15 Beginner Tips for Winter and Snow Photography

Dec 13, 2023

Allen Mowery

Allen Mowery is a Nationally-published Commercial & Editorial Photographer with over 20 years of experience. He has shot for major brands as well small clients. When not shooting client work or chasing overgrown wildlife from his yard, he loves to capture the stories of the people and culture around him.

15 Beginner Tips for Winter and Snow Photography

Dec 13, 2023

Allen Mowery

Allen Mowery is a Nationally-published Commercial & Editorial Photographer with over 20 years of experience. He has shot for major brands as well small clients. When not shooting client work or chasing overgrown wildlife from his yard, he loves to capture the stories of the people and culture around him.

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Snow winter photography woman in forest

Winter is a beautiful time of year, especially for photography. It offers many opportunities for amateurs and pros alike to hone their skills and capture some great images. Whether you have a simple point-and-shoot, an advanced DSLR, or the latest mirrorless camera, there’s something for everyone on this list.

GEAR

1. Dress Appropriately

I’m not talking about wearing appropriate clothes to your granny’s Christmas dinner. I’m talking about winter photography, where pairing your clothes to the outdoor conditions is crucial. This is especially important for photographing those winter landscapes when you’ll spend plenty of time outdoors, hiking. You wouldn’t wear the same thing for 32-degree weather that you would for minus 20 degrees. Here are a few tips:

  • Have warm boots. On a recent photographic excursion into the Great White, I was wearing an old pair of boots. They had cracked in the rubber along the side near the toes. Every step I took allowed snow into my boots. By the time I got home, I was wringing water from my sock (which was wrapped around a numb foot).
  • Don’t over-dress. It may sound illogical to some, but anyone who has spent any time outside in cold weather will tell you the same. It’s better to feel a slight chill while standing still rather than overheat while walking. Overdressing gives the cold the opportunity to chill your sweat, potentially leading to early-onset hypothermia. Choosing clothes from merino wool is a great option, especially as base layers. For the outer layer, you can choose natural materials like cotton or wool. There are also all kinds of jackets that are thin, yet insulating, perfect for winter! Bring a scarf so your nose is nice and warm… And doesn’t freeze against your camera.
  • Take warm gloves with you, especially if you’ll be out and about for an extended period or away from “civilization.” I hate the bulkiness of gloves, so I prefer to go without them when possible. You can wear a thin pair of gloves for photographing and take a pair of mittens to slip over them in between shooting. Another option is to use a pair of shooter’s gloves/mittens. These allow you to pull a finger out for use on a trigger, buttons, or shutter release. You can also use fingerless gloves with flaps and uncover your fingers only when taking photos.
  • Sunglasses might be a good idea as well… Just to keep your eyes from frying due to the sun reflecting off the snow.

2. Keep Your Camera Cold

Keep my camera in the freezer like a bottle of cheap vodka? Not exactly. Ever notice how your glasses instantly fog when coming into warmth after being out in the cold? The same can easily happen to your camera. Fogging the mirror, causing harmful condensation inside the lens, and even shorting out electronic components (provided you use a digital camera).

Don’t place your camera under your coat to warm it up or keep your batteries from draining too quickly (discussed below). The warmth of your body heat and the moisture from sweat can be potentially harmful to both camera and lenses. Plus, nothing is worse than whipping out your camera for that once-in-a-lifetime shot only to have it fog up as soon as it’s re-exposed to the cold.

Having a plastic bag with you might come in handy. If you place your camera on the ground or the snow is falling, it can protect your camera from moisture. Of course, you can also get a dedicated waterproof cover for your camera gear.

3. Keep Your Spare Batteries Warm

Batteries drain faster in low temperatures. This is why it’s wise to carry extra batteries and keep them in a pocket or inside your coat. This keeps them closer to your body heat until they are needed. Newer lithium-ion types have fewer problems with this, but it’s still good advice.

4. Keep Your Gear Easily-Accessible

Nobody wants to be fumbling around in a bag for gear when they need it or dropping equipment in the snow. You also don’t want to be setting your bag down in the snow and risking any kind of water saturation. So, whether you’re using pockets, a backpack, or an actual camera bag, make sure you can reach your gear with little effort.

Allen's photo bag

I actually combined a few separate elements into a DIY water-resistant canvas camera bag.  It’s my daily carry in all conditions and does an excellent job of holding up to the elements.

winter forest

TECHNIQUES FOR WINTER PHOTOGRAPHY

5. Shoot In Raw

A key aspect of winter photography is to capture the best images possible. It can get tricky, as you’ll see later, so be sure to shoot in RAW. This will give you the greatest flexibility in post-production, allowing you to fix problems that would be harder (if not impossible) to correct if shooting in JPEG. If you’re intimidated by the larger file size, be sure to (apart from growing a pair) bring along extra (or larger) memory cards. In fact, it’s something you should already be practicing anyway.

