7 Tips for Beautiful Photos in Icy Cold Weather

7 Tips for Beautiful Photos in Icy Cold Weather


Winter is a beautiful season to take photos. In order to capture the beauty that winter offers you’ll have to overcome cold temperatures for both you and your gear.

Here are seven tips that will help you protect your gear and take beautiful photos during the winter season.

Remember that exciting feeling you had as a kid when the first snow came? If you’ve become a grumpy grown up when it comes to winter, challenge yourself to recapture the wonder of winter this year!

1. If You Hate the Cold, Stay Inside!

When you think of winter photos you might imagine being bundled up outside in the howling cold trying to avoid frostbite while taking photos. I’ve certainly been in that situation a time or two!

Maybe the thought of crazy winter weather keeps you from ever stepping outside to take photos during winter months. But who says you have to go outdoors to take nice winter photos?

Before stepping outdoors, think about what you can accomplish inside.

A few years ago I spent the whole winter indoors studying. I loved the way the icicles looked hanging from our house. Rather than take my camera outdoors, I photographed the icicles from inside my house.

Ever since I was a kid I’ve always had a bedroom that faces the sunrise. I love waking up to golden hour.

These are the icicles during the afternoon.

These are the icicles at sunset. In Ontario, Canada, sunsets often have deep and vibrant colors.

These icicles are being lit by the cool light of the full moon.

2. Preparing Your Batteries

Now suppose you do want to head outdoors to take winter photos; you had better be prepared.

Make sure your batteries are fully charged (including your spare ones). Batteries tend to drain faster in the cold, so find a warm pocket to keep them in. A pocket should allow the batteries to be up against your body; perhaps an inner chest pocket. Also, try keeping a hand warmer or baked potato in the pocket!

While you’re waiting for your batteries to charge, enjoy a hot cup of tea! Steam is a lot of fun to photograph and works best when it is backlit.

3. Metering for the Snow

Most people use some sort of auto setting on their camera such as ‘landscape’ or ‘portrait’ mode. You may even be using aperture or shutter priority. With all of these settings, your camera uses its internal meter to calculate the right exposure or brightness for your photo.

This can be a problem.

When the landscape is covered in bright white snow, your camera will want to darken the exposure. This means that you’ll snap a photo and the snow will turn our looking very gray. The camera doesn’t realize that you want the snow to appear bright white in your photo. Of course, it doesn’t even know it’s looking at snow!

There are two ways to fix this. The first is to use full manual mode so that you have control over the exposure, not your camera.

If you’re not comfortable using manual mode yet, then try using exposure compensation. Set your camera to aperture priority, then use exposure compensation to increase the exposure by a full stop. Keep making adjustments until you’ve got it just right. Consult your camera manual on how to adjust exposure compensation.

Prior to using exposure compensation, I used to have to brighten all my winter photos with Lightroom. Notice how gray the snow is in the photo on the left.

Even though you can brighten your photos later with an editing program, it’s far better to get the exposure correct the moment you take the photo.

4. Look for Contrast

Once you’ve got the hang of exposure and metering it’s time to make some creative photos.

The first thing I look for in a snowy landscape is contrast. Since the snow is bright white, I look for dark objects that will stand out in contrast to the snow.

Contrast is what will help your photo to ‘pop’ and give it more dimension.

In a landscape, this might be trees, buildings, animals or people.

The dark trees in the background help the shape of the snow-covered hill to stand out. The boy sliding down the hill really pops too.

5. Think in Black and White

You’re already looking for high contrast scenes. Bright white snow together with dark objects create a perfect high contrast black and white photo.

Seeing our photos in black and white allows us to appreciate the lines and texture in the photo without being distracted by colors.

The bright snow is contrasted by the dark trees.

There are two options to get a black and white photo. You can change your camera settings to photograph in black in white. Or, you can photograph in JPEG or RAW mode and convert the photos to black and white later.

I recommend using RAW mode and set your camera to black and white. This way your RAW photo will retain its color even though it appears black and white on your camera. Using RAW mode offers you the chance to see your photos in black and white as you take them, but still have the option to keep them in color when you look at them later on your computer.

A silhouette is a perfect choice for a high contrast black and white photo.

6. Slow Shutter Speed

I love to be out in snow storms watching the wind whip the snowflakes around. The constant motion of the snowflakes will allow you to get creative with your shutter speed.

You can set your shutter speed to freeze the movement of the snowflakes, but you can also slow your shutter speed down and capture the movement of the snowflakes.

You can’t see the wind with your eyes, but you can see how it blows the snowflakes around. When you slow down your shutter speed, you’ll capture the blurred movement of the flakes.

You can slow your shutter speed down just a little bit and capture some slight motion blur.

You can slow the shutter speed down to about 1/30 of a second to capture even more motion blur. Just make sure that both your camera and your subject are held very still (consider a tripod).

I recommend using shutter priority. Slow down your shutter speed until you achieve the desired amount of blur in your photo. Remember the third tip I gave you about metering for the bright snow? If you’re having trouble getting the right exposure then try manual mode or exposure compensation.

7. Protect Your Camera Before You Come Inside

People who wear eyeglasses know how annoying it is to come inside from the cold. As soon as they step indoors, their glasses fog up! This is called condensation. It’s moisture from the warm air collecting on a cold surface.

