It’s no secret that the UK has a love/hate relationship with the weather. On the one hand, weather forms the bedrock of virtually any awkward small talk you might have to endure – “how’s the weather where you are?”, “yea, cloudy, you?”, “same”……no thanks. On the other, British people will complain about the heat, the wet or, as is the case at the moment, the snow.
Car lights illuminaing the snow
As a photographer I can’t think of many conditions I enjoy shooting in as much as snow…in a similar way to how shooting at night time in the wet brings new life to old locations, snow makes seemingly boring scenes look impressive. Buildings and trees get decorated in a blanket of snow, streets are generally quieter & the people who are out and about make interesting subjects as they wrap up warm and battle the conditions.
No Falafels Today!
Setting the camera
One important thing to keep in mind when shooting in the snow is your cameras metering setting. Due to the amount of white in a snowy scene, your camera will most likely underexpose the shot. There are a couple of things you can do to fix this:
add around 1 or 2 stops of exposure compensation until the snow looks white
change the metering mode to spot (this can help to correctly expose faces in snowy scenes)
Of course if you have a mirrorless camera, you will be able to see your exposure in the EVF and can adjust accordingly.
Shot at camera's default exposure
+1 stop exposure compensation
To avoid clipping the highlights & shadows, your camera will try and balance the scene based on the metering setting. It looks at either the entire scene (matrix / evaluative mode) or a part of the scene (center-weighted /partial mode, or spot mode) and tries to move the exposure to middle grey.
When the majority of the scene is white and the camera is trying to make it middle grey, you get an underexposed shot!
You might also want to keep an eye on your shutter speed – if it is overcast there will be lower light levels and your shutter speed might drop. If you want to freeze the motion of any snowflakes (sorry, not sorry for the pun) you will need to bump your ISO a bit to get the shutter speed up. I bumped the ISO of the following shot to 640 in broad daylight to ensure I could stop the motion in the snowflakes:
Another really important part of getting a snowy shot to look right is white balance. Modern cameras are generally very good at determining where white is in a normal scene but they can struggle a bit in the snow. Often a cameras auto white balance setting will pull the image towards the cooler, blue side.
If you are shooting RAW, this is no problem…just get the photo into Lightroom and use the white balance picker tool on a patch of white snow. This will get the white balance a lot closer.
(Other editing tools will have similar functionality)
Pre White Balance adjustment
Post White Balance adjustment
Getting the shot
In terms on compositions, anything with colour in it really pops against snow so keep an eye out for it. Here I’ve used a bright green gate to contrast against the yellow from the street light, and the blue hues in the dusk sky & snow, and I think it create a really moody image:
As you can see, you can also get creative with the white balance, especially in darker scenes. Cooling off the whites towards the blue side really adds to the cold mood.
And of course black and white works really well in the snow as everything is already quite monotone. This approach can also help to reduce any distractions from what you’re trying to photograph.
Now go wrap up nice and warm, get a flask of hot coffee and get out and shoot!
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