5 Uncommon Snow Photography Tips That Can Transform Your Winter Scenes

5 Uncommon Snow Photography Tips That Can Transform Your Winter Scenes.

Couple in Sheep Meadow, Central Park

Couple in Sheep Meadow, Central Park

It’s that time again when we get to burn off those holiday pounds by trudging through the snow to capture those stunning winter shots.  I’ve got a few extra ones this year, so you’ll see me out there a bit more than usual.

In this article, I want to share with you a few, fairly uncommon tips that I often use, which can make the difference between an average snow photo and an epic one.  Do you do any of these things?

1.  Use a Reverse, ‘White’ Vignette.

The purpose of a vignette is to keep the eyes from falling off the edge of an image and to lead the eyes back to the center of it.  With the amount of white and grey in snow photos, you generally can’t use a traditional dark vignette, since it will be too obvious and look out of place.

So use a white one!  White vignettes can add a magical quality to snow photographs and can further enhance the middle-of-the-storm effect.  Adobe Lightroom is the tool I use to add my vignettes and it works well.

This is such a simple tip, but it can make all the difference, as seen in the photo above.

 

Brooklyn Bridge at Sunset, During Snowstorm

Brooklyn Bridge at Sunset, During Snowstorm

2.  Colorize and Add Contrast (Lots of it).

I’m usually one to hold back a bit when retouching photos, but for winter captures I often throw all of that out the window.

When you photograph in the middle of a snowstorm, the photos will often come out grey and lack contrast and will have the streaks of snow that will give the capture a painterly texture and quality.  Use this quality to your advantage and enhance this look by increasing the contrast and saturation to help the photo become even closer to the look of a painting.  Over-saturating photographs is generally a bad idea, but for snowstorm scenes it can be a great one.

Compare the untouched negative below to the print at the top of the post.  Enhanced color, added contrast, and a white vignette were pretty much all that was needed to completely transform the scene.

Couple in Sheep Meadow, Original Negative

Couple in Sheep Meadow, Original Negative

3.  White Mat, White Frame.

If you’ve got a photograph with a lot of white snow and especially one where you have add a white vignette, further emphasize the look by adding a white mat and white frame to it.  The frame will merge to become part of the effect.

Couple in Sheep Meadow, Framed

4.  Photograph at Dusk and into the Night to Create Menacing Winter Scenes

Snow doesn’t only have to be portrayed as friendly, peaceful, and simple.  It can often have a dark and menacing feel when captured in the right way, particularly at dusk or night.

When the light levels go down, the contrast between the white of the snow and the dark of everything else becomes further emphasized.  This can lead things like tree branches to look like tentacles or mangled fingers swirling through the scene.  The contrast between the beautiful quality of the snow and the menacing quality of the scene is unique and different.

Lamppost at Dusk, Central Park

Lamppost at Dusk, Central Park

5. Use HDR

I’ll admit, I don’t typically do much HDR.  However, I do use it sometimes for black and white photographs and particularly for black and white snow photos.  I prefer to use HDR with black and white scenes because it can add that great, textural HDR quality, without the unrealistic HDR colors.  Depending on the lighting, snow can often lack texture, and the difference between the bright whites and deep shadows within these scenes can be so pronounced that it just doesn’t work well.  For scenes like this, HDR is the perfect tool to make them work.

Here is a before and after, made with Photomatix, to show you an example.

Central Park Tunnel at Night

Central Park Tunnel at Night, Original Negative

Central Park Tunnel at Night, HDR

And don’t forget a sled!  Here are a few more snow photographs to take a look at.

Happy trudging!

Stuck Cab, 5th Avenue

Stuck Cab, 5th Avenue

Couple in Snowstorm

Couple in Snowstorm

Carriage and Trees

Carriage and Trees

 

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category.

James Maher is a professional photographer based in New York, whose primary passion is documenting the unique personalities and stories of the city. He is the author of the e-book, "The Essentials of Street Photography" and runs photo tours of New York. Visit his website or say hi on Facebook or Google+.

  • http://www.portraitinspiration.com Jai Catalano
  • http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/ Mridula

    I hardly get to photograph snow in India! It is only when I trek in the Himalayas I get snow. I can see why black and white is useful here.

    http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/2011/06/before-and-after-at-talhauti-uttarakhand.html

  • http://www.pdf34.wordpress.com Badflea
  • http://jeffejensen.blogspot.com Jeff E Jensen

    I got stuck in a giant storm in Chicago last year, Of course, I had to make the best of it. . . .

    http://jeffejensen.blogspot.com/2011/02/braving-storm.html

  • http://Www.wildlifeencounters.eu Steve

    A classic case for HDR where there are subtle tones but care with the whites which may come out grey. Use layers and masks to bring the white back.
    http://wildlifeencounters.photoshelter.com/gallery-image/France/G0000hue7p7WOhXs/I0000fqrzjlGQzJ8

  • http://www.guigphotography.com/# Guigphotography

    Always great to see an article from James. #5 is of particular interest to me as I haven’t had any desire to use HDR, but hadn’t considered it in B&W. Looking forward to trying that (and thanks Steve for the additional tip).
    I found the white vignette useful, albeit on an old photo with a cheap camera. The shot is still a favourite of mine .
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/69604456@N07/6418768131/in/photostream

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/debthepicturelady/ Deb

    This one was from the first snow storm of this winter season, which happened to be a football playoff night!

