Snow photography, tips for beginners

Confession: I don’t like the cold one little bit! However, snow appears so infrequently here in England, so when it does, getting out with my camera to practise my snow photography is too good an opportunity to miss.

Whilst a snowy scene is truly beautiful, it is not the easiest thing to photograph. It does, however, provide lots of scope to fiddle with settings on your camera and experiment. This is, after all, the only way you learn new things and become better. Fear not, I don’t get overly technical in this article. I promise, all the terminology I use is perfectly suited to beginners with a decent DSLR camera.

So, here are TEN basic tips and techniques which will help you achieve the shots you have in mind…

1. Look for contrast

The autofocus on your camera gets really confused when everything is WHITE! It needs contrast in order to focus, so look for something dark to lock on to. A tree stump, protruding out of a pristine patch of snow. An uncovered piece of bark on a white branch. A person in the middle of a field. Check if the camera is happy by pressing the shutter half-way. Does it focus? If not, you’ll have to adjust your focus point until you’re satisfied the camera has its target.

2. Expose correctly

Are you wondering, why does your camera make bright white snow look so grey? This is because, when your camera meter sees a lot of LIGHT in a scene, it automatically thinks, “Eeek! Overload” and will underexpose the snow, turning it middle grey. Make sense?

I always shoot in Manual mode, so I can tell the camera what to do, not the other way around, and so I would open up the aperture by one stop, or increase the ISO, until I was sure the colour of the snow had been represented accurately. 

If you’re shooting on Automatic, you’ll need to adjust the Exposure Compensation by +1 or +2. Play around until you’re happy with the results.

3. Shoot in RAW (if you like tinkering in Photoshop!)

Of course, if you don’t get it right in the camera and your images have come out a little dull, you can adjust the exposure during editing in Photoshop by increasing the levels and/or heightening the curves. If you’ve taken your photos in RAW, rather than a compressed JPEG file, this will give you more information to play with, so I’d suggest always doing so.

4. Try Aperture-priority mode

Select a low aperture, for example, this shot (below) was taken on F4. The focus is on the plant and everything behind it melts into a beautiful blur.   

Moreover, in this image (below) with the red berries, the white snow in the background has created a beautiful bokeh effect.

5. Look for texture and patterns

In a snowy scene, the most ordinary things take on another-worldly effect. The netting over your vegetables. The fence at the playground.

6. Try different perspectives

I will lie down on the ground in ALL weathers, including snow. Get down low and equally, get up high!

7. Expression is everything

Whilst landscapes do thrill me, I’m a portrait photographer and so I want to capture PEOPLE playing in the snow. Children find snow magical, and their laughter and wonder is a real joy to see. For my three year-old, this is the first time that snow has made an impression on her. The awe on her face as she looked up into the sky at the falling flakes was beautiful.

This last shot is the result of her trying to catch them in her mouth.

8. Get action shots

If you select shutter-priority mode, you’ll be able to increase the shutter speed to capture people in motion without blur. I was able to freeze my children sledging down the hill by switching to a fast shutter speed of 1/1000 second (a thousandth of a second)

9. Protect your camera

Needless to say, camera don’t like moisture. You wouldn’t take your prized possession out in pouring rain, so don’t assume it’s OK to take it out in falling snow. Use an umbrella!

10. Work fast!

Snow is often very short-lived so don’t procrastinate. Get out there as quick as you can! The earlier the better, before the pristine sheet of snow has been trampled and muddied. Above all, have FUN.