18 Snow Photography Tips for Better Winter Pictures

With winter on the horizon, many photographers are looking forward to capturing snow-covered landscapes. Others may not be so anxious. Perhaps you’ve had a bad experience with your camera gear in a cold, wet environment. Maybe you’ve had trouble getting the exposure right or just don’t know what to expect. Whatever the reason, we’re hoping these tips will have you thinking about trying snow photography, too!

1 – 5. Protect your camera – and yourself

Image taken by Irix Lens Ambassador Kuba Witos with his Irix 15mm f/2.4

One thing’s for certain when it comes to going out in or after a snow storm: it’s going to be wet out there. It’s probably going to be cold, too. That means you’re going to need to take some precautions to avoid accidentally damaging yourself or your equipment, or ending your shoot prematurely.

1. Dressing for snow photography:

No outing is worth risking your health and you’re not going to do your best work if you’re cold, wet and miserable. When you’re planning a snow photography session, staying as warm and dry as possible should be your first priority.

Dress in layers, with the outer layer as waterproof as possible. Your feet are going to come in contact with the snow the most, so waterproof, insulated boots are a must. Gloves, of course, are important, too and fingerless ones will make it easier to manage your gear. Last, but definitely not least, remember that you lose most of your body heat from the top of your head. A hat will make all the difference.

2. Keep your camera and lenses dry.

Not all camera bodies and lenses are weather or moisture resistant. Irix lenses are weather sealed, so you won’t need to worry about them, but a simple plastic bag might save your camera if it’s not. You can improvise one or use one of the many specialty bags available from your favorite photography equipment dealer.

Irix lenses are weather sealed to withstand all weather conditions.

Irix lenses are weather sealed.

3. Protect your front element.

Wet ground and ice mean less traction and that means more chance of accidentally bumping your lens. In addition to keeping moisture away from the front element, a filter like the Irix Edge UV-protector may be one of your best investments. Also, keeping your lens hood attached not only reduces the chance of lens flare in your shots, but adds further protection for that objective lens.

Irix Edge UV Filter
Irix Edge UV Protector Filter

4. Don’t blow it.

When temperatures drop, blowing air on your lens may freeze drops of moisture on your lens or filter or create a thin coating of ice from moisture in the air around it. Either of these can be hard to remove. Carry plenty of microfiber cloths and use them to gently remove moisture and clean the surface.

5. Keep your batteries warm.

Batteries aren’t as efficient when they’re cold. To ensure you don’t run out of power, keep them in a pocket under your outer layers to warm them with your body heat. Bonus tip: remember, to, that moisture on the contacts of your camera and batteries is a very bad thing. Change them quickly with as much protection from the cold and moisture as possible. 

5 – 12. Camera Settings for Snow Photography

snow photography featuring a properly exposed winter scene

As you may have already discovered, snow photography comes with a unique set of challenges for both you and your camera’s software. All of that white in the frame, as well as glare and reflection can create unexpected results when you trip the shutter. Knowing why and how to adjust your camera to compensate for these issues will increase your chances of capturing the images you imagine.

6. Shoot RAW.

Okay, we know you’re probably tired of hearing this one. The fact is, though, it’s the best way to ensure you get the most out of your shooting time. Images saved in .jpg format are adjusted and compressed in-camera and much of the data recorded is lost in the compression. Saving your files in Raw format retains all of the original data, leaving you much more  latitude in post processing.

7. Adjusting your white balance for snow photos:

Your initial thought might be to shoot with a white balance (WB) setting of “Daylight”, especially if you’re out shooting in the sun after the storm has passed. The problem with this is that your mind adjusts for something that the camera can’t in this situation because you know the snow is white. What your camera sees, however, is the abundance of blue light reflected by all of that snow. Snow, like water and ice, absorbs most of the red and yellow light that strikes it, which is why you’ll often notice a blue cast in the shadows within your images taken in this situation.

Blue shadows in snow photograph due to incorrect white balance setting
While the “Flash” or “Shade” WB settings can often get you “in the ballpark”, the best way to get the correct color in your snow images is to set a custom white balance. You’ll need an 18% gray card or a white piece of paper to expose in the current lighting conditions. Check your camera manual for specific instructions.

8. Learn to use the histogram.

Although Live View is a nice way to quickly judge the results of your shots, it’s also a great way to make mistakes. Put simply, your camera’s LCD display looks different under different lighting conditions. Your brain gets involved again, adjusting what you see to look more like it’s “supposed to look.” To account for this, you really should learn to activate and use the histogram on your camera, to get an accurate representation of what the camera sees. It becomes really important in the next couple of tips.

9. Try matrix metering.

Spot metering or center-weighted metering can often help lock in proper exposure settings for landscape photography. When working with snowy landscapes, however, this can be problematic. We recommend setting your metering mode to Matrix (Pattern) and letting the software average the adjustments based on that to simplify the exposure adjustments as we’re about to explain in the next tip.

10. Adjust the exposure.

Underexposure when photographing snowy landscapes

Another common problem with snow photography is that the images come out drab, gray and “muddy” looking without the clean whites you see in the scene. This is a result of the fact that camera exposure systems are designed to render middle tones at 18% gray, but with snow on the ground it’s hard for the metering software to determine where those “middle tones” are. Because the scene generally has an abundance of white, it will often adjust the exposure to make those whites gray.

