Struggling to shoot in snow? Here are 7 tips to master winter photography

Chad Verzosa

Although the lowest operating temperature of most cameras is about 0-degree Celsius, they still perform well way below that limit in most situations. Despite their impressive durability, the cold weather still presents a few challenges that might prevent your camera from working properly.

Photo by Briggite Tohm

In frigid environments, your batteries don’t last as long, and your equipment may lag or, in extreme cases, even break down. Apart from temperature issues, you might also find that your device’s auto functions don't work as flawlessly in snow-covered locations where everything is white.

But don’t let that stop you. In this article, we share 7 tips to address the most common issues you might encounter when shooting in winter.

01. Protect your gear

Snow is just as bad as rain for any electronic device. The heat generated by your camera alone could melt the ice, and water could seep into the delicate areas of your equipment. Use a rain hood to protect your camera from moisture and cold air.

Photo by Jakob Owens

The low temperature could also drain your batteries. To prevent them from running out of juice, stash hand warmers in the side pockets of your camera bag and put your batteries in there. You can also place the batteries in your pockets, and let your body heat keep them warm.

Photo by Cristina Munteanu

Aside from draining batteries, changes in temperature makes your camera susceptible to fogging up. Keep equipment in your bag and cover lenses whenever you’re not using them. Also, bring a lens cloth to wipe off any moisture that could build up on the lens before or after the shoot.

Photo by Caleb George

Moisture may also build up inside your camera, so take off the battery when you’re finished using it. Although it's highly unlikely to happen, some photographers believe that moisture build-up could cause your equipment to short circuit or malfunction as long as there’s a battery in it. Whether or not you agree, it's always good practice to remove your batteries when not in use. The danger of leaking chemicals alone is enough reason to not keep the battery in the compartment for too long.

Photo by David Marcu

When you’re ready to return indoors, put your equipment in large ziplock bags. Doing so helps your devices slowly adjust to the ambient temperature and prevent your lenses and the viewfinder from fogging up.

02. Protect yourself

Photo by Jakob Owens

Apart from protecting your equipment, you also need to keep your hands warm. It’s challenging to shoot in cold weather especially when your hands are numb and trembling. However, wearing thick gloves makes it impossible to even feel the buttons of your device. Thankfully, you can now buy camera-friendly gloves which allow you to expose your thumb and trigger finger while taking pictures. They’re not only perfect for cameras with traditional controls, but also for ones with touch screens.

Photo by pxhere

03. Use exposure compensation

You can’t rely on the camera’s light meter when photographing snow since it will most likely produce a greyish, underexposed image.

To create an image with snow that looks genuinely white, you need to use exposure compensation to intentionally overexpose your photos. Press the exposure compensation button (marked with -/+ sign), and adjust your exposure by two stops to solve your problem.

Photo by Wil Stewart

If you’re shooting landscapes, feel free to bracket your shots as well, especially if the lighting condition is poor and simply adjusting two stops doesn’t cut it. Bracketing is a technique that involves shooting several frames of one scene, incrementally adjusting the exposure with each shot using the exposure compensation button. Simply increase the exposure by one stop before pressing the shutter, and repeat the process until you have about 2 or 3 images that are overexposed.

Photo by Lucas Allman

If you have autobracketing, use it instead of the exposure compensation button since it’s more efficient. Once you locate the feature, all you have to do is select how many shots you want to take and the number of stops you want to add per shot. Once you've selected your preferred settings, press the shutter button 3 or 4 times, and you'll have several images with different exposures.

Photo by Leah Kelley

04. Adjust settings properly to capture snowfall

Shooting during snowfall isn’t as straightforward as you might think. If you’re not using proper settings (even with a good lens), you might end up with mediocre or even unusable images.

Photo by Hunter Bryant

If you want the snowfall to look like cute little flurries in your image, then use a fast shutter speed (around 1/400th or more). On the other hand, to create the illusion that there’s a blizzard, then use a slower shutter speed (about 1/15th sec. or less), which will make the snow look blurred and elongated.

Photo by Becca Tapert

Depending on how heavy the snowfall is, it can sometimes confuse your autofocus. Instead of keeping your subject sharp, your lens might accidentally focus on the snow flurries instead. Switch to manual focus and adjust accordingly to keep your subject sharp.

Photo by Simon Steinberger

05. Wait for sunrise or sunset

One of the best times to shoot snow is during the golden hour — the moment after sunrise and before sunset where the sky appears vivid and colorful. When the sun is low on the horizon, it casts an orange glow, which creates a beautiful contrast to the snowy landscape.

Photo by Pietro de Grandi

Shooting during the golden hour also adds some warmth to your images. Sometimes, when there's nothing but snow that fills your frame, it might end up looking flat since everything’s white. The orange tint from the sun will make your photos appear livelier.

Photo by Aaron Burden

Sunrise starts later and ends early during the wintertime. That means you don’t have to wake up early or stay up late just to capture wonderful images. Sure, the days are shorter, but that also means that you don’t have to wait for long before you could start shooting. Take note of the time so you don’t miss the light.

Photo by Pietro De Grandi

06. Use spot metering when taking portraits

Photo by Pete Bellis

When you're planning to take portraits in the snow, select spot metering. As opposed to evaluative metering which measures the light in the entire frame, spot metering only reads the light coming from a specific point you select. For instance, if you choose the subject’s nose, your camera will set the exposure based solely on the light bouncing off that area.

Photo by Uroš Jovičić

As mentioned before, snow can trick your auto exposure, so don’t hesitate to use the exposure compensation button for portraiture as well if you need it. Take some test shots and adjust the settings according to what you think should be the proper exposure.

Photo by Binyanmin Mellish

07. Keep subjects comfortable

Photo by Roksolana Zasiadko

Taking portraits in harsh weather may make some people experience discomfort. When you’re shooting in the snow, always ask them how they feel and make sure they appear relaxed in your photographs. It would help to keep the photoshoot short enough before they get too cold.

Photo by Kristin Vogt

Allow your subjects to acclimate to the temperature slowly; otherwise, you might start seeing red noses. Unless the nose is chapped, it should return to normal color once the body has adjusted to the cold. However, if the redness simply won’t go away, you can correct it with a photo editing software by decreasing orange and red saturation.

Photo by Rodolfo Sanches Carvalho

Try to shoot your portraits when it’s overcast or when the sun is low enough in the sky. Since snow is white, it reflects a lot of the light back to your subjects’ faces, causing them to squint. If you have to take photos when the sunlight’s still too bright, look for a shaded location where the glare isn’t as intense.

Photo by Todd Diemer

Snow changes landscapes and makes images look magical, so don’t let the cold weather stop you from creating great photos. As long as you take care of your equipment and you know which settings to use in snowy situations, you shouldn’t have any problems shooting in wintertime.