Let It Snow, Let it Snow: Top Tips for Cool Snow Shots

December 24, 2009

Photo Tips

Here at DPE we try to accommodate our readers’ (and podcast listeners’) requests. Recently, a reader wanted some tips on shooting in the snow. Well, here you go!

Taking pictures in the snow is cool, literally and figuratively speaking. However, snow scenes present certain photographic challenges.

So let’s chill out with some cool shooting in the snow photo tips. To illustrate the tips, I’ll share some photographs that I took of polar bears in the Sub-Arctic. Brrrrrrrrrrrrr!

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Don’t Be Fooled – All that white can fool a camera’s exposure meter into thinking that the scene is brighter than it actually is, therefore setting the camera for an underexposed picture. The remedy: Set your exposure compensation dial to +1. The increase should give you a better exposure, which, of course, you can fine-tune further with exposure compensation and in the digital darkroom.

Pack A Polarizing Filter – When the sun is shining, you do not – I repeat – do not want to go out on a snow shoot without a polarizing filter. A polarizing filter can continuously vary the amount of polarized light that passes through it. In doing so, it can darken a blue sky and make white clouds appear whiter and, most important in snow shooting, reduce glare on snow and ice. Finally, a polarizing filter can help you “see” through water by reducing reflections on the surface of the water.

A polarizing filter is most effective when the sun is off to your left or right. It’s ineffective when you’re shooting toward or away from the sun. When using a polarizing filter, remove your skylight or haze filter if you typically leave one on your lens. That will help prevent vignetting, especially when using wide-angle lenses.

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Dress For Success – Dressing for successful photography will keep you stay comfortable and help you get great shots. Among other things, I wear Windstopper© gloves to keep my “trigger finger” relatively warm. For more info on keeepin’ warm gear, check out Outdoor Photo Gear.

Keep Gear Warm, Too – In addition to keeping your body warm, it’s essential to keep your camera and extra batteries warm. Cold temperatures can suck the life out of batteries faster than you can say, “I’m freezing.” Keep your camera inside your coat until you want to shoot, and keep plenty of extra batteries in your pants or shirt pockets, close to your body.

Watch For Washouts – When photographing snow, especially in bright light, you need to be very careful not to overexpose the highlights in a scene, the brightest part of a subject. After you take a shot, check your camera’s histogram and make sure you don’t have a spike on the right, which indicates a highlight washout. Also check your camera’s overexposure warning, which shows overexposed areas as flashing on-and-off zones.

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Light Illuminates, Shadows Define – Snow pictures taken on overcast days look flat, while those taken on sunny days have more contrast and detail. Both kinds of photographs can be pleasing. It’s just that the weather conditions create different moods in your photographs. Remember: light illuminates; shadows define.

You’ll find more tips on shooting in tricky lighting situations in my book, Exploring the Light.

Explore the Light,

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This post was written by:

- who has written 171 posts on The Digital Photo Experience.

Canon Explorer of Light Rick Sammon has published 36 books, including Exploring the Light and Digital Photography Secrets.

When asked about his photo specialty, Rick says, “My specialty is not specializing.”

You can follow Rick on twitter at http://twitter.com/RickSammon and visit his website at http://www.ricksammon.com

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5 Responses to “Let It Snow, Let it Snow: Top Tips for Cool Snow Shots”

  1. darrin Says:

    Great tips. One of my presents this Christmas is a pair of windstopper gloves. I can hardly wait to try them out.

    Merry Christmas, and happy shooting!


  2. Daniel Seurer Says:

    Great Tips Rick. Thanks.

    Winter is actually my favorite time of year to shoot, but then again I live in Wisconsin where it is winter more often than not. I also find that on sunny days the use of off-camera fill flash can come in extremely handy when shooting people (such as ice fisherman!)


  3. Jen @ NEK Photography Says:

    As someone living in Vermont I have learned a lot of these tips the hard way. And you know… I really need to buy a polarizer (still). Great tips!

    NEK Photography


  4. Erik Kerstenbeck Says:


    These are great tips – also one should pay attention to White Balance setting (always shoot RAW anyway)…sometime things get a bit Blue.

    Cheers, Erik


  5. Pixntxt Says:

    And pack lots of batteries and keep them on your body where they will be warm because subzero temperatures reduce the mean time between recharges for power sources – your camera batteries won’t last as long before you have to charge them again.


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