For some of you, photographing in the snow probably comes as second nature because you are used to being around the white stuff in the winter. I am from Georgia, and we only get more than a couple of inches of snow once (maybe twice) a year. Entire towns will shut down over two inches of snow, and there will be no food on the shelves at grocery stores because everyone PANICS as though there is an impending nuclear winter! I welcome the snow, though, because I think it is beautiful, and provides some really great opportunities for photos.
So, if you are not used to photographing in the snow, or if you have just recently purchased a DSLR and you live in a place where you’ll see a lot of snow this winter, here are a few absolute basic tips for how to make the most of photographing in the snow.
1. White Balance
By far, white balance is the trickiest part of photographing snow, at least for me. Using the automatic white balance and metering on your camera will tend to make the snow turn a gray color, as opposed to bright white. Try setting your camera’s white balance to the Cloudy/Shade setting, as this will whiten the snow and help you avoid it turning gray. Alternatively, if there is anything gray in your frame (a rock, shingles on a house, a tree trunk) you can leave your camera in automatic white balance, and meter off of the gray objects by pointing your camera at the gray areas, and pressing the shutter button halfway down. That way, your camera will create a white balance based on the gray, rather than the snow.
2. Shutter Speed
One of the great things about snow is the bright light it creates, allowing you to use a faster shutter speed, resulting in sharper images. Using a fast shutter speed allows you to capture moving action, like a snowball fight, and will also capture falling snow, without it being blurry.
On the flip side, you can use a slower shutter speed to blur the movement of the snow. This can create a really interesting “streaking” effect in your photos.
3. Polarizing Filters
Now would be a great opportunity to try a polarizing filter, as the filter will increase the contrast in your highlights and shadows, as well as deepen the blues in the sky if you are shooting on a sunny day. Snow scenes can tend to “flatten out” the tones in your final image, depending on the light, so having a polarizing filter will bump up the contrast in your image.
Snow scenes provide the perfect excuse (as if we needed one) to experiment and get wild with your post-processing. The possibilities are endless – high contrast black and white, high contrast color, vintage-inspired processing, cross-processing, sepia, cool tone, you name it, so don’t be afraid to shake it up and try something new!
5. The Gear Situation
One of the most frustrating things for me when I’m shooting in the snow is trying to operate my camera while wearing gloves. I definitely recommend getting a pair of gloves that will allow you to fold the fabric down to expose your fingertips, as this will allow you to operate your camera more freely.
Also, be really careful when moving your camera from outdoors to indoors, as cameras do not like drastic temperature changes. If you move your camera from outdoors where it’s really cold, to inside a warm building, this can cause condensation inside your camera, which can damage the wiring, and also cause mold to form over time. So, try leaving your camera in a car, or some place that is between outdoors and indoors for a bit before bringing it inside.