Learn how photographing snow works. We provide you with all camera settings which you need as a landscape photographer.
Capturing photos in snowy conditions can be an exciting and rewarding experience. However, it also presents some unique challenges that can make the process a bit tricky. The brightness of the snow, coupled with the frigid weather, can make it difficult for a camera to function optimally. Additionally, winter hazards such as ice and cold can pose challenges for a photographer.
In this article, you’ll learn how to take stunning photos of snowy landscapes, the camera settings you’ll need, and some ideas for snow photography. You’ll also find recommendations for camera gear and accessories to help you capture the best possible shots in snowy conditions. Let’s dive in!
In photography, light plays a crucial role. The direction and color of the light changes throughout the day. During the blue hour, which occurs in the early morning and late evenings when the sun is just below the horizon, the light is blue and cold in tone. On the other hand, during the golden hour, just after the sun rises and before it sets, the light is yellow and warm in tone.
These times of day are generally great for photography, but they are especially ideal for capturing snowy landscapes. Snow is highly reflective, and it enhances and reflects light well. So, the warm tones of a sunset or the cool tones of a pre-dawn sky can create a beautiful effect when photographed in a snowy scene.
It’s important to note that when planning your snowy photography shoots, you’ll likely be shooting during the winter season, which means shorter days and less time for daytime photography.
However, one advantage of this is that sunrise and sunset are closer together, allowing you to capture the golden and blue hours without waking up too early or staying up too late. In some destinations, like the arctic circle, the few hours of daylight during winter may be all golden, creating exceptional opportunities for photography.
When photographing in the snow, it is common to encounter difficulties with getting the camera to focus correctly. This is because cameras typically need contrasting elements in the scene to focus on, which can be difficult to find in a large area of white snow. This problem can also occur when attempting to photograph an open blue sky.
To solve this issue, you should try to find objects in the scene that have enough contrast for the camera to focus on, such as trees, buildings, animals, or people. If the camera is still struggling to focus, you can try changing the focus mode to single point or using manual focus if your camera supports it. It is important to note that not all cameras and lenses have manual focus capabilities.
If you own a DSLR or mirrorless camera with interchangeable lenses, it’s recommended that you consider using a lens hood, also known as a sun hood. This accessory is a circular piece of plastic that attaches to the end of your lens, extending it. The primary reason to use a lens hood is to prevent unwanted glare from entering your lens from the sides, which can cause flares and other image quality issues.
In snow photography, where there is often a lot of glare due to the brightness of the snow, a lens hood can reduce this, resulting in higher contrast and cleaner images. Even when it’s not sunny, a lens hood can offer benefits for snow photography, as it can prevent snowflakes from landing directly on your lens. Some lenses come with a lens hood, but if yours doesn’t, they are generally inexpensive to purchase from the manufacturer or third-party suppliers.
It’s important to ensure that you purchase a lens hood that is specifically designed for your lens, as lenses have different diameters and the lens hood must match.
Capturing photos in RAW format was once only possible with high-end digital SLR cameras. However, nowadays, many devices, including high-end smartphones from Samsung and Apple, and compact cameras, can shoot in RAW format.
RAW files are unprocessed images that preserve all the image data without sacrificing quality for file size. Although RAW files are larger in size and require editing, they offer more control over the final image’s appearance.
For snow photography, it is recommended to shoot in RAW format if your device supports it. For more information on what RAW format is, click here.
A beautiful snowy landscape is every landscape photographer’s dream! But you need to be careful with your camera settings in snowy conditions to ensure that you take home correctly exposed RAW files. Read here what you have to pay attention to in order to be able to photograph snow.
If you want to know more, read on in the article.
Snow has the distinction of reflecting significantly more sunlight than pretty much any other surface you can find in nature as a photographer. Usually, in landscape photography, pretty much all foreground objects are always darker than the sky and the light coming from it. However, this is not the case with snow. Snow is brighter than the blue of the sky because it reflects more sunlight. It is therefore possible that the sky is no longer the brightest area in the photo, but the foreground.
Landscape photographers tend to always shoot with a graduated grey filter, as this is also correct in most lighting situations: Namely, when the sky is brighter than the foreground. With the camera settings for the snow, you often have to leave out the filter, because otherwise you even intensify the problem with it! The sky, which is already darker than the snow, is darkened further and the snow tends to be overexposed.
You can also no longer rely on the camera’s exposure metering. For this reason, it is best to use the histogram and the manual mode. Set your aperture to give you the depth of field you need for your composition. Use your ISO sensitivity at the lowest setting when you are on a tripod and your subject is not moving, which tends to be the case in frozen snow landscapes.
With the exposure time you now influence your histogram. No overexposed area should be visible in the histogram. An area is always overexposed when a peak hits the right side of the histogram. If this is the case, reduce your exposure time until the peak no longer touches the right edge of the histogram.
If the photo is too dark and you still have a lot of space to the right, then set a longer exposure time until the histogram almost touches the right edge. This way you will always find the right camera settings for photographing snow.
In the transitional seasons, you will often find individual patches of snow in the landscape. These can quickly and unnoticeably overexpose in the photo and leave you with an unnecessary area of white pixels. Therefore, try to check your image composition carefully to find possible overexposed pixels there. In the example shown, the snow area is completely overexposed without you noticing, but you can also photograph snow unintentionally.
If the snow cover on your subject is too thick, your tripod will not stand properly in the snow. For this reason, you should get special feet for the snow for your tripod. Here is an example from Gitzo.
If these don’t fit on your tripod, then three plastic cups will help you in a very primitive way. You can simply attach them to the feet of your tripod. If you have spikes, you can simply pierce the plastic bottom of the cups with the spikes and thus get your own snow feet for the tripod. Just make sure you take all the plastic cups home with you!
It’s important to protect your camera equipment while shooting in snowy conditions. Cold weather can reduce the battery life of your camera, so be sure to carry spare batteries in a warm pocket. When bringing your gear back inside after shooting in the cold, be cautious of temperature changes that can cause condensation inside the camera.
To prevent this, put your camera in a sealed bag before bringing it inside. For even more extreme weather conditions, consider investing in a camera cover to protect it from the elements. These covers are not too expensive and are a useful accessory for any photography session in wet or snowy weather.