Six tips for taking superb snow photos
By Dan Landau
It’s winter and with winter comes snow. Snow-covered landscapes are extremely beautiful, but it can be tricky replicating with our cameras what our eyes see. Follow these tips and take your snow photos to the next level:
Above: A great time to photograph snow is in the morning before the sun comes out and makes the snow fall off the trees. (All photos by Dan Landau)
Time of day
There are two optimal times each day for photographing snow. The first is in the morning, before the snow is trampled, and the second is in the late afternoon, when the sun is low in the sky.
In the morning (think, before 10 a.m.), the sun will typically be shining, but will not have warmed up enough to melt the snow still on the tree branches. Also, the snow will be perfectly smooth and beautiful. In the late afternoon (after 3 or 4 p.m.), the sun will be low in the sky and will highlight the snow’s gentle contours and textures.
Noon is the least optimal time because the sun is at its apex and the light it creates at that time is very bright and will likely result in photos where the snow is completely washed out.
Above: Snow is white and it should look white in photos. Often though, snow pictures come out gray because the camera sensor gets confused by the snow's brightness. To avoid this, try to over expose the photo slightly, either in the camera or in Photoshop afterwards.
Setting up your camera
If your camera has a snow or beach mode, use that and you’re all set. These modes are designed to capture bright, sun-drenched scenes and will keep the snow in the photo from turning out gray. If you don’t have either of these camera modes, you will need to find a way to slightly over-expose your photo. You can accomplish this through experimenting with the shutter speed in the manual or shutter-priority modes (usually called “M” and “S,” respectively).
Above: The warm glow of the Orangerie's windows balance the stark whiteness of the snow. Look for ways to add color to your snow photos.
Add some color
A snow-covered landscape is beautiful, but to add some interested to your monochromatic scene, add a splash of color to the photo. Try to shoot something with color, such as a window glowing with warm yellow light, or if photographing a person, have your subject wear a colorful scarf.
Above: Shooting into the sun results in lens flares like this one. Avoid this by shooting with the sun behind you or to the side.
Take care not to shoot into the sun. If you do, the sun can reflect off of the snow in front of you, resulting in a very bright spot in your photo. Just as bad, are lens flares. Instead directly in front of you, it is much better to have the sun to the side.
Electronics and cold weather are not always on friendly terms. Cold temperatures drain batteries quickly, so make sure bring back ups and keep them in your pocket for warmth.
Above: A wintry scene turns almost magical when snow is falling. To capture the snow falling, be sure to turn off your flash, as it will reflect on the falling snowflakes and severely overexpose them, leaving your photo covered with distracting white dots.
When the snow is falling
To photograph snow while it is falling, try not to use your camera’s flash. The flash will overexpose the flakes falling within a few feet of your camera, making blindingly bright specks all over the photo. Instead, if you need more light, try using your camera’s night or low light modes (or try making adjustments to the shutter speed or aperture using the manual, shutter-priority, or aperture-priority modes).
After you’ve taken your photos, don’t forget to enjoy the snow yourself and have a snowball fight or make a snowman!
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