This will happen to your camera too. When you bring it inside from the cold, moisture will collect on it, getting into all the tiny little parts of your camera. Naturally, this can be a problem for the long-term health of your camera.

Here’s what you can do to bring your cold camera into the house without having to worry about condensation:

While you’re still outside, put your camera into a large heavy-duty airtight bag. Seal the bag so that no moisture can get in. Now when you bring your camera into the house no moisture will get into your camera. Allow your camera to return to room temperature before taking it out of the bag. When you do take it out, no moisture will collect on it!

This airtight bag will keep all the condensation off my camera until it returns to room temperature.

Beautiful Photos in Icy Cold Weather

Whether you’re taking winter photos from the warmth of your cozy home, or you’re going to brave the winter chill, remember these simple tips:

  • Charge your batteries and keep them warm.
  • Get perfectly exposed photos through manual mode or exposure compensation.
  • Make your winter photos look creative by finding contrast, converting them to black and white, or using a slow shutter speed.
  • Keep your camera safe from moisture by sealing it in an airtight bag before coming back inside.
  • Be ready for your next adventure by recharging your batteries as soon as they are warm!

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Mat Coker is a family photographer from Ontario, Canada. He teaches photography to parents and families, showing them how to document their life and adventures. You can get his free photography ebook, and learn more about taking creative photos.

  • Emily Seaver

    Those icicle pictures are stunning!

  • Mat

    Thank you, Emily 🙂

  • namberak

    #7 is also a good tip for warm weather. You and the camera are inside in air conditioned comfort and you step outside and your camera and glasses fog up. What I have done for a few years now is to put the camera in a ziplock and set it outside and let it come up to temperature for awhile before I go out. For the same reason, you’d want to put it into the bag before you go back inside. Most electronics (and other things too) ship with silica gel packets. When I come across one I toss it in the camera ziplock to help absorb any moisture in the air that gets trapped inside with the gear.

  • BlackEternity

    Thanks for the article. Hopefully it snows soon where I live.
    A side question regarding this topic:
    I’m trying to find a pair of gloves to use during the cold weather. I can’t seem to find any that fit my needs.
    I need to operate my A6000 with it, swap a lens from time to time.
    I don’t live in harsh climate regions. So the worst temps might be -5°C. So it’s not ice cold that my fingers will freeze off – but the wind is cold enough to dry my skin and cause limb fingers.
    I searched around a bit and bought some cheap ones that weren’t grippy.

    Any suggestions?

  • Mat

    Yes! Thanks for adding this.

  • Dave Hallberg

    When I go out to shoot I usually bring a 18% gray card to set my White Balance. The results are good at getting white snow. I also carry 2 batteries, fully charged, so I will have extra “just in case”. I shot this one a couple of nights ago during a snow storm. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/a87a3d7fc76a5f8b4a7c070c40b4a1cc4985929d8aeebf264317fe61b9700613.jpg

  • Tom Cooper

    As soon as I saw the title, I thought “put the camera in a plastic bag before you go inside,” so I was glad to see it made the list. I would add, though, don’t leave it in the sealed bag for more than a few hours. If you leave your camera in a sealed plastic bag without a desiccant (such as silica gel), you will eventually find condensation in the bag anyway.

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  • KC

    Although I have a camera cover for my primary camera and lens, when it’s truly “you’re kidding, this is madness” outside I have a rugged camera. Water-proof, freeze-proof, dust-proof, etc. I’ve been out in hurricanes and blizzards with it.

    Great? No, but neither are the conditions optically. It’s JPEG only and I have to keep the ISO low because it has a tiny sensor. But when the rain is going sideways, or the snow is creating a “whiteout”, or the wind is kicking up sand clouds on the beach, there’s nothing like it. I can print a nice, dramatic, 8X10.

    As for back and white, many times it’s the best answer to otherwise low color contrast images. Any interesting editing tweak is emulating infrared.

  • Mat

    Nice! I’ve been considering a rugged camera for situations like that (and to let kids use it). It’s amazing what black and white can accomplish when the colour or contrast in our photos isn’t quite “right.” Thanks for sharing your experience!

  • Mat

    Good idea, Tom. It could be too easy to forget the camera in the bag for a couple days.

  • Mat

    Hi Dave,
    I’ve been out in storms during the day, but I love the idea of heading out at night. Street lights offer a lot of opportunity to play with light and the movement of the snow. Thanks for posting!

  • Mat
  • KC

    I have the Panasonic TS5 right now and it’s a good camera overall. The design limits the image quality and a Raw mode would be brilliant. For the conditions it was designed for, it’s hard to complain. It can take a beating. At some point I’ll upgrade to the TS7 or wait for it’s successor.

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  • I have a pair of knitted alpaca pop-tops. Fingerless gloves with mitten tops that flip back. If the temps drop too low, I put hand warmers in the palms. You can also put hand warmers in your pockets for extra protection.

  • Nice article keep it up like this in your future.I hope you do best afford and make future bright.

  • Mat

    Hi Donna,
    My wife loves her alpaca socks in cold weather. They’re the only ones that keep her warm! I bet the gloves are wonderful! Thanks for the advice 🙂

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