You’re bundled up under appropriate layers, complete with warm, waterproof boots, fingerless mittens, and disposable hand warmers for added comfort. Spare batteries are tucked under layers, close to your body, to keep them warm in an attempt to prolong their life outside. Spare lens cloths for fogged lenses and an airtight plastic bag for condensation purposes ride in your bag. Now, how does one capture the perfect shot in the snow? Here are a few tips to help you catch the untouched landscape, the serene snowfall in the city, or the epic snow fight your kids have on their highly anticipated day off from school.
Many photographers prefer a sharp, high-performance prime lens on a daily basis but, if you don’t want to be limited to just one focal length, you want to avoid the risk of condensation being trapped inside your camera body when changing your lenses outdoors. A zoom lens will give you a range of focal lengths without compromising your gear. While you’re at it, make sure a UV or clear filter is in place to protect that front element of your lens from moisture. Grab your lens hood before you head outside, to avoid lens flare, as a result of the highly reflective, freshly fallen snow. In addition, a polarizer can help minimize or remove the glare on snow- and ice-covered surfaces in frigid temperatures. A polarizing filter can also be used to darken a bright, cloudless sky, or aid in ramping up the saturation.
Protect and Serve Your Camera
Once your camera is out, keep the lens cap on when not in use to prevent snowflakes from landing, and possibly melting, on the front element of your lens. If your lens does become fogged or smudged, avoid blowing warm air onto it, to inhibit the possibility of a thin layer of ice coating it. Rely on your microfiber lens cloths and don’t be afraid to pack extras. Holding your breath when bringing your camera up to your face to take a picture could prevent fogging on your LCD screen and viewfinder, as well. If temperatures aren’t quite cold enough and the snow is more wet than it is dry, consider some rain gear. While some cameras are fairly weather resistant, even a plastic bag and a rubber band with the opening of the bag positioned around the front of the lens barrel can be a fast alternative in sudden and severe inclement weather. Rain covers specifically designed for a DSLR with an attached lens like this Ruggard Rain Cover feature drawstring closures and a completely see-through approach to operating your camera in rain or snow.
Shoot in the Raw
Shoot in raw format. Capturing the correct exposure and color temperature when your scene is overwhelmed by reflective, white snow can be tricky. Setting your recording format to raw allows you to safely adjust your settings without being limited, the way you would be otherwise, with a JPEG.
No Gray on a Sunny Day
Consider overexposing to compensate for your camera’s metering system, which is standardized for middle gray. While this standardization is generally perfect for the diverse range of scenes you encounter and photograph, a bright, snowy day is one of the few exceptions. Matrix metering, combined with shooting in aperture-priority mode, is a reliable way to overcome your camera reading the range of light in your snow scene at an average 18% gray. If you’re not as confident shooting in aperture priority, take advantage of your exposure-compensation dial. Adding one-third or two-thirds exposure compensation lets more light into your scene, preventing muddied gray exposures, and ensuring the snow stays white in your photos.
Use the Histogram
Rely on your histogram readout instead of your LCD screen for an accurate reading of the scene. Just as it can be difficult for your camera to read and measure for the scene correctly, it can be difficult for you to judge an image on a small LCD screen under a bright sun or in the middle of a highly reflective, snow-covered landscape. For more information, see the B&H Explora article, How to Read Your Camera's Histogram.
Keep Your Balance
Finding the correct white balance while photographing snow can be tricky. More often than not, snow reads on the blue side of the color spectrum. If you don’t plan on adjusting your white balance and prefer to get everything right in-camera, use the “flash” setting. It is intended to compensate for bluish flash lighting, and can warm up your snow-filled image. However, if you try to resolve all of the blue, your snow could suddenly have a yellow cast to it, which is obviously not ideal. A slight blue cast with neutral highlights results in a balanced image.
Finally, the composition of snowy scenery works best when vast white areas are brought to life by contrast and, at times, a brightly colored scarf, sled, or taxi cab. If there isn’t a bright color that you want to capture, consider shooting in black-and-white for a more pristine image. Think ahead of time about where you’re walking and make sure your footprints won’t be in the frame. If snow is falling while you’re outside photographing, and you find the snowfall distracting, set up a tripod and slow your shutter speed down to erase the falling snowflakes from your scene. On the contrary, utilize a fast shutter speed to stop the action, highlighting the snowfall over your scene. Try not to waste time, as winter lighting tends to change quickly; chances are you won’t have as much time to capture multiple images with the same light as you think you will!
Preserve Your Memories
Once you’re satisfied with your images, or the cold has gotten the best of you, pop your memory card out of your camera and zip up your camera in a zip-top bag or—for added protection, an Overboard Waterproof Dry Tube Bag before heading indoors. This way, any condensation that forms upon entering a warm interior can form on the outside of your zip-top or dry bag instead of directly on (and sometimes in) your camera body and lens.
Whether you’re uploading your images to review, edit meticulously, and integrate into your portfolio, or directly to your favorite social media account to share with your friends, hopefully your time shooting in the snow was enjoyable and yielded successful images, inspiring warm thoughts of cold weather!