Survival Techniques for Taking Photos in the Snow

Winter really hit hard here in NYC last week with temperatures hitting 8 degrees at one point and a couple of inches of snow falling… although I know other areas of the country were hit worse and some would say that we don’t even know what winter is!

Either way, for all the trouble that snow causes, snow brings with it magic and wonder and associated opportunities to capture the moment.

Here are the three survival techniques you need to know for taking photos in the snow:

1. Control your exposure (even on your iPhone)

If you’re out taking photos in the snow, remember that your camera is going to freak out with all the brightness and most likely underexpose your photos.

Here are some tips on how to address this:

If shooting in manual: spot meter for faces or over expose; your kids’ faces should look correctly exposed, even if this means the snow is a little blown out.

If shooting in aperture priority (and some other modes): use exposure compensation to overexpose

On your point-and-shoot: see if your camera has a “snow” mode

On your iphone: use tap to focus and second tap for exposure (on apps such as Camera+)
In general: you can try to get less snow in the photo so there is less brightness for your camera to struggle with, or try to find an angle where the light is reflected off the snow and onto faces. I recommend against using flash unless you know how to control it as you will get a glare from the snow or a harshness on your faces.

2. Let your camera acclimatize

If it is really cold (below freezing), let your camera acclimatize to the temperature change before putting it through its paces.

3. Edit edit edit!

A little editing will go a long way with snow photos where the bright background of snow may cause your subjects’ faces to look dark.

If you’ve taken the Photosanity Aperure or Lightroom workshops you will know that you can “lift the midtones” to lighten shadows on faces, but most software has a “shadows” slider that will do something similar.

On your iPhone in Camera+ you can go to The Lab, then Highlights & Shadows and in Snapseed you can go to Tune Image and then Shadows.

For more on getting out of auto, see the Stop Missing the Moment Workshop or lesson 5 of The Photosanity Workshop. For more on winter photos, check out lesson 12 of The Photosanity Workshop.

Have fun and stay warm!