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Taking Black & White Shots Of Snow Scenes

John Gravett explains how shooting snow scenes in black & white can add so much more to an image.

|  Landscape and Travel
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Article by John Gravett of Lakeland Photographic Holidays - www.lakelandphotohols.com

(Updated Dec 2012)

Snow may easily conjure up the thought of black & white images, but when you think of a snowy day, so often your thoughts are of clear blue skies. Often the slight colour in the snow – picking up the tints of blueish shadows, add to the feeling of cold, and add an extra dimension to the picture. So to take away the subtle tones by reducing these pictures to monochrome will take away more than it will add to the image.

Langstrath Valley in snow

However, where strong tones in the sky take away from the simplicity of the picture, and especially when the snowy scene is surmounted by a pale, snow-laden sky, the black and white medium can add so much to the image.


  • Lenses from wide-angle to telephoto
  • A tripod can help with composition and if light levels fall, but snow can kick back a lot of light, so shutter speeds will often be high. (I always use a tripod.)


When shooting snow with a view to converting to black and white, keep an eye out for strong shapes; winter trees are stark and graphic, with their skeletal, leaf-free shapes offering a fantastic design within the landscape. Misty backgrounds can help to separate foreground from backgrounds too.

Snow landscape with two trees
Derwent snow

In farming areas, keep an eye open for livestock, the animals surviving in the harsh conditions always makes for a strong picture.

Sheep in snow, Langstrath

Fresh snow, lying across fields can show great simplicity and textures, again helped by converting to black & white, as can shadows. Be careful to compose the image carefully though, as a total covering of snow will simplify the landscape to such an extent that foreground detail can be covered and a feeling of depth in the image can be easily lost – try to find something to lead the eye into the picture, whether it is a fence, or even a few foreground grasses sticking out of the snow to provide foreground textures.

Grasses in snow

Last winter I ventured out on a particularly blizzardy day – the snow was falling horizontally, it was cold, and wet – so the type of snow that stuck to everything. I drove up a narrow road, with fences and trees either side, photographing with the snow falling from behind me, the snow was sticking to the fence posts and the trees, leaving a very simple outline of each element in the scene – the resulting pictures have almost a pen-and-ink simplicity to them. Although they work to some extent in colour, converting the photos from that day work so much better in black & white. What appears to be haze in the background is in fact the intensity of the snow, reducing visibility to just a few metres. Remember though, days like this can be bitterly cold, so dress properly for the conditions, and don't spend too long out – I limited this day to around three hours.

Watendlath road

When converting colour images to black and white – look at each of the red, green and blue colour channels to see which gives the best effect – often, if you have a broad landscape with a blue sky, the red channel will darken the sky and give the picture real impact, it will also have the benefit of cutting any distant haze in the picture. A look at many of Ansel Adams winter landscapes will show strong use of a red filter (which is, after all, the same thing).

The Lakes

So wrap up, and treat yourself to a few hours in the cold to capture some great snowy landscapes.

Article by John Gravett of Lakeland Photographic Holidays - www.lakelandphotohols.com

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Dlees78 16 26 United Kingdom
8 Dec 2011 1:19PM
Beautiful pictures. I love snowscapes, unfortunately I'm stuck in a weird part of Scotland that rarely gets snow even when it's inches deep just twenty miles or so away!
ianrobinson 12 1.2k 8 United Kingdom
1 Jan 2012 3:32PM
Get your self out there, you can only hope to achieve a great photo if you go and get it.

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