6. Never Delete Images In The Field!

It can be tempting to delete an image after taking a peak at the LCD or when fearful of running out of room on your camera card. But never delete an image until you’ve had a chance to view it on a larger screen indoors. There have been many times when an image that looked like crap in the field turned out to be wonderful once I had a chance to fully examine it. Use your histogram to determine the exposure your camera is getting (discussed below), or simply bring along extra memory cards.

A great thing about winter photography is that your photos can look great in all weather conditions. You don’t need the golden hour, sunrise, sunset… Winter is photogenic even in the mist, and even when there’s “only sadness.” Even if you don’t like the composition, don’t delete the images. You can always crop them and adjust something in post to try and make something out of them. After all, if you shoot in RAW, as I suggested, you can play with the editing way more than if you shot in JPG.

7. Be Aware Of Your Footprints

Snow photography is as tricky as walking through snow itself… Speaking of walking, keep in mind your intended shot as you move through the snow. Be careful not to walk through an area that you hope to include in a future shot… Unless footprints are the intended purpose of your composition.

8. Use Your Camera’s Manual Mode

Understanding the right camera settings is essential in winter photography. Snow is bright and can overpower your camera’s internal light meter. Shooting wintery scenes in AUTO or even APERTURE/SHUTTER PRIORITY mode will undoubtedly result in dark images – the camera is reading all of the bright light reflected from the snow and compensating accordingly. The best way to overcome this is by shooting winter landscape photography in MANUAL and controlling the exposure compensation yourself.

winter photography tree covered snow

However… If you must shoot in Auto or Aperture/Shutter Priority modes, you can work to overcome the imbalanced meter readings by:

  • Adjusting the EV compensation
  • Aiming at a dark object and pressing the shutter halfway to get a reading, then moving the camera (with the shutter still halfway depressed) to reframe and capture the shot.

9. If You Have A Handheld Light Meter, Use It!

Reference number 8 above. Shoot in Manual and use your meter. Enough said.

10. Slightly Overexpose Your Images For Whiter Snow

This may sound contradictory to numbers 8 and 9, but snow is a tricksy mistress. While it looks beautiful, crisp, and white to the human eye, your camera doesn’t always see it as such. Oftentimes, snow and frost in a photograph can have a blue tint to it or look grayed out. One way to overcome this is, yes, by using a gray card and setting a custom white balance. But the hassle involved with doing so, especially when braving the elements, can simply be too cumbersome. So, building upon the last several points about metering and exposure, be sure to give your photos a little more light than may be entirely necessary. If things get a little too bright, you can tone it down in Lightroom or Aperture (or your own favorite image editing program) later.

winter photography ice branches

11. Use Your Dang Histogram!

Most digital cameras, especially DSLRs and mirrorless, have this option. Do not rely on the image seen on your LCD screen for winter photography! This can be distorted by the fact that, after all, it is just a small screen. Or, maybe the backlighting is slightly off. The most likely case is that the snow’s brightness throws off your perception. In other words, under-exposed images can look bright to you, and correctly-exposed ones can look washed out.

It can be very tempting to delete images based on these previews. But, as mentioned above, don’t delete any images in the field, regardless of how crappy they appear to be on the camera. Use your histogram to determine what actual exposure your camera is getting. You may also use your histogram as a guide for adjusting your settings while shooting in manual mode.

12. Magically Remove Falling Snowflakes From Your Images In The Field

Sure, feel free to break out your best Harry Potter impersonation, but I doubt it will do you much good. Sometimes, when shooting in falling snow, the snowflakes closer to the camera tend to get in the way and detract from the image. A simple way to eliminate this is to mount your camera on a tripod, decrease the ISO, increase your aperture, and shoot with a delayed shutter — the longer, the better. The snowflakes will not have enough time to be captured by the camera as they are falling, thereby giving the illusion that they do not exist. Pretty wizardly awesome, eh?

13. Break Up Your Shots; Don’t Photograph Only Snow

Be sure to include some other elements in your photograph besides snow. Sure, the powdery goodness is very enticing, but it has an unsettling propensity for blending together in the camera, making it hard to decipher where one batch of pure white ends and another begins. Unless your goal is to produce a shot of glorified whiteness, add a little interest by including other elements.

Back Home

14. Warm Your Camera Up Slowly

This goes back to the condensation issue inside your camera or lens. The best way to eliminate this threat is to place your gear back into your bag, close it up before bringing it in, and allow it to sit for a while before opening it back up again. This allows your gear, particularly your camera, to slowly warm up to room temperature along with the rest of your bag and its sundry contents. If you need to get your memory card out of the camera, be sure to do so before going inside. That way, you won’t risk prematurely exposing your camera to the warm air.

