13 Snow Photography Tips: A Beginner's Guide

13 Snow Photography Tips: A Beginner’s Guide


Does your heart jump a little on a beautiful winter day?

snow photography tips a beginners guide

Are you ready to run outside and start shooting? I know how you feel, I love snow photography too. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

13 snow photography tips: a beginners guide

The tips in this article will help you get some great photos in the snow, and keep your camera safe.

beginners tips for photographing show

1. Focus on contrast

Autofocus can have a hard time locking on, when everything is white. It helps to focus on something dark, like the bark that’s just below a lump of snow on a tree branch. Your camera’s autofocus system needs contrast to focus on, so a plain white mound of snow may cause issues.

photographing snow beginners tips

Press your shutter half way. If the focus won’t lock on, move your focusing point to a darker area of the subject, and try again. This usually does the trick.

2. Camera settings

Set your camera to shoot in RAW. When you take photos in RAW, you will have more to work with in editing. JEPG files are already condensed, and don’t allow for much editing. Learn about 5 reasons to shoot in RAW.

Choose Evaluative (Matrix for Nikon) metering. Evaluative metering will do a good job. That’s what I used for all the photos in this post. If it’s really sunny, you may also want to try Spot or Partial metering to see if it handles the light better.

Exposure Compensation – Your camera will try to make snow look gray, so set your exposure compensation to +1 or +2. That will keep the snow looking white. You can also adjust exposure compensation while editing.

3. Shoot in Aperture Priority Mode

Aperture Priority (AV on Canon, A on Nikon) will allow you to quickly change your depth of field. When shooting in Aperture Priority the camera will choose the ISO, (if the camera is set to auto ISO) and the shutter speed, so all you have to do is switch between aperture settings. This is great in cold weather, and allows for a lot of creativity.

4. Capture it fresh

There’s noting like a fresh snowfall.

snow photography tips

If you want footprint free snow, you might want to plan which photos you’re going to take, and what order you’ll take them in. This might also mean going out early, before the kids get up.

5. Keep your batteries warm

In cold weather your batteries won’t last long. Charge two, and keep one in an inside pocket. When the one in your camera runs low, replace it with the warm one. Then put the drained one in your pocket, you may be able to use it again once it warms up.

6. Bag your camera

Condensation can form on the outside, and inside of your camera, when you bring it in from the cold. That’s scary, but it’s easy to avoid.

When you are heading out, just bring along a large zip-lock bag. I usually keep one in my camera bag or jacket pocket. When you are ready to go inside, put your camera in the bag, and make sure it’s sealed tight. Then, once you’re in the house put your camera somewhere it can warm up slowly. Once it reaches room temperature, you can take it out of the bag and use it normally.

I leave my camera bag in the car while I’m taking photos. Before getting back into the car, I put my camera in the zip-lock bag, then in the camera bag. This way the camera comes up to temperature slowl,y and condensation doesn’t form.

7. Don’t let the weather stop you

Snowy landscapes look good, in both sunny and cloudy weather.

On cloudy days, when everything is white, include elements that will break up the white, and add interest to your photo. If it’s snowing, use an umbrella to protect your camera. Or if it’s too cold to go out, roll down your car window, grab your shot, and roll it back up.

snow photography tips for beginners

While I don’t take my camera out in super cold weather, some people do. Read more about protecting your camera and yourself in cold weather (by David Shaw who’s in Alaska and knows about cold weather!)

8. Act fast

Snow can change quickly. It can start, or stop falling in an instant. When the sun comes out, snow can start melting really fast too. Those beautiful trees can go from dazzling to drab in no time.

snow photography tips for beginners 2

Don’t wait. Get out there and photograph it.

9. Be patient

Light can also change really fast. The sun can go behind a large cloud and totally change how the snow looks. You may need wait for the sun to come out again. This can be hard when it’s cold, but it’s worth it!

photographing snow beginners guide

Sunshine and shadows, add beauty and drama to a snowy scene.

10. Keep all your images

Don’t delete any photos from your camera, wait until you’re warm and comfy, sitting in front of your computer. You’ll be able to see your photos more clearly, and your fingers won’t freeze.

11. Play with perspective

Shoot from different perspectives. Try to show the way snow blankets the ground, weighs things down, and clings to everything.

tips for photographing snow

Watch out for falling snow. It’s not so nice to have a clump land on your camera.

12. Play with shutter speed

Shutter Priority allows you to choose your shutter speed, while the camera takes care of the rest. With a fast shutter speed, you can freeze falling snow in mid air. With a slow shutter speed, you can turn those flakes into long white streaks.

13. Capture some Bokeh

A sunny winter day, is a great time to create bokeh. With all that sparkling snow and ice, it shouldn’t be too hard.

To create bokeh in your photos, look for a subject that has something bright or shiny in the background. This could be the light reflected off of ice, melting snow or some sunspots. Use a wide open aperture (a small number like f/3 or f/5), and make sure there is some distance between your subject, and the shiny background objects.

