Snow and the winter landscape make for very photogenic backdrops but they can be tricky to handle especially if you are a beginner with a camera. Here are a few tips and techniques on how to shoot in snow so you can take awesome winter photography before the season ends.
Compose, compose, compose!
The basic principles of composition remain the same no matter what kind of photography you are into. You can get more creative with your composition when taking snow photos because you can find interesting focal points of interest and points of contrast in the snowy landscape. The contrast of dark shapes and white snow can serve as great inspiration on how to compose and frame your shots. The Rule of Thirds is a tried and tested classic that you can use for landscape shots. However, as with any form of photography, you can break the rules from time to time for really awesome shots. Shoot portraits from above, using the snow on the ground as natural reflectors, and using the details of your subject's face against the pure white background of fresh snow. Get down and low to shoot snow details or fallen leaves or twigs or step back and capture snow-covered rooftops with a wide lens for a new perspective.
Check your exposure!
One of the most common problems when taking snow photos is ending up with a backlit subject especially if you are shooting portraits. Experts recommend always using a light meter so that you can take accurate exposure readings and have a subject that is well-lit all around. Exposure compensation is the best tool to avoid overexposed or underexposed shots and most cameras have this feature built in. You may need to take a couple of shots before you get the right exposure for a snowy setting but this could mean the difference between great snow photos and images that you can't use.
Aim for accurate white balance
Snow is very reflective and may cause your camera's white balance settings to go haywire. This is seen in the bluish or grayish tinge that you can get with your first snow photographs, especially if you underexposed your shots. In order to get an accurate white balance, use your camera's custom white balance feature which allows you to gauge the most accurate white balance by choosing the setting where the snow is most closest to white. New camera models have a one-touch white balance feature but if you are using older models, you may need to set your white balance manually.
Shoot in RAW
Many professional photographers shoot only in RAW and for a good reason. Shooting in snow will often result to a few underexposed or overexposed photos, especially if you are new to photography or if this is your first time shooting in an all white landscape. To ensure that you can still work with these photos, save your photos in RAW format so that you can recover more detail in post processing. The RAW file format allows you to make corrections that would otherwise be impossible to correct if you used JPEG files. RAW files will take up a lot of space in your memory card so make sure to pack an extra one or two cards along when you go out to shoot.
Take advantage of contrasts
Contrasts become easily noticeable with snow photography, where you have light snow and dark subjects and details. You can direct the eye's attention towards a row of trees in the background, for example, if the trees are dark and sharply outlined, making them stand out against the snowy whiteness of the foreground. Use the white snow to serve as the stage for shooting important objects as well, making sure that the color, texture and other details are in contrast with the white surface.
After all that talk about overexposure, many people would think twice about overexposing their shots. However, you can overexpose by one or two stops to give your photos a brighter feel, without blowing away the details. Working with RAW also helps you keep the details visible even if you intentionally overexpose your shots. When you overexpose your snow photos, you can get the effect of whiter snow and better contrast which allows you to capture that bright, wintry feel that snow tends to evoke.
Use reflected light
While all that light reflected by the snow can affect how your camera sees light and dark areas, you can also take advantage of snow's ability to reflect light in order to shoot your subjects in the right light. Angle your subjects so that they are surrounded by white which is mostly coming from the snow in order to get light areas where the important details, such as the body or face should be. The best thing about reflected light is that it is a soft, diffused kind of light which you won't get with the camera's built-in flash.
Choose your colors
If you are taking portrait sessions in the snow, have subjects dress up in pastel and other light colors. White outfits will reflect more light and give you more highlights than you care to deal with. Light and soft colors look more attractive against a white background, since intense, deep colors tend to pop out of the picture and dominate the entire shot. Try to incorporate colors in your landscape shots as well. Colors and gradations from light to dark will serve as interesting points of contrasts in any winter photo.
Stabilize shots with a tripod
A tripod will stabilize your camera and allow you to take images using a slow shutter speeds. If you want to capture snow with city lights in the background or a wintry sunset, a tripod will allow you to get sharp images even as the light is fading.
These are just a few proven techniques that can help you take your winter photography to the next level. While knowing a few photography basics can help you nail some great shots, learning about techniques specifically suited for snow and winter photography can help you capture the season in all its winter glory.