  • http://www.ebay.com/itm/130806075752?ssPageName=STRK:MESELX:IT&_trksid=p3984.m1555.l2649 Matt E.

    I must admit, I’ve never actually seen a photo with a white vignette that I actually like until now. If I hadn’t seen that photo, I probably would have let my personal bias keep me from trying it.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/ralphhightower Ralph Hightower

    I rarely get the opportunity to photograph in snow since South Carolina gets a significant snowfall about every four years. But I suggest using exposure compensation to overexpose the photo.

  • Dan

    Great tips! I respectively don’t agree though with the white vignette. I think it distracts from the simpleness of the photo and creates confusion. Of course for some folks that’s a good thing!

  • http://livingonthelens.com Brenda

    Thank you for the techniques. I never thought of using vignetting at all on my photos. Although I like both the before and after snow scene I like how you used the white vignette because it ended up putting the emphasis on the middle of the photo and made those trees the focus to draw the eye even more to the couple. Very cool… I can see the photo placed on a white wall to continue the effect.
    Also never thought of HDR on black and white either! Two great tips. Thank you!

  • Maya

    I “discovered” the magic of white vignetting on winter scenes last year. Glad to fins out that i wasn’t completely off the road. Here is a compilation of some photos (most of them i took through a train window) :

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z6YmD-TUUt0

  • http://marius-fotografie.blogspot.com marius2die4
  • http://www.duncansphotography.co.uk Duncan Meechan

    Sounds like some good ideas, now all i need is some decent snow to try them out!

  • Abigail

    those are some cool photos..I will def. be trying some of these tips!!

  • faye

    I’m always inpressed with photographers that share their experience so those of us that haven’t used a certain technique a can experience it. Thank you so much.

  • Scott

    Another way to spice up winter photos is through the use of spot color. In the image of the stuck cab, retain the color in the cab and the American flags and throw everything into black and white.

  • ??????? ??????????

    I spending the new year’s week in New York at my friends place. As I’m from Texas, I didn’t know the first thing about photographing snow scenes. Glad I read this post in time.

  • Evelyn Spikes

    Oh, how I wish I could photograph Central Park in the snow! I’ve been to NYC only twice …only once did I have time to take a good number of photos, but it was in April. These snow images are wonderful

  • Guest

    Alexandra Palace, London.

  • Luiz Forster

    Alexandra Palace, London.

  • Luiz Forster

    What should be the best size and quality when uploading a photo on dPS?

  • Luiz Forster

    Below, Alexandra Palace, London.

  • Barry E Warren

    This isn’t NYC by far, but a seen from the top of my lane looking at a Amish farm.

  • Jod.z

    I’ve always thought people over-use vignetting and I’ve never really considered it until now. Thanks for the tip, I like how it turned out!

  • http://melbourne.fortuneinnovations.com/ Steve Zissou

    Great collections thank you for posting this Thank you.

  • http://www.jamesmaherphotography.com/ James Maher

    Thanks Steve.

  • http://www.jamesmaherphotography.com/ James Maher

    It looks like you used a dark vignette here? Give a subtle white vignette a try and see how it turns out!

  • Jod.z

    Yes I did – oops. I liked how the dark one turned out so much, I forgot to try the reverse white! I like them both.

  • Jason

    this is an HDR shot I took last weekend. This copy is only 574kb so the quality isn’t great and I don’t have a full resolution uploaded anywhere to link.

  • MESK

    Beautiful shots!

  • http://www.jamesmaherphotography.com/ James Maher

    Great, yeah it’s tough to choose. I think I’m a fan of the second slightly more. But it’s amazing to see how different each version turns out.

  • http://www.jamesmaherphotography.com/ James Maher

    Thanks!

  • Erik Ritzman

    Here’s two I took . I’m a complete Newbie, only been shooting for about 2 months. I did use HDR to capture the snow and unique lighting, especially in the one to get that “It’s a White Christmas” feel. I look forward to learning more from DPS. Thanks for the article, IchthysPhoto

  • PAS

    Thank you for the tips! I cannot wait to try them out. I love the last image of the carriage and trees. I keep waiting for a pop of red color somewhere though.

  • Agusta Daniels

    These are all very useful tips .. I’ve been taking quite a lot of snow pics lately and we’re expecting more snow next days .So really looking forward to try this out!

  • Ralphs Canon

    Thank you for the tips throughout this year, happy holidays.

  • http://www.jamesmaherphotography.com/ James Maher

    Happy holidays to you too!

  • http://www.jamesmaherphotography.com/ James Maher

    Happy you enjoyed them!

