With winter already here, the opportunity for whimsical snow photography is endless! Make use of the natural phenomena in creating nostalgic and mystical images, all making use of our human intrigue of little frozen water droplets falling from the sky. However, capturing snow photographs isn’t as straightforward as it seems- remember, snow is still water and it is cold! Here is our guide to capturing falling snow shots and making them amazing.
Characteristics of Snow and How That Affects Photography
When you think of snow, what comes to mind first? Likely the fact that it is cold! Although we tend to think of cold as something that impacts us (such as causing us to shiver), cold has an unfortunate adverse effect on electronics. Where we bundle up in layers and remain warm, cameras and lenses don’t have that same easy luxury.
“Cameras, and especially their batteries, perform at less than full capacity in low temperatures. Batteries suffer in the cold because the chemical reaction that occurs to provide power is slowed down in colder temperatures.” As such, it is a good idea to carry plenty of spare batteries with you to your snowfall shoots. If you don’t want to lug around spare batteries, invest in a battery grip! Battery grips allow you to use multiple batteries at a time, switching over once one dies.
As well as this, the cold can creep into the internals and cause all sorts of muckery in there. Your camera may act more sluggish or begin to fail if working in especially harsh climates. All these functions will return to normal as your camera warms up again. As such, having a sleeve for your camera and lens may be in your best interest here, helping keep the system warm! Equally, because snowflakes are frozen water, you don’t want any liquid near your camera either. The sleeve or cover can prevent liquid from seeping into the sensitive parts as well.
Now, another thing to consider is what will happen to the camera once you move inside out of the cold. Your cold camera can develop condensation once it enters a warm room. As mentioned above, water + electronics = bad news. A simple solution is to place everything inside a sealable plastic bag before going indoors. This will result in the condensation building up on the outside of the plastic bag, while everything inside remains dry as it warms up to room temperature.
The reason we don’t have a section on equipment is because, truly, any camera and lens works just fine for snowfall photography. The difference is really the settings. From a settings standpoint, snow is bright white, yes? Well, this actually causes a very harsh lighting condition to shoot in. You see, snow is reflective and acts similarly to a white bounce card. As such, your images have a very high likelihood of being overexposed. As such, you need to keep your settings a bit more underexposed to keep the details in the white.
In layman terms, shutter speed is how fast your camera can take a picture. Depending on how you want falling snow represented, your shutter will either be fast or slow! For the most part, photographers tend to prefer fast shutter speeds for snow fall rather than showing motion blur (this is also because snow falls rather slowly).
If you’re wanting to freeze the snow, you’ll need a faster shutter speed. To be on the safe side of motion being frozen no matter what, going higher than 1/4000 is recommended, with 1/8000 being the maximum. But that being said, lighting may not always be ideal and you’ll often need to go to a somewhat lower shutter speed in order to maintain proper exposure. The shutter speed you need to freeze action depends on how fast your subject is moving.
For snow, a shutter of 1/300 and higher is ideal because of the slowness of falling snow.
Now, if you want to convey more of a sense of movement and create some motion blur, you’ll want to slow your shutter down quite a bit. Around 1/60 and slower is excellent!
Remember that faster shutter speeds make a darker image and slower shutter speeds make a lighter image.
What aperture you use depends heavily on whether the snow is an accessory to the image or the subject of an image.
The aperture controls the depth of field (which refers to how much of an image is in focus). The lower the aperture number, the shallower the depth of field. The larger the aperture number, the deeper the depth of field.
If the snow is an accessory to the shot, you’ll want a more shallow depth of field so that the snow doesn’t hide or obstruct your subject. If the snow itself is the subject, you’ll want a deeper depth of field so you can catch all of it falling! Make note that shallow depth of field shots are brighter because more light can hit the sensor while deeper depth of field shots are darker because less light hits the sensor.
ISO should be adjusted based on the previous two variables, shutter speed and aperture! Just keep in mind that the lower the ISO number, the less sensitive the camera is to light (but the less noise the photograph has). The higher the ISO number, the more sensitive the camera is to light (but the more noise the photograph has).
Because winter is full of highlights, adjusting your metering mode will be to your benefit.
in order to understand what the proper exposure is, we rely on a little guide on our camera called the Exposure Meter, also referred to as a Light Meter. This measures the intensity of light, and tells us if our exposure settings are too light, too dark, or just right. How we set the accuracy for our exposure meter is with Metering Modes. Metering Modes help us tell the camera’s sensor what we want our exposure adjusted for! Whether you are adjusting exposure for an entire scene or just a specific subject, the metering mode is there to help.
For snow, we want to meter for the highlights. Highlight-Weighted Metering looks at the entire image when considering exposure, but focuses its consideration on the highlights of your image rather than the shadows and midtones. This mode is intended to save the highlights of your image from being overexposed!
The white balance tends to be one of the trickier settings to properly adjust because of the reflective and bright nature of snow. As well, snow is white! So you can quickly tell if your white balance is very off. Snow tends to pull super blue or super yellow depending on whether the sky is overcast or clear.
Look for a white balance setting that has a slight blue cast with neutral highlights which will then result in a balanced image. If none of the preset settings work, do a custom white balance.
Fake It If You Have To!
Snow doesn’t fall on command and sometimes it snows at the most inopportune moment (such as at night)!. However, having a friend to help you fake it can help. Sometimes, you need to pick somesnow off the ground and throw it up! This is a great way to be able to capture images at your preferred time of day!