Photographing snow

8 comments on Photographing snow
2 minutes
Still life with snow

I keep trying to photograph snow, and I keep getting mixed results.

It’s because it takes some finesse to make a camera expose snow properly. Cameras with built-in meters tend to overcompensate, leading to gray snow. Even when the exposure is right, vast expanses of white tend to look washed out.

One snowy afternoon I took my Nikon F3 out briefly while I shoveled my driveway. As you can see in this shot of my resting shovel, the meter exposed for the non-white elements in the frame, which led to the snow washing right out.

Sometimes a camera does all right with it. The photo below came from my Olympus Trip 35 several years ago. The exposure is just right for the house, the trees, and the sky, yet the snowy yard is washed out only right in the middle.

Snow-covered yard with dog

But I’ve had a few moments of good luck that have taught me a thing or two. First: look for textures in the snow, and photograph them. Here I shot my Canon PowerShot S95. This was actually after an ice storm; this snow was rock solid and supported my weight!

The frozen yard

While shooting my Kodak 35 earlier this year, I hoped it would pick up the delightful shadows this tree’s branches cast in the late-afternoon sun. I hoped to use the snow as a canvas. To bring the shadows out I needed to play with contrast and brightness a little bit in Photoshop.

Snow shadows

But I think the best thing is to use snow as an element of a shot, rather than shoot it for its own sake. Here, the snow adds interest to this old Cadillac’s front end. Believe it or not, I shot this with my Palm Pre.

Snow-covered Caddy

And here, the snow provides a clean backdrop for my late friend Gracie, and creates abstract shapes where it rests on that bush. I think this is another S95 shot.

Dog in the snow

As you can see, despite learning a few things, I still haven’t entirely figured out how to photograph snow. And now that spring is arriving, snow is but a memory until next winter. I’ll have more opportunities to practice then. A big part of the fun of photography for me is figuring things like this out.

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8 responses to “Photographing snow”

  1. hmunro Avatar

    I feel your pain, Jim: Even after 35 Minnesota winters, I also haven’t entirely figured out how to photograph snow. If the shot is really important to me, I’ll do a three- or five-frame bracket. Otherwise, there’s always Photoshop.
    You’ve got some lovely shots here, though (especially the one of Gracie). Why, you’ve almost made me wistful for winter!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’ve never really tried bracketing. Maybe I should.

      I’m not a fan of winter; I endure it. But maybe if I figure out how to get good snow shots, I might have something about it to look forward to!

  2. bodegabayf2 Avatar

    I believe the old rule is to over expose for the snow, even though it goes against what your brain is telling you to do.

    Since a light meter is really just a gray meter, it’s trying to give you perfectly exposed “middle gray.” That’s what the center weighted F3’s meter did for you in the snow shovel shot.

    Ansel’s Zone System at work I think.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yes, that’s what I read as I did some research before writing this post: overexpose a stop or two. The F3 makes that easy peasy. So does my S95.

  3. Christopher Smith Avatar
    Christopher Smith

    bodegabayf2 is right if your camera has a compensation dial then try dialing in +1 or +2 stops when shooting snow

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yup, next season that is exactly what I will try.

  4. joecrafted Avatar

    I have also been working on capturing snow on film. Difficult, but a fun pursuit in an otherwise difficult season to find subjects. I especially try to capture falling snow and try to convey the feeling of serenity that comes during those storms. I really like that Olympus Trip shot.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yes, when the pickings are slim, you learn to shoot the pickings you’ve got. Thanks!

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