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/abhijitsarkarphotography Abhijit Sarkar

    I’ve looked all over the web for winter clothing suitable for Photography but didn’t find a specific inventory. I was looking for something like the example below. Would you have any recommendations?
    1) Brand X, type A cold weather boots.
    2) Brand Y, type B cold weather jacket.
    3) Brand Z, type C touchscreen gloves.

  • vincestaley

    TO ALL

  • Dolores Flaming Wiens

    Winter Wonderland in the Desert!

  • Dolores Flaming Wiens

    Winter in the Desert!

  • Melissa

    this is a shot I got over the weekend.

  • Melissa

    here is the same shot in color

  • AliNoorani

    Thanks for the tips
    Also I’m thinking gold reflectors might help warm up the face in the freezing background

  • Carol Mensch

    Never thought to try reverse Vignette on snow photos! Definitely made a difference in this shot at Corbett’s Glen, Rochester NY that I took yesterday. Thanks for the tips.

  • larry

    what filter or effect did you use to make this photo look like this?

  • Jason

    I used Photomatix. I don’t remember what preset I started with. I adjusted it a little from there and then did some more noise reduction and a couple things in lightroom

Some older comments

  • Scott

    February 12, 2013 05:39 am

    Another way to spice up winter photos is through the use of spot color. In the image of the stuck cab, retain the color in the cab and the American flags and throw everything into black and white.

  • faye

    December 27, 2012 05:15 am

    I'm always inpressed with photographers that share their experience so those of us that haven't used a certain technique a can experience it. Thank you so much.

  • Abigail

    December 25, 2012 03:40 am

    those are some cool photos..I will def. be trying some of these tips!!

  • Duncan Meechan

    December 19, 2012 07:23 am

    Sounds like some good ideas, now all i need is some decent snow to try them out!

  • marius2die4

    December 4, 2012 07:35 am

    Good advice!
    http://marius-fotografie.blogspot.com

  • Maya

    December 2, 2012 08:04 pm

    I "discovered" the magic of white vignetting on winter scenes last year. Glad to fins out that i wasn't completely off the road. Here is a compilation of some photos (most of them i took through a train window) :

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z6YmD-TUUt0

  • Brenda

    December 1, 2012 11:05 am

    Thank you for the techniques. I never thought of using vignetting at all on my photos. Although I like both the before and after snow scene I like how you used the white vignette because it ended up putting the emphasis on the middle of the photo and made those trees the focus to draw the eye even more to the couple. Very cool... I can see the photo placed on a white wall to continue the effect.
    Also never thought of HDR on black and white either! Two great tips. Thank you!

  • Dan

    November 30, 2012 04:02 am

    Great tips! I respectively don't agree though with the white vignette. I think it distracts from the simpleness of the photo and creates confusion. Of course for some folks that's a good thing!

  • Ralph Hightower

    November 26, 2012 08:42 am

    I rarely get the opportunity to photograph in snow since South Carolina gets a significant snowfall about every four years. But I suggest using exposure compensation to overexpose the photo.

  • Matt E.

    November 25, 2012 04:08 pm

    I must admit, I've never actually seen a photo with a white vignette that I actually like until now. If I hadn't seen that photo, I probably would have let my personal bias keep me from trying it.

  • Deb

    November 25, 2012 03:40 am

    This one was from the first snow storm of this winter season, which happened to be a football playoff night!

  • Guigphotography

    November 24, 2012 09:38 pm

    Always great to see an article from James. #5 is of particular interest to me as I haven't had any desire to use HDR, but hadn't considered it in B&W. Looking forward to trying that (and thanks Steve for the additional tip).
    I found the white vignette useful, albeit on an old photo with a cheap camera. The shot is still a favourite of mine .
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/69604456@N07/6418768131/in/photostream

  • Steve

    November 24, 2012 05:33 am

    A classic case for HDR where there are subtle tones but care with the whites which may come out grey. Use layers and masks to bring the white back.
    http://wildlifeencounters.photoshelter.com/gallery-image/France/G0000hue7p7WOhXs/I0000fqrzjlGQzJ8

  • Jeff E Jensen

    November 24, 2012 04:04 am

    I got stuck in a giant storm in Chicago last year, Of course, I had to make the best of it. . . .

    http://jeffejensen.blogspot.com/2011/02/braving-storm.html

  • Badflea

    November 24, 2012 03:13 am

    Nice post and nice photos!
    Here some experiments with the snow...

    http://pdf34.wordpress.com/2012/02/02/ancora-neve-still-snow-part-2/
    http://pdf34.wordpress.com/2012/02/02/ancora-neve-still-snow/
    http://pdf34.wordpress.com/2012/03/29/hokkaido-04/

  • Mridula

    November 24, 2012 02:33 am

    I hardly get to photograph snow in India! It is only when I trek in the Himalayas I get snow. I can see why black and white is useful here.

    http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/2011/06/before-and-after-at-talhauti-uttarakhand.html

  • Jai Catalano

    November 24, 2012 01:47 am

    Tilt Shift is cool with snow too.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/jaicatalano/5400951191/in/photostream

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