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 personalities and stories of the city. If you are planning a trip to NYC, he is offering his new guide free to DPS readers, titled The New York Photographer's Travel Guide. James also runs New York Photography Tours and Street Photography Workshops and is the author of the e-book, The Essentials of Street Photography.

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!

  • 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) :


  • 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 .

  • 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.

  • 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. . . .


  • Badflea November 24, 2012 03:13 am

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


  • 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.


  • Jai Catalano November 24, 2012 01:47 am

    Tilt Shift is cool with snow too.