that you already shoot in RAW format. If you don’t, start doing so. It is especially important when it comes to winter or snow photography.
These images tend to have more light and highlighted areas. This is due to the snow reflecting more light towards your sensor. To regain those details in the sky and snow covered areas, you may need to edit the images.
With RAW, you can pull out more detail from those areas. With jpeg images, you may only keep less than one stop of detail, if any. With RAW, you may find you can retrieve up to three stops.
RAW format images hold 5x more information from the scene you are photographing. This can be seen in the image size, which is also 5x bigger. Make sure you have a memory card that can hold many large images.
For these files, we recommend the Lexar Professional CompactFlash card.
4. Use Aperture Priority to Quickly Change DoF
When it comes to capturing the image, go for aperture priority (AV on Canon, A on Nikon) mode. This is because it allows you to quickly change your depth of field.
By concentrating on your aperture setting, the camera will automatically change your shutter speed. It will also set your ISO, as long as it is set to Auto ISO.
This is best for cold weather where you only want to focus on the minimal changes. Let changes mean fewer fingers out in the cold.
3. Rely on Your Histogram to Check the White Balance
Your camera has an on-board histogram. You can access it by pressing the ‘info’ button on the back of the camera. You should rely on this, rather than your own eyes.
The LCD screen has inaccuracies in showing you the true value of an image. Plus, it is a tiny screen, meaning you can’t see as much as if you were at home with your laptop.
You don’t want to get home, and realise the whites are overexposed due to a LCD screen brightness problem. By using the histogram, you can see the dynamic range of tones, from the shadows through to the highlights.
2. Use Flash Setting Instead of Daylight to Warm Up the Image
White balance is very important when it comes to winter photography. When photographing snow, the light will read towards the blueish side of the colour spectrum.
If you prefer to get the white balance correct in camera, try the flash setting rather than daylight. The flash setting is intended to warm up these blue/colder tones.
Don’t overdo it when post-processing. It is much better for the snow to hold a slight blue tone rather than something too warm.
1. Exposure Compensation
For snow photography, your camera will struggle to get the light correct. It will try to capture the white areas as a grey, so it can work in keeping detail.
By setting your exposure compensation to +1 or +2, it will help the snow stay white. This may overexpose your light and highlight areas, but this can then be removed when editing.
Make sure you capture using the RAW format, to ensure you can still pull out the detail of the lit areas.
And there you have it. Fifteen tips for better snow photography. Now get out there and enjoy the cold weather!
Don’t forget to share your images with us in the comments.