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

December 29th, 2009 by Rick Sammon

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 keepin’ warm wear, check out the field wear at the store.

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,

Make sure and check out Rick and Juan Pons at their informative blog and podcast, Digital Photo Experience!




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