Snow can be quite tricky to capture and can leave many beginner photographers asking questions. To help them out, here we will answer some of the most frequently asked questions about snow photography.
Photo by David Pritchard
Why can snow appear grey?
This is because your camera's metering system is fooled by the highly reflective tones of the white snow.
As Pete said in a previous article: "All cameras have built in metering systems that are designed to deliver a perfect picture assuming the contrast range is normal. They do this by scrambling the tones and then adjust so the scrambled colour brightness is mid-grey or average. This is fine when the subject has a wide tonal range with everything from black to white being present, but when the subject is predominantly white, such as snow, the camera underexposes so that the white becomes grey."
If you are using a compact camera it most likely has a snow scene mode and by switching to this, your once grey snow should appear white.
For those using more advanced cameras you can get around this by adjusting the exposure compensation setting to either plus 1 or two stops depending on the amount of snow in the picture.
if your camera has the exposure lock feature, which is usually set by half-pressing the shutter button, point it at a mid-tone in your scene, lock the exposure then recompose your shot.
Why can snow appear blue?
As mentioned above, the camera sees the snow as a mid-tone and underexposes the shot as a result. When your camera does this on a day when you're shooting under a blue sky, you'll end up with blue snow as the scene's being lit by sun reflecting off the sky. You can do as we mentioned above and use exposure compensation or you can try switching from auto white balance to shade. Alternatively, if you shoot in RAW you can make changes to the colour balance quite easily once you're back in front of your computer.
Why does my snow shoot look boring?
As mentioned above, stopping the exposure down a little to give a little more depth and atmosphere to the shot should stop your scene appearing as a bland, boring scene of white that doesn't have much difference in tone.
Another reason that your shot may look a little boring is that there's nothing to break the blank white scene up. Walls, trees, rocks or even people can be used to add a bit of contrast to the scene.
Why has my lens steamed up?
Moving from indoors to the cold outdoors can result in fogged-up lenses. As a result you need to let your camera acclimatise before taking photos. Try to avoid wiping the condensation off with a cloth as this can lead to smudges which can be visible in your shots.
How can I stop the sky looking boring and grey?
This is a common problem when trying to take snowy photos, as most of the time when it's snowing, the sky will be very overcast and cloudy. To get around this, why not wait until it stops snowing and the sky clears a little. A blue sky will improve your snowy scene, just remember what we said about checking your white balance.
If you do want to shoot while the snow is falling, make sure you turn your flash off because the flash will reflect off the nearby flakes making the picture full of large blurry blobs that distract, plus your image will be dark. A better way to capture snow falling is to put your camera on a tripod and use slower shutter speeds. Take a look at these examples that show a snow shot taken with flash and one without:
What equipment might I need to improve my shots?
Tripod – As mentioned above, this will be great for if you want to capture slow shutter speed shots to really capture the snowflakes falling and create a sense of heavy snow. You may need your camera's inbuilt spirit level if it has one, to make sure your tripod is straight in the snow.
Filters – Graduated grey filters are ideal for darkening light skies to create moody shots.
Rain Sleeve – If you're planning to stay out in falling snow for a long time with your camera out, then you should consider keeping it dry, as after a while snow will start to melt on your camera. The rain sleeve will keep your camera safe while still allowing you to access all your camera settings. If you have a smaller camera and want extra protection against the elements, then you could improvise and use a freezer bag with a hole cut out for the lens. Although this isn't as waterproof!
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