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