13 tips for photographing snow

With a shallow depth of field (from the wide aperture), your subject will be in focus, but the objects in the background won’t. This will create bokeh. See 28 wintery white snowy images.

Let it snow

Will you be out experimenting on the next snow day? I’m planning on it. Have fun with your snow photography. Experiment with different settings on your camera. Just remember to dress for the weather, and bag your camera.

If you have some snowy photos to share, I would love to see them. I hope you’ll share your tips too. Please add to this article by commenting below.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Dena Haines is a photographer and content marketer. She blogs about GoPro and action camera photography on Click Like This. Check out: 32 Cool Things to Do with a GoPro.

  • Aletta Arganaraz

    Isn’t part of the reason to use RAW that you have the camera’s full latitude for white balance in post?

  • Katielee4211

    Using a baggie was a piece of advice I learned from Pro who photographs in cold environments. One thing he advised in addition, was to have silicon paks in the baggie to help absorb moisture.

  • El_Fez

    And you totally forgot the most important tip: overexpose slightly. If you shoot for what the camera suggests for an exposure, the snow will turn out gray and dingey. Shooting over a stop or so will make the snow white again.

  • Josh

    re-read Section 2. Camera Setting

  • Josh

    I wonder if a small pack of rice in a mesh bag would work…

  • Joy Ziemnick

    Snow and Ice along Lake Superior. Only have iPhoto jpeg editing now- open to critiquing..

  • Tim Lowe

    Exposure can be tricky with all that reflective white. A spot meter and a working knowledge of the zone system is a must. Also, when shooting in shade, be aware of a nasty blue bias.

  • sirpaultek

    I lost all auto functions on my best lense(28-300L) due to condensation forming and shorting out auto focus,and IS function and F stops!! $1100 fix for a couple of drops of water .I now open the bathroom window so the room is cool, so this doesn`t happen anymore when coming in from the cold

  • Hi Aletta,

    Yes, that is one of the great things about editing RAW images, you can’t do that with a JEPG.

    Thanks for commenting! 🙂

  • Thanks for the help Josh 🙂

  • Thanks for the tip Katielee!

  • Sounds like a great idea Josh.

  • Thanks for sharing your photo Joy!
    I like the shapes you captured in the drifting snow. The snow looks really deep. We’ve had some mild weather the last few days and it has all melted, but we’re supposed to get some more tonight. 🙂

  • Thank you for sharing your tips Tim. 🙂

  • That must have been so frustrating, and disappointing. 🙁

    But thanks for sharing your story, and for the tip about having a cool room ready!

  • Jens Rueckert

    There are some great shots and some good comments on the topic, Still, when I shoot in cold, wet, snowy weather then I prefer fixed focal lenses like the 50 1.4,the 55 1.2, the 12 2.0, the 24 2.8 or even the 8 2.8 fisheye. And i never bring the equipment inside at once after a shooting in the cold but try to leave them in the car in an open bag to let them acclimatize slowly. If I have to go inside somewhere then I leave the bag open or even put the lenses on a table or close to a cooler place, maybe close to a window or so. And as there are some nice examples for handling the colors in the snow which is not always easy, I still prefer black and white or monochrome here.

  • Thank you for all the great tips Jens!

  • Bob Bevan Smith

    Colour balance with snow is quite tricky. It may come out with a blue tinge if taken in sunlight mode, especially in high altitudes. Also, overexposure helps to get that white crispness in high-key situations.
    BTW There is a free program called PaintDotNet which has an ‘Autobalance’ tool which helps JPG editing in tricky lighting situations. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paint.NET

  • Joy Ziemnick

    Thanks, Bob and Dena

  • Katielee4211

    I was thinking the same thing 🙂 Same effect.

  • Matjaž

    One advice about contrasts on snow – try to avoid great contrasts! If possible persuade your subject of photography to wear light color clothes. This is normaly not difficult, but when you are allready on snow, it is hard to change clothes colour – so think in advance!

  • Richard

    Manual mode, with spot metering, and expose so that the snow is around +2. Or use the histogram and expose to the right.

  • Genevieve Laurin

    I took this a couple of days ago. Had the sun in my face and could hardly see what I was capturing, but a couple of pics turned out nicely!

  • Gabi

    One of favorite shots from this winter: when you love nature – nature loves you back.

  • James Fisk
  • Ed Rhett

    Are there any cheat sheets on “how long” to leave my camera in the plastic bag or camera bag after coming in out of the cold. Outside temps have to be a variable. I have no way to determine if the camera is at room temperature in the plastic bag! Also need cheat sheet for how many shots I can take at what outside temperature. If I have some idea, I can make a better plan!

  • Fielding Mellish

    If you need to get to the flash card right away, take it out while outside, put in a card holder, put in your pocket.

    Now put backpack in trash bag, and bring inside. Because you closed the bag outside with dry outside air, there is no moisture to condense. Since you have your card, so who cares how long it takes to warm up. It’s nuts, as some bad advice above said to open bag in warm inside. I shoot in early morning Colorado every day, it’s often zero when I go out.

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