To me, snow is one of nature’s most beautiful creations. Everywhere looks better with a fresh blanket of snow covering it, and it can lead to some fantastic photo opportunities. That said, it’s not always easy to capture snow scenery.

Scenes in blizzard conditions require a totally different approach to a sunny snow day, for example. That’s why, for our second elements photography tutorial, we’re focusing on how to get the perfect snow shot!

RELATED – If you like this article, check out our previous elements photography tutorial that focuses on fire.

How to Prepare for Snow Photography

The most important step for capturing snow scenery photo’s, is to come prepared! 

By this I’m not just referring to wrapping up warm, as that’s kind of a given. What you may not consider is things like, can you use a camera with ski gloves on? Or, will my battery last as long in the cold?

Snow can be one of the most challenging environments to photograph due to the harsh conditions that both we and our equipment are subjected to.

Hooded man walking through forrest surrounded by snow scenery, trees and snow flakes.

Essential Preparation

  • Spare battery: Camera batteries in the cold won’t last nearly as long, so if possible bring a spare one and keep it warm in your pocket. 
  • Thin, thermal gloves: Camera buttons are often small, so if you’ve got your bulky ski gloves on then you’re going to struggle operating it. Bring thinner gloves instead.
  • Zip lock, air tight bag: One thing you may be unaware of is that when you bring your camera inside from the cold, you could end up with condensation on the inside of your camera. This can be a real problem, so make sure that before you come inside, you zip your camera in a bag and leave it in there until it’s warmed up.
  • Umbrella: An obvious but still relevant point. If it starts to snow, protect your gear with an umbrella. 
  • Buy a Lens Hood: This will help you reduce the reflective glare coming in from the snowy, bright surface. It will also slightly help protect your lens against the cold.
  • Watch the news: To most people, snow looks the best when it’s untouched and in sunlight. If you’re taking a trip somewhere to get your snow photography, plan it around the weather forecast to capture the scene in the best light.
  • ND Filter: If you’re wanting to get some film as well as photos, then an ND filter is an absolute must. In fact, you should have one of these anyway, but particularly in the snow as it can be extremely bright.

WHY AN ND FILTER FOR FILM?

Essentially, there are optimal settings on your camera that provide you with the highest quality and most cinematic looking film. Now, these settings are fixed, so you want to be able to shoot in those settings all the time. The issue is that lighting is completely different from one place to the next, so without an ND filter, you either film under/over exposed footage, or sacrifice those optimal settings. With an adjustable ND filter, you can externally control how much light is let into the camera, so that you can always use your optimal film settings.

9 Snow Photography Tips

1. For detail, get up early

Lamp in the snow in Finland with snow flakes detailed

Once the sun comes out and starts bearing down on the snow, it’s going to start to melt. It might not actually get rid of the snow (depending on the temperature and the amount), but it will likely cause the crisp details on the snow surface to somewhat fade.

To capture the detail in snow, you will need to be up early when the sun isn’t as strong. This will also be softer light, which is often optimal for photography anyway.

2. Polarising filter

Polarising filters can be really useful in the snow for a couple of reasons.

Firsly, because they will help at reducing the light reflecting off the snow. Secondly, because they will slightly darken the skies, allowing for more contrast in your image between the white snow and darker sky.

Snowy mountains with contrast between sky and snow

3. Utilize post-production

Snow photography can be challenging and unpredictable, so even if you’ve read this elements photography tutorial, you might still have some minor issues. The good news is, these should be easy enough to correct in post-production with some form of editing software. 

RELATED – Not sure which editing software is for you? Check out this comparison of different editing software and apps for all budgets.

4. Aperture priority mode

Set your camera to Aperture priority mode (this will be AV on Canon, A on Nikon) when in bright, snowy conditions. This will make the camera automatically select the right ISO and shutter speed, making your job much faster.

You can quickly switch between the aperture settings which speeds things up and lets you take a variety of shots.

5. Shoot in RAW 

You should really be shooting in RAW format anyway. It allows you to edit your images much more effectively.

Due to the unreliable nature of snow photography, it often will require some editing to get the effect you want. Shooting in RAW will make it much easier to edit than a JPEG.

RELATED – Here’s 10 reasons why you should be shooting in RAW

6. Don’t focus on the snow

dark concrete road running through forrest covered with snow
Focus on contrasting colours to the snow, like a tree or road.

A blanket of snow makes everything white, and so your camera might struggle to auto focus if you’re pointing it at a spot in the snow. Instead, fix your camera’s focus on objects that stand out from the white snow, a tree for example. 

7. Exposure compensation

Snow is so white and bright that your camera is going to struggle on its own to get the lighting correct.

One common issue people have is that the snow comes out a bit grey, rather than pristine white.

An easy way around this is to set your exposure compensation at +1-2. This will sort out the grey issue, but will leave the image a tad over exposed. This shouldn’t be a problem though, as you can just tone it down in post-production. 

8. Be quick

Snowy environments can change really fast. All it takes is some cloud to come in and the entire shot will look grey, and it could even start snowing again! On the reverse, if the sun comes out and you haven’t got the detailed shot you wanted then you may find the snow starts melting.

There’s no genius way around this, you can’t change the weather. All you can do is prepare properly and don’t hang about when the conditions are right.

RELATED – When the conditions change, you might need a totally different photography approach and camera set up to get the best shots, so it’s important that you know how to set up your camera in all weather conditions.

9. Add in some colour

red trees in park covered in dusting of snow
Bright colours will really stand out against the snow.

A fresh coating of snow is the perfect blank canvas to get creative with. Add some colour into the image and it will really stand out against the snow. You could also enhance this in post-production by colour grading.

RELATED – Not sure how to colour grade? Check out this colour grading tutorial to get started.

Summary

If you use the tips and tricks in the elements photography tutorial you’ll be well on your way to some fantastic snow shots.

Next time you’re out in the snow and upload a shot to Instagram, tag us @_peopleoftheplanet_ we’d love to see what you capture!

One half of People of the Planet. Sharing our adventures, best travel tips and travel photography! We created People of the Planet to provide a place for all travellers to learn, explore and find travel inspiration.

Author Christian Larby

One half of People of the Planet. Sharing our adventures, best travel tips and travel photography! We created People of the Planet to provide a place for all travellers to learn, explore and find travel inspiration.

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