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Five Tips for Taking Better Snow Photos

Snow can be fun to shoot, but it requires some technique to produce really striking winter photographs.

Snow can be fun to shoot, but it requires some technique to produce really striking winter photographs.

Here are a few tips, in case you’re headed out this weekend:

1) ADJUST THE CAMERA WHITE BALANCE

Camera’s tend to misjudge the color temperature of snow shots and produce blue photos (see the blue snow in the top picture below).

To correct for this, set your camera’s color temperature, typically called the “white balance,” to a warmer – redder – color. You can also shoot early or late in the day when the light is reddish. The goal, typically, is to make objects that look white in real life also look white in your photos.

In the bottom photo below, the color temperature setting is correct so the snow appears white.

Blue snow Photo: Richard Sunderland

White snow Photo: Dion Crannitch

2) LET THE SUN SHINE IN

Cameras tend to react to brilliant, snowy scenes by overly limiting how much light hits the image-capturing sensor. Dark photos result, in which whites appear as grays. Experiment with letting more light into the camera, either by overriding with “exposure compensation” setting or adjusting the aperture size or shutter speed. Some cameras have a “snow scene” setting that may help.

Snow light

Another option, if your camera offers it and you are using automatic exposure settings, is to switch your metering to center or spot metering. This tells the camera to adjust the exposure (how bright or dark the photo is) according to the light reflecting off the subject (or focus area you determine) instead of the whole frame of the shot.

3) LIGHT YOUR SUBJECT

Bright snow can cause people’s faces or other objects to appear dark in photos, as in this photo:

Snow light

You could use a fill flash, where you force the camera to flash, even though it doesn't think it needs to. The downside is that on-camera fill flashes tend to make people look flat, as they wash out facial shadows. A better alternative is typically to shift shooting direction and have subjects face the sun at an angle to brighten their faces and highlight objects

If you feel like getting fancy, use an off-camera flash to light people from an angle, thus bringing out the contours of the face. For tutorials on basic off-camera flash techniques, visit the website Strobist.

PLAY WITH CONTRAST AND PATTERN

Snow opens up all kinds of possibilities for dark objects or brightly colored objects against white backdrops. Look for pleasingly stark patterns of dark against light and vice versa.

Notice the yin-and-yang of the darks and whites in this mountaineering photo.

Snow contrast

BRING EXTRA BATTERIES

Yes, batteries get cold, too. When it’s cold out, they will drain faster and die on you just as your friend pulls the powder turn of a lifetime. “Did you get it?!”