Winter is a beautiful time of year where the grounds are dusted in pristine snow, evoking imagery of winter wonderlands. Winter photography can be exceedingly ethereal, but tricky to perfect, given lighting, exposure and reflections situations. Learn how the pros do it in time for your next winter getaway.
Compensate for exposure
Whether you’re trying to capture a sunny winter scene, or the pure whiteness of freshly fallen snow, you will want to adjust your exposure compensation by +0.3 or +0.7 This is because white snow tends to confuse your camera, and sees the snow as “light” as opposed to snow. Doing so ensures that the snow turns out perfectly white, instead of a dull gray. You can also use your camera’s histogram to correct exposure – take a test shot and check. If it is “bumped” up in the middle, dial in a positive compensation to add brightness. If the graph tapers off on the right-hand edge, you’ll want some negative compensation to stop blown out highlights.
Consider using flash
When it is snowing, using your flash can help to light up the snowflakes, making your photo more dramatic. It also helps to highlight objects in the foreground, provide a catchlight or eliminate undesirable shadows. However, do note that flash can also bounce off snow and cause overexposure – you’ll need some trial and error to get this one right!
Use a filter
A polarizing filter is a great tool to add to your photography kit for winter snaps. It helps to darken blue skies, add definition to clouds, eliminate glare and increase colour saturation. A graduated neutral-density filter is also useful when you need to equalize variations in exposure between different parts of a scene, like your foreground or background and sky. We recommend using a three-stop gray graduated neutral-density filter, particularly for landscape snaps.
Telephoto lens for snowfall
A flurry of snowflakes can add much needed energy and motion to an otherwise “still” image, and although can take some practice to master, is well worth the effort! We recommend using a telephoto lens (or anything with a focal length of more than 70mm), and shoot at a shallow aperture of f/4.5-6.3. Use the fastest shutter speed you can, and ensure you have a good depth of field where the snowflakes are right in front of your lens.
Shoot in RAW
Setting your white balance can be tricky when it comes to snow, so we highly recommend shooting in RAW (although you should always do so even in non-winter scenarios). This enables you to correct blue snow or dramatic shadows in post-processing, ensuring you do not waste a day out in the cold!
Know your hours
Sunrise and sunsets during winter are significantly more dramatic than any other time of the year, especially right before or after a snowstorm. Shooting these scenes are also easier in winter, as the sun rises much later in the day and sets earlier, meaning your time out in the field (and cold) is shorter. The shorter hours of daylight also mean you should plan your day properly, especially if you have a lot of ground to cover!
Keep your batteries warm
Batteries drain much faster when exposed to low temperatures, so you will want to bring several spare batteries if you are planning on staying out in the field for an extended period of time. Keep them warm by storing them close to your body heat in any inner pockets your jacket might have.
Watch out for moisture
Keep your camera in an airtight plastic bag (freezer bags work best) or your gear bag before heading indoors after spending some time out in the cold. Going immediately into a warm room with an ice-cold camera can seriously damage internal electrical components! Leave your gear in the protective bags until they come to room temperature before removing them. Most modern day DSLRs are equipped to handle wintry conditions, but a little caution is always good.