How to Take Better Pictures in the Winter Snow

Flurries of snowflakes, sparkling icicles, and snow-capped landscapes are the stuff of photographers’ dreams. But if you live in snowy climes, taking winter photos with that white glare or grey sky can easily throw you or your student photographers for a loop. Fortunately, by tweaking your angles and exposure settings you can learn how to take better pictures of the true, unobscured beauty of the season.

Avoiding the Glare of Sunny Snow

We tend to think of winter as being dark and overcast, but that’s not always the case—especially when there’s snow on the ground. Snow acts like an oversized reflector, as it bounces sunlight from the ground into the face of whomever you’re trying to photograph.

It’s about as challenging as it gets for a photographer, but if you follow these tips, you’ll be taking great photos with an even better backdrop. Here’s how to do it:

  • Aim to shoot in the morning or evening, when the sunlight is less intense. The afternoon glare will likely be too overpowering for your photographs.
  • Position your subjects so they aren’t looking straight into the sun—nobody wants to be photographed squinting. Seasoned shutterbugs may roll their eyes at this ‘obvious’ tip, but this can be easier said than done during winter, when snow reflects even more light into your models’ faces. Try to take pictures with the sun behind your subjects.
  • But with the sun behind them, now you’re battling that backlighting, so you’ll need to use your on-camera flash to fill in any shadows. This should also compensate for any imbalances of light.

Overcoming Dark and Grayish Hues

Another common complaint during winter is that photographs of blindingly white snow often come out underexposed, converting your winter snowscape into a dark and grayish mess. If there’s a large proportion of white in the frame, your camera will automatically compensate by darkening the image, even in dim light or on overcast days. Fortunately, settings on your camera and computer make it possible to capture the full luster of a winter wonderland.

  • Add +1 to your camera’s exposure compensation setting. If you want to do this manually, point your camera at a dark object and press the shutter down halfway to get a reading, then move back to reframe and finish the shot.
  • Alternatively, you could try shooting pictures in the RAW image format. This simplifies the process since you can tinker with the settings on your computer afterwards instead of fumbling over buttons out in the cold.

Capturing Highlights and Reducing Overexposure

When you look at a snow-covered field, you don’t see just an opaque blanket of white. You see the glimmering yellow where the sun shines through, the pale blues of reflected sky, and the grays and blacks in shadowy areas. The details you take in with your eyes can be hard to capture in a photograph. The camera tends to accentuate the bright tints of snow, which obscures the image’s other, more subtle highlights.

  • Don’t delete photos based solely on how they appear in your LCD screen. There’s a possibility that the backlighting is off or that the outdoor light is causing them to look distorted.
  • Instead, use your histogram to establish the actual exposure you’re getting. In a bright, snowy image, the left side of the histogram should show fewer pixels than the right. If any part on the right is clipped, your picture is probably overexposed. You can adjust the overexposed areas by lowering the exposure compensation appropriately.

Practice These Tips to Perfect Your Winter Photos

Before venturing into the bone-chilling cold, make sure you’re equipped with all the tips of how to take better pictures in the snow. Be prepared that it may take some trial and error, but capturing the perfect winter photograph will be oh-so worth it. Once you get the hang of taking better winter pictures, you’ll love how glistening ice and sparkling snow adds a bit of winter magic to the pages of your yearbook.