Photo Tips: Let it Snow

On a blustery day, don’t pack your camera away.

By Bob Krist

For most casual photographers, a drop in temperature is usually accompanied by a drop in motivation. But as my old city editor used to bark at us photographers hanging out in the newsroom during a snowstorm, “It’s a … winter wonderland out there! What are you doing in here?” He knew, of course, that cold weather can make for hot pictures. Here are some tips for shooting in winter.


In bright, snowy conditions, it can be a challenge to get the proper exposure. That’s because the camera meter is calibrated for subjects of average reflectance, so when it measures something that’s much brighter than average, like a snow covered field, it still thinks it’s an average scene and underexposes. As a result, your snow scenes may appear distinctly gray instead of white. To avoid that, you can override the meter by using the exposure-compensation button (usually indicated by a “+-” sign) to program a +1 compensation. This will help render the whites as white instead of gray.

To be sure you’re not overdoing it, check some of the images you’ve just shot: If portions of a picture are “blinking” in the playback, that means those areas are overexposed. Ease back on the exposure and check again to make sure the “blinkies” have disappeared. And once you’re indoors, don’t forget to reprogram your exposure compensation to its normal setting.


Nothing adds drama to a landscape like shooting it through a snowstorm. To ensure good results, first protect your camera and lens from falling snowflakes. Many camera manufacturers make waterproof housings that let you use your digital point-and-shoot underwater. If you don’t have one of these, a Ziploc freezer bag will also offer good protection. Use a quart-size bag for a smaller camera, with a hole punched in the bottom to expose the lens. Then, put your hand through the open zipper to handle the camera and its controls.

Don’t worry if the sun isn’t out when you’re shooting your snow scenes. An overcast sky actually gives better results, because the soft light meshes well with your digital camera’s limited ability to record a wide range of tones (for example, white snow under bright sunlight).


If you want to emphasize the shades of blue that appear in a snow scene in the late afternoon or at twilight, try setting your camera’s white balance to “tungsten,” normally used when shooting under warm, incandescent light bulbs. Most cameras—even simple point-and-shoots—offer you the option of customizing white balance instead of relying on “auto.” Because the scene is already a gray or blue tone, the tungsten white balance will further emphasize those twilight blues, giving you rich, moody color. Again, don’t forget to return your white balance to “auto” when you’re finished.


After you’ve spent a few hours shooting outdoors in the cold, don’t let your camera fog up and become covered with harmful condensation once you return to the warm indoors. Just keep your camera sealed in the camera bag, a plastic bag or even your coat pocket until it heats up to room temperature. That way, the moisture will accumulate on the outside of the bag rather than on or inside the camera. And you’ll be ready to head out and capture that winter wonderland again at a moment’s notice.


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