Taking the Perfect Pictures in Snow and Wintry Conditions

If you’ve ever taken any pictures of somewhere where the background’s been mainly snow, you’ll probably have noticed that the shot didn’t look too great. The white, crisp snow can end up looking a little murky and dull, while any people in the shot can look very under-exposed. Fortunately for us photographers, there’s always a solution and these scenes are no exception at all. In fact, after learning the adjustments you can make to compensate for the altered light levels of snowy scenes, you’ll actually be presented with a range of unique photo opportunities that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. There’s plenty of inspirations, challenges and goals for everyone that’s into their photography in these interesting climates. Don’t let the weather hold you back when winter photography can be so rewarding!


The issue behind the problems with snow scenes can be found in the light meter on your camera. It’s been designed to make light measurements and adjust the exposure for a “standard” scene, so it’ll be just fine for normal conditions, but not in the snow. Around 18% of light’s reflected by a standard scene, whether it’s of your living room, a city street or rolling fields. That 18% figure is particularly useful to achieve the right exposure in the majority of situations.

It doesn’t matter even if you’ve got a top of the range light meter, it’s going to have an issue whenever it’s trying to measure a scene that’s reflecting different levels of light than you’d expect from the average shot. A primary example of these exceptional conditions are snow scenes. This is due to how white snow’s going to be reflecting much more light than our average 18% figure, resulting in plenty of under-exposure, which we don’t want at all.

Under-exposure can be corrected to a certain extent by making use of the exposure compensation feature that you’ll be able to find on any digital camera. If you change the setting upwards, you’ll increase the image’s brightness and exposure, making the background the correct color and making sure that every subject’s been properly exposed.

Whenever you heighten the exposure, you’re going to be putting your shots at risk of a couple of drawbacks. The first is that it’ll typically mean you’ll have to utilize a significantly longer shutter speed, leading to higher susceptibility to camera shake. If you can, it’s going to be worth switching on your camera’s image stabilization to compensate for this issue. If you’ve got a monopod or tripod, that’ll also be very helpful in reducing any camera shake that arises from increasing your camera’s exposure setting. The second issue that you’re going to need to be wary of is over-exposure, which can lead to “burning out” the white snow in your shot, leaving an empty white zone inside your picture. This issue’s always been quite prevalent with snow photography, so if your camera’s got exposure bracketing it’s going to be best to use it for these situations.

Spot Metering

Another really effective tool for this problem is to use spot metering. Spot metering’s not included on every digital camera, so you’re going to need to find out if you’ve got it. While it’s quite a bit harder to use than the standard multi-zone metering, you’ll find yourself getting much better results. For the majority of cameras, the way to use this form of metering is to aim the frame’s center-spot at your subject’s face, semi-press the shutter button to acquire a light measurement, and then while ensuring the button’s half pressed, compose your shot and take the picture.

Image Editing Software

If you’ve already taken a picture and it’s dull and greyed out, it’s usually quite easy to fix winter photography with good image editing software, such as Paint Shop Pro or Adobe Photoshop. The tool that you’re going to want to pay attention to is levels, which is a tool used to make alterations to an image’s contrast and brightness. If you’re in Photoshop, you can easily access this by pressing the CTRL + L shortcut, or by going to the Image > Adjustments menu.

There’s 3 sliders within this tool that’ll allow you to set an image’s various tone points. One of these will allow you to set the white point, so click on this button and then select any area of the image that should be white. Adjustments to the brightness histogram will then be made by the program to make the point you chose white, and in turn it’ll result in a brighter image.

Much, much more accurate results can be achieved if you’re feeling creative. Manually adjust the right (white) and left (black) level sliders to equalize the histogram, then move the middle-point slider to darken or lighten your image until the snow’s almost entirely white but still maintains some definitive details.

Ups and Downs

While winter photography can certainly present us with some difficulties, it also opens up some stunning scenes, especially in the morning and evening. When you’re looking for an easier shot and it’s been snowing, it’s probably best to avoid being out in the midday sunlight. Winter conditions are often very lacking in vivid colors, so that’s just one aspect that you can use to your advantage. Having a colorful subject against the snowy backgrounds can add a lot of power and “pop” to the colors. Always keep the contrasting shades, shapes and colors in mind to get the best shot. Once you’ve learned to properly set your camera for snow scenes and how to effectively expose your subject, you’ll be taking beautiful photos in the snow in no time at all!

Remember that you’re going to be draining your batteries significantly quicker when you’re out doing your winter photography, so it’s worthwhile to get yourself a backup or two, depending on the camera and its individual battery life. Keep the backup battery in your pocket so that it’s warmed up for when you need it. Allow your equipment to warm up slowly when you take it back inside, seeing as condensation can form inside your lenses and camera if they warm up too quickly.