15. Breathe Life Into Your Snow Photos

Snow winter photography editing in lightroom

Finally, an important step in winter photography is post-production to breathe some life into your images during post-production. The intense white from the landscape, coupled with commonly overcast skies and atmospheric haze, can result in a great lack of color depth and a general fuzziness in the photo. A simple fix for this, at least in Lightroom and Aperture, is to increase the black intensity in the image. This will bring out some of the details that may have been lost, increase the image saturation, and work to eliminate that annoying haze (see example above).

What camera settings are best for winter photography?

It largely depends on the weather conditions and the time of day. But using your light meter, your camera’s histogram, and shooting in manual mode will give you the greatest control over your shots.

What is the best time to take pictures in the winter?

Depending on what you want to achieve, any time of day is good in the winter! However, I suggest you wake up early and seize the day, as you don’t have much daylight available.

How do you shoot outside in the winter?

Winter photography is challenging but rewarding. Keep yourself and your spare batteries warm (not too warm) and keep your gear away from moisture. Shoot in RAW and Manual mode for the best results.

What colors to wear for a winter photo shoot?

If you take winter portraits or self-portraits, adding a pop of color is a good idea. Colors like red, yellow, green, or navy are the perfect choice.

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Allen Mowery

Allen Mowery

Allen Mowery is a Nationally-published Commercial & Editorial Photographer with over 20 years of experience. He has shot for major brands as well small clients. When not shooting client work or chasing overgrown wildlife from his yard, he loves to capture the stories of the people and culture around him.

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13 responses to “15 Beginner Tips for Winter and Snow Photography”

  1. spqr_ca Avatar
    spqr_ca

    Don’t like gloves? Put a cable release on the camera and have it inside your mitt. You’ll need to enable autofocus on the shutter release (if, like me, you disable that) or focus manually, but then you keep your fingers nice and warm. I much prefer mitts, night and day over gloves for warmth.

    1. Allen Mowery Avatar
      Allen Mowery

      Awesome idea! Never thought of that before!

      1. spqr_ca Avatar
        spqr_ca

        Happy to have helped the conversation! :D

  2. Todd Wallarab Avatar
    Todd Wallarab

    I like to shoot in the winter with this style of gloves.

    http://www.ebay.com/itm/like/290982452610

    1. David Gorski Avatar
      David Gorski

      “Page does not exist” ☹️
      (for the record, since you brought up gloves, I like to wear either boxing gloves or gauntlets lined with wool.)

  3. theart Avatar
    theart

    Isn’t part of the reason to use RAW that you have the camera’s full latitude for white balance in post? Clipping the highlights to make them white seems like a bad workaround. Overexposing in snow works great on film, but I tend to go -2/3 with digital because blocky shadows are less distracting than clipped highlights when the scene is all highlights.

    1. Nancy Disengers Avatar
      Nancy Disengers

      you don’t “overexpose”, you need to increase exposure compensation to fight against the camera incorrectly exposing. the camera always assumes it is seeing a grey scene, so it will make the snow be middle grey if you don’t increase exposure.

  4. Akshay Thakur Avatar
    Akshay Thakur

    what about filters?

  5. Nancy Disengers Avatar
    Nancy Disengers

    Warming up the camera quickly would be fine – it’s the fact that the camera is cold versus the air in the house is moist that’s the issue. When moist air touches the cold camera, it the moisture condenses onto the camera just like it does on the cold windows in the house. Keeping the camera in the bag works because the air in the bag is from the cold dry outside air, and the bag keeps the moist inside air from hitting the camera. If you are in a hurry for the camera to warm up, place the camera in a ziplock bag when outside instead of keeping it in the thicker/insulated camera bag inside. I just keep mine in the camera bag, but if in a hurry to see the images, I remove the memory card when still outside, and place the camera in its bag.

    1. David Gorski Avatar
      David Gorski

      How in the world do I keep the camera frozen but the batteries above 150 degrees?? my camera isn’t that fancy

  6. Capture Aloha Photpgraphy Avatar
    Capture Aloha Photpgraphy

    Thanks for this ideas man! Camera lenses instantly have a fog and it does not help you capture your photos. It will likewise cause a condensation inside your camera lenses.

  7. Acalade Tablet Help Avatar
    Acalade Tablet Help

    Hi, I’m thirteen and have a 1300d/rebel T6. Could anyone give me some specific tips for a basic shot?
    Eg. I don’t want to spend hours in Lightroom picking out snowflakes! ?

  8. Lorelei Avatar
    Lorelei

    I have always been interested in disputes related to photography, or for example why some places are prohibited for photographing http://fixthephoto.com/photo-tips/photography-is-not-allowed.html