If there's one thing I know a lot about, it is snow! Living in Canada, we can see snow twelve months of the year. Usually, though, we're snow-free for about four or five. Photographing in the snow isn't always easy. You're dressed up in bulky winter clothing, trying to manage your equipment and change your settings with cold fingers while getting pelted in the face with swirling snowflakes...this supposed to be fun, right? Well, indeed, it is! Snow is absolutely magical, and you can capture beautiful images in the snow! Below are a few technical tips to help you make the most out of your snowy photographs this winter. Get ready to bundle up and enjoy the fresh, crisp, beautiful air and snow-filled scenes that winter brings.
1. Thoughtfully set your exposure
Snow is often very bright, which is actually a great feature because it can act as a natural reflector and bounce pretty light up and onto your subject. However, because it's so bright, it can be easy to overexpose snow. Overexposed snow will result in loss of details, leaving a whitewash mess. During the winter months, try exposing for the snow. Set your light meter to read about +1 1/3 to +1 2/3 for the brightest snow. Most often, this results in a well-exposed image and will preserve bright snow detail. Your subject may be a little underexposed using this technique; however, you can easily make adjustments in post-processing with a Radial Filter in Lightroom or a Levels layer and mask adjustment in Photoshop.
I also recommend turning on your in-camera highlight indicator. Areas in your image will blink if overexposed, and you'll be able to dial back exposure should you need to do so to preserve snow detail.
2. Consider aperture
Creative consideration of aperture is useful during the winter months, especially if you want to capture pretty snow or sparkle snow bokeh. Use a large aperture like f2.8 or f3.2. This shallower depth of field will result in beautiful snowflake blur while leaving your subject in focus.
The colour of snow can indeed be dependent on the colour of the light in a scene, especially when the sun is shining or during sunrise and sunset. Snow in brightly lit scenes will range from cool blue in the shadows to warm tones in the highlights, but snow should be white on overcast days. It's easy to accidentally give the snow a yellow, green or magenta tone or tint when post-processing your images. Be cognizant of the colour of your snow. Tweak your white balance selectively in post-processing, being aware that you may need to adjust the white balance for your subject and the scene differently.
Of course, golden hour backlight is a favourite type of light among photographers at any time of the year. Backlight is truly magical, and this is most certainly the case during the winter. To be successful when backlighting, remember that slight movements in your position can introduce haze or flare. Moving up or down or from side to side can really help control the light. Keep in mind that you can control backlight using a natural screen such as a densely treed forest background. For a touch of magic this winter, try having your subject toss-up snow while in backlight for an extra special touch of sparkle.
I absolutely love enhancing the atmosphere in my images, and I’m certainly not opposed to using creative overlays like snow and fog during snowy months when appropriate. Overlays can really go a long way to help enhance the atmosphere and execute a creative vision within an image. Photoshop is my favourite place to apply an overlay. Post-processing can be an enjoyable way in which you can add your creative vision and touches into an image you’ve captured. Don’t be afraid to play around some and experiment with snow this winter.
I hope you'll get outside this winter and enjoy the beautiful atmosphere that snow-covered landscapes have to offer in your photographs as you enjoy photographing the everyday moments of your children. Stay warm!
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