How To Get Amazing Photos on Snowy Days

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If you’re willing to brave the cold to step outside this winter, camera in tow, you’ll want to be prepared with some photography tips for snowy days. 

There’s nothing worse than getting back from a freezing outing only to find that none of your shots turned out the way you wanted.

Just as the landscape looks completely different when blanketed by a white layer of snow, your photo techniques will have to be different to account for this unique environment. Keep these tips in mind before you head out!

1. For starters, gear up with the following: 

  • Spare batteries (the cold makes them run low faster),
  • A thin pair of gloves that won’t impede your button-pushing
  • A soft cloth to wipe any moisture from your lens cap or lens
  • A polarizing filter: This isn’t essential, but it can make things a whole lot easier by cutting back on the glare from the reflection of the sun off the snow, as well as the bright white sky that often comes with winter days.

Using a polarizing filter helps tone down the light from the sky and the bright snow for a more pleasing image. (Image: Minna Kinnunen)

 

2. Avoid dark photos by overexposing. 

Your camera, bless its heart, is going to get confused outside. The auto settings will pick up on the bright snow and expose for that, meaning everything else in the picture that isn’t white will come out darker than it should.

To avoid this, you’ve got to overexpose. Try opening your aperture by a stop or slow down your shutter speed.

 

Slow down your shutter speed when it’s snowing to capture the path of the snowflakes as they fall. (Image: Josh Miller)

3. Take advantage of timing. 

You’ve got your exposure set. Now you’ve got to get in at the right time.

There’s something about the hours following a snowfall that makes them magical. There’s an indescribable sense of stillness; everything’s blanketed by a whiteness yet to be touched, and the powder clinging to bare tree branches transforms them from skeleton bones into elegant white arms. That’s the time to pick up your camera and head outside.

Shooting while the snow is still coming down can produce some beautiful effects as well. Try slowing down your shutter speed to about 1/40 to cause the snowflakes to show up as streaks through the image.

 

Image: AJMC Photography

4. Keep an eye on the height of the sun. 

There’s another element to the timing of winter photos — the height of the sun.

In the winter, the sun sits lower in the sky, causing objects to cast longer shadows. If you’re looking to avoid that effect, try shooting closer to noon when the sun will be highest. If you’d rather take advantage of the eeriness of the long shadows, aim for early in the morning or later in the afternoon.

Those are also the times when the temperature will be lower. Cold air is clearer and often contains ice crystals. These diffract the light to produce some truly spectacular colors.

 

Image: Floyd K. Hopper

Image: Floyd K. Hopper

5. Search for the color. 

The snow provides a perfect white backdrop, which means you can get some killer shots by looking for the color. Whether it’s a bright red coat on a friend or a few berries that managed to survive the cold, a pop of color will really stand out. Don’t add too much — just enough to draw the viewer’s eye to the subject.

 

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Image: On To Baby

6. Take portrait shots. 

Take advantage of the soft light to shoot portraits too! On an overcast day when there’s snow on the ground, you’ll have not only flattering light, but also enough reflection off of the snow to light up your subject’s face. Kids’ eyes tend to be more sensitive to light, so if you find there’s a lot of squinting going on, pull out a pair of ski goggles for some silly-looking shots.

Got any tips for how you brave the snow for some amazing photos? Share them with us in our comments below!

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Leah is a freelance writer, photo junkie, and avid traveler. When she's not chipping away at a story, you can find her exploring the outdoors or planning her next adventure. Read about them on her blog, Relentless Adventure.

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