Photography and Snow

Photography and Snow

Welcome to the west Michigan fall / winter where Lake Michigan can drop several inches of snow on us before the leaves on the trees finish changing color. And with snow and photography comes aggravation. Snow is something that freaks cameras out. Here you have this bright white stuff covering the majority of the frame and a camera that tries to expose for that, what you get is snow that’s a bit dark and dull.

Typically snow is 2 stops brighter then the 18% grey that the camera exposes for, for that reason, your handy dandy EV compensation button comes in nice and handy. If photographing landscapes with majority of snow, set the EV to +2. This will render snow, white, and keep your other subjects (non-snow) from being overpowered by the snow.

*This section is based on how to do this for my Nikon D70, please comment, if you know, how to do this with your brand of camera*

One really nice thing about snow, is that it makes it incredibly easy to set your white balance. Whichever camera you have, take it OFF of auto white balance and set it to “Preset”, then hold down the WB button until the PRE flashes on the LCD. At this point, take a photo of the white snow and look on your top LCD and make sure it’s flashing -GOOD-. This will set the white balance to the color of the snow, which should be white.

Also, remember, bracketing your shots is your friend in strange lighting conditions. Here are some other tips, courtesy of

A Few Tips:
1) There seem to be too many gray skies during the winter. Use a graduated filter to color the sky while leaving the foreground natural.
2) When photographing wildlife in snow, the best way to reduce contrast is to use a fill flash.
3) Get prepared the night before and have everything at your fingertips. You become slower in cold weather and it is much harder to do the simplest movement with layers of clothing and gloves.
4) The sunlight during the early morning and late afternoon offers unique photography opportunities due to the reflections and colors. Get an early start and you will be rewarded.
5) Look for the contrasting lines and objects that appear when the snow does not completely cover the landscape. Place yourself in multiple positions to find the most dynamic photograph. Don’t forget to add some color to the photograph as it will create a dramatic effect with the white snow.
6) Night photography can be accomplished from the light of the moon. The landscape lights up under the light of the moon and the reflection of the snow.
7) To reduce some sky in the photograph, position yourself at a higher location and look down.
8) Look for the birds. If it is snowing, use a slow shutter speed for the snow to add an interesting effect. Keep in mind, though, that it is a hard combination of wildlife and a slow shutter speed.

How To Take A Good Shot With Snow In It:
The snow reflection goes from forty to fifty percent with dirty snow, up to eighty to ninety percent with fresh fallen snow and even higher reflection with wet, fresh fallen snow.
1) If the freshly fallen snow is pure white, meter the pure white area only with spot-metering. There will not be any detail in the snow. Open up 2 stops.
2) If the snow is side lit and you see a lot of detail in the snow, then the snow is not pure white. Pure white has no detail. Textured snow is 1 1/3 to 1 1/2 stops lighter. If you open up to 2 stops, your photograph will be too light.
3) If the day is sunny and the snow is in shadows, it can vary up to 1 stop.
4) If the day is overcast, meter the snow and open up 2 1/2 stops.


1 comment so far

  1. Suresh Gundappa on

    Very good article and very useful too. Thanks for sharing

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