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Useful Photography Tip #4: Tips For Photographing in the Snow

by Sander-Martijn on 11/05/2011

Our first snowfall - in October!

Our first snowfall - in October!

Given the unseasonal snowfall that hit the East Coast on October 29th and the seemingly pending Snowpocolypse Part II everywhere I thought this would be a good time to go over some of the ways to take better photos when it’s snowing out.

Don’t Trust Your Meter

While it’s snowing chances are your camera will underexpose your images. As smart as it is, it’s just not expecting to have that much white in the scene, so it’s going to assume it’s actually a lot of grey. If you trust your meter your photos will come out looking muddy and grey. If they’re shot in raw they’ll probably be close enough to fix later, but I tend to check my histograms to decide how much to overexpose – if your scene has a lot of snow in it and you’re not seeing a peak pretty close to the right side of your histogram, your image is going to be underexposed.

On a sunny day with a lot of snow where your camera is metering for a person like your kid building a snowman or your friend’s first day on skis you may find the opposite, where the snow is blown out and you have to underexpose to compensate instead. In any case, scenes with a lot of snow are one of the most difficult for your camera so help it out.

Use a Lens Hood

Even if it’s overcast light is bouncing off anything with snow on it and coming from many different angles it doesn’t usually do. Using a hood will reduce the chances of unwanted lens flare. If it’s currently snowing and you’re not under any other protection, it will also help avoid snowflakes from falling on the lens. You’ll still want to keep a lens cloth handy for when it happens anyway and keep your lens cap on a lot more than you usually would.

Use a Polarizing or other Filter

The other day I talked about one of the most common uses of a polarizing filter to reduce glare from indirect reflection. I briefly mentioned that there are other uses for it, and during falling snow is one of them. Used properly it can help reduce some of the hazy look that a snowstorm can have, and add depth and color to your shot. The tough part is that it’s a lot harder to tell what effect the filter is having than it is when using it to avoid glare, so I will sometimes take several shots at different rotations so I can decide later which one works best. There are other filters that can help with this as well, but I advocate the polarizing filter because it’s such an inexpensive and flexible one with so many different applications.

Play with the speed

If you’re shooting with a tripod, try different speeds to see what effect it has on the snow. Every type of snow comes down at a different speed, so there’s no real rule of thumb for this, but different speeds can change the look of your photo, the depth it has and how much motion it shows.

Wear Thin Gloves

If your hands get cold you won’t be able to operate your camera, but it’s hard to operate your camera with most gloves and mittens and can miss the shot while trying to get them off. I compromise with a pair of very thin gloves that I can still use my camera with. My favorites for this are driving gloves, but I’ve also used fitting work gloves and fingerless mitten/glove combinations for really cold days.

So there you have five quick tips on taking better photos in the snow, so the next time we get a record breaking storm instead of griping about it, bundle up, grab your camera and go out and create some beauty. Also be sure to check out more of our snow tips.

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