Up Your Exposure
Snow is fundamentally difficult to photograph accurately. I see snow and know that it is white; you see snow and know that it is white; but your camera sees snow and does not know that snow is white. Your camera and its sensor see snow and know that it is brighter than the 'expected' exposure. It responds (assuming you are shooting in any mode other than manual) by taking a photograph that darkens the snow to match the average exposure of an image. (Confused about exposure? Take a moment to catch up here by reading All about Exposure and More about Exposure: how to fix common exposure problems.)
|Here the snow looks much darker than it did.|
Follow the Snow
Memorable snow photographs require patience and timing. While you can photograph snow lying on the ground on nearly any given day, you can only photograph pristine white snow just as or just after it has finished falling. The glorious snow that sticks to trees and transforms everything into a winter wonderland does not last long after the sun and the wind catch up with it.
If you are going to be outdoors photographing falling snow, you want to take some basic precautions to keep your camera safe and dry. The simplest method is to use a gallon plastic bag and cut out one corner of the bag. Stick your lens through this cut out and use your lens hood to secure the bag around the camera and lens.
|Simple gallon bag as snow protection for your camera.|
Follow the Light
As with any subject, the intensity and direction of the light can have a big impact on your snow photographs. Backlight will bring shine and sparkle to newer snow, while early morning or late afternoon sun will bring long, dramatic shadows and possible silhouettes. Consider the 'look' you want in your snow photographs and choose a time of day that will match that intention.
|Four-shot panorama of sunrise over the skating rink.|
The sky can be a critical component of winter snow photographs. There is a huge difference in feeling and emotion between a bright, blue sky and an overcast, white one. For one, it is much easier to get correct exposures when shooting snow against a bright blue sky. An overcast sky also means that you will need wider apertures or longer shutter speeds to compensate for the reduced available light.
|Bottom image available for purchase.|
Take these few simple steps to dramatically improve your snow photographs. Start by nailing the exposure: use exposure compensation to deliberately overexposure your image slightly (positive values) to get the pure, white snow that you saw with your eyes. Get out there and capture the snow while it is still falling or soon after it has stopped, in order to capture pure, pristine snow fields and heavily laden trees. Think about the light and the time of day in order to get the shot you want, and remember the sky and use it to your advantage.
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