To compensate for this, most snow scenes will require you to overexpose by as much as one or two stops to capture the right tonal value in the snow and other white areas in the scenes. The simplest way to do this is to use the exposure compensation in your camera. Find out how to use it, then take a few test shots, using the histogram to push the exposure toward the right side of the scale. Try to avoid the spikes that indicate clipping in the whites to retain detail in all the areas of the image.

11. A word about exposure modes:

There’s an occasional misconception  that shooting in aperture priority mode will compensate for exposure in snow photography. This simply isn’t the case. Provided your camera’s metering system is operating correctly, Av/A and S/Tv modes should produce the same exposure results, within the limitations set by the lighting conditions.

Camera exposure settings

What shooting in aperture priority mode DOES do is allow you to control the depth of field in your photo while using the camera’s exposure metering. Because of the range of effects you can achieve, we recommend using this mode – at least when things in the frame aren’t moving – and making sure your camera is stable when the shutter speed drops too low. Manual exposure, of course, is always an option.

Remember that you’ll need to use exposure compensation as outlined in the previous tip.

12. Forget about focusing modes.

Autofocus modes can be a problem with snowy scenes. A blanket of white doesn’t help your camera pick out those minuscule details.

If you’re shooting with Irix lenses, this isn’t an issue, because you’re going to be focusing manually and probably using the hyperfocal scale to eliminate the complications of focusing “by eye.”

13 – 18. Capturing Snow Photographs

Now that you and your camera are all set up, how about a few tips for the actual shoot? Yes? Let’s see what we can do!

13. Get out while the snowfall is fresh.

Obviously, snow that isn’t covered with tracks normally makes for a much more attractive shot. What’s more, freshly fallen snow has that nice, loose, sparkle that just doesn’t last once is starts to pack or melt.

Watch the weather forecast and Try to plan your trip before or during the storm so you can get to the location before things change. If you know you can get there and back without getting stranded, consider going while the snow is falling for even more interesting photographs.

Image taken by Irix Lens Ambassador Kuba Witos with his Irix 15mm f/2.4

14. Experiment with perspective.

One way to add interest to your snowy landscape photographs is to alter the perspective. There are several ways to accomplish that.

Image taken by Irix Lens Ambassador Kuba Witos with his Irix 15mm f/2.

When working with a wide-angle lens, moving from a level plane to an up or down angle can completely change the impact of a photo. The wide expanse of a snow-covered field combined with converging or diverging verticals can be pleasingly dramatic. If you’re working with rectilinear lenses like the Irix 15mm or Irix 11mm, the lack of barrel distortion makes this effect much easier to manage.

Irix 15mm f/2.4 Wide-Angle Lens

With longer focal lengths, you can create the illusion of perspective compression by moving in close to a foreground subject while including background objects, too. Another interesting way to enhance snow photographs is to utilize “atmospheric perspective” by emphasizing the loss of detail in objects as distance increases. This can be a very striking effect with falling snow.

Irix 11mm f/4.0 Rectilinear Wide-Angle Lens

15. Go macro.

Irix 150mm f/2.8 Dragonfly Macro 1:1

Snowy landscapes are excellent settings for macro photography. A fresh, sparkling dusting or deeper layer of snow on objects you’ll find can add a whole new dimension. Getting in close to show the minute details opens up new worlds.

With our Irix 150mm f/2.8 macro Dragonfly, you can get in close without having to get too close. The extra reach of our highly popular 1:1 macro lens makes getting the perfect close-up shot easier than ever.

Macro image of a snowflake

16. Snow photography gives great bokeh!

This is another area where our 150mm macro Dragonfly lens really shines! Its longer focal length lets you keep your distance to avoid casting shadows. The wide aperture and 11 curved diaphragm blades deliver smooth, round bokeh with minimal effort. You can make those jeweled, snowy landscapes sparkle in a whole new way!

Bokeh created by using a wide aperture with a long lens in snow photography

17. Don’t delete any images!

Assessing your images while you’re out there in all that bright, white snow can be misleading. Don’t try to save card space by deleting shots you don’t think were successful. You just might find some great surprises when you get look at them all back home. That snow isn’t permanent, so don’t miss a chance at a shot while you have it.

Photograph of snowy mountains

18. Don’t warm your gear too quickly.

When you return to your vehicle or head back indoors, use a bit of caution. You’ll want to warm up quickly, but that’s not the best thing for your equipment. Exposing a cold camera, lens, battery or memory card to a warm environment too quickly may cause condensation buildup. That means moisture, possibly inside and out. That moisture can do permanent damage.

To warm your gear gradually, you can place it in an empty ice chest. Wrapping it in one or more towels before going inside might be enough in many cases. You can also purchase insulated gear bags made specifically for this purpose.

That’s it for now!

Park bench framed by snowy branches

We hope you find these tips on snow photography helpful. We’ll discuss editing your snow photos in a future post. Meanwhile, have fun capturing Winter’s beauty!

Featured Image by Irix Lens Ambassador Kuba Witos with his Irix 15mm f/2.4

Written by Dana Crandell

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  1. You have so much talent in photography. I’m so lucky to bump into your website and get your tips. I really wanted to learn how to become like you guys. I wanted to take some photography trainings but i can’t afford them. Luckily there are some tips and sites like this that are for free. I hope you continue posting your passion. Thanks

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