As I write this the big fluffy stuff is falling outside. This is the second snowfall we’ve had this week and it’s pretty rare to get snow in the city of Vancouver period, let alone 2 snowfalls in ONE WEEK!!! Normally you have to head up the local mountains to find the snow. It’s amazing!!! And feels super magical, cozy and Christmasy. Since the snow was so lovely today our little fam jam headed out to play in the gorgeous white fluffy stuff (it actually was fluffy, not the wet, heavy rainy kind we usually get – yippppeeeeee).
It dawned on me while I was capturing fun moments of my daughter that maybe some of you would like some tips so you could do the same. Snow is actually a bit of a tricky subject. I know it can be a bit frustrating for those of you who are newer to photography or who just shoot in automatic settings. Have you ever been excited to take a picture of your kids playing in the snow, having an absolute blast, only to have THIS happen (see below).
UGH!!! Yeah! Not fun. The first time I got super dark and grey photos like these ( a looooooong time ago) I thought our camera was broken. It was a while before I learned enough about photography to figure it out. So don’t feel bad if you’ve been disappointed or confused about your photo ability when this happened. There’s nothing wrong with your camera. It’s just how the camera works. They’re not always that smart you know. I boss my camera around all the time, shooting in manual and telling it what to do.
So, There’s a big technical explanation for what’s going on here. It’s a bit much to get into in this little boggity post. But all you need to know, is that when it comes to snow, the camera sees a whole lot of white and says “no one would want a picture of just white” and so it makes the picture darker. But we dooooooooo want the picture to be all white. So, what to do? What to do? Find some tips below to not only deal with this little problem, but also to help you take better pictures in the snow anyway. Let me know in the comments if any of the tips help you.
(The two above photos were taken in P (Program) Mode with no exposure compensation or anything, just straight auto with no post processing)
(The below photos were all taken with a manual exposure where I was overexposing from what the meter was telling me to shoot. Some slight post processing was applied)
GETTING READY TIPS
TIP ONE: DRESS WARM + APPROPRIATELY.
There’s nothing like freezing your buns off while trying to take photos. Dressing warm may seem like a no brainer but I thought I should state the obvious anyway. Also wearing snow pants when your outside with the kiddos is great so you can get down and play with them as well as get great angles without worrying about getting cold and wet. The biggest tip, wear half finger gloves like these or these where you can fold back the mitten part so that you can actually work the camera and take photos. Bonus is you can cover your fingers and keep your hands warm when needed. But don’t forget that these gloves are no good for actually playing in the snow. Maybe bring a good snow pair too when it’s time to put away the camera and play with your kiddos.
TIP TWO: KEEP THE CAMERA AS DRY AS POSSIBLE
Depending on the camera you have, it will have varying levels of weatherproofing. From None-at-all to could-survive-a-hurricane. But unless you’re using a professional camera, its safer to say that you’re closer to the don’t-get-it-too-wet side. So, if it’s snowing out when you’re taking pictures you can cover it with a rain cover if you want to be safe. There are a few cheep options online here or here (Please note, I’ve NEVER used either of these products. I’m just making a few suggestions that I know are available on the market. You can also buy much more high quality covers than these so please visit your local camera store for recommendations and options). Or just try to keep it out of the snow as much as possible. Just be aware that you need to keep an eye on your camera and how wet it’s getting. Another thing I tend to do is wear a big snowboarding jacket because it has lots of room inside for me to actually hide my camera when I’m not shooting. I can keep it around my neck and just tuck it inside the coat and then voila, grab it quickly to shoot again. So any coat that’s big enough to allow you to keep it covered is great. But it’s not the best if you’re needing to pick up your kids and such. I have to be extra careful to tuck it off to the other side of my body as I would carry my daughter. So be sure to have a covered and weatherproof camera bag handy if you prefer to keep it dry. I just find the bags to be a bit cumbersome. Just do what works for you. Be sure to dry it off ASAP.
TIP THREE: LENSES DON’T LIKE SNOWFLAKES
May be obvious, but try to keep your lens pointed down when you’re not shooting. I know some people have the tendency to hold their cameras facing upwards while they’re not taking pics. This will just let your lens get covered in snow. So remember to keep it pointed down but also keep a lens cloth on hand to dry it off. You don’t want water droplets on your lens. Unless you’re going for that blurry effect.
TIP FOUR: USE YOUR LENS HOOD
Piggybacking off of tip three, use your lens hood. That funny open cup thing that came with your lens, to keep any access snow from getting on the lens. It’s really meant more for blocking and controlling light streaming into your lens. But it’s also great for keeping rain and snow from flying into your lens.
ACTUALLY TAKING PHOTOS TIPS
Okay, remember earlier, I was telling you how un-smart your camera is when it comes to taking pics in the snow. Well, these next few tips should help. But all you need to know, is that when it comes to snow, the camera sees a whole lot of white and says “no one would want a picture of just white” and so it makes the picture darker. You need to tell it to shove off and leave the picture white. To do this, you need to override the camera and there are a few ways to do so. Keep reading and see which one you think will be best for you.
TIP FIVE: USE YOUR SHORTCUTS
Depending on what type of camera you have, your camera should come with shortcuts. Say whaaaatttt?!?!?! Yup, if you’re lucky your camera has come with a whole bunch of cheater ways to take better pics without actually having to know all the technical stuff. Point and shoot cameras come with the best shortcuts. And most of the new ones should come with a “SNOW” mode for taking pictures. You will probably find this under your SCENE (or possibly SCN) mode on your camera. Depending on the camera you have these could be on the dial on top of the camera or may have to be accessed through your menu. But if you quickly scan your manual you should easily find it. The icon is usually a snowflake or a snowman so it’s pretty self explanatory that this will help you take better photos. Just turn the camera to snow mode and you’re set.
TIP SIX: USE EXPOSURE COMPENSATION
So if your camera doesn’t come with a snow scene shortcut then you’re going to have to do some technical maneuvers. If you’re not comfortable shooting in manual mode (like I do) then you will most likely need to use exposure compensation in one of the semi-automatic modes. Remember automatic mode gets you into dark grey murky land so you have to venture away from auto mode to avoid the problem. Don’t worry it’s not as scary as it feels. These modes will let the camera do all the thinking, but you can still boss it around and tell it to change a few things. You can use Program mode which is automatic mode but you can override the settings. You don’t have to do much, just set up the exposure compensation. Or you can use Aperture priority mode (AV mode for CANON or A mode for NIKON) and this will let you set exposure compensation AND choose the aperture (which controls how much of your picture is in focus). Last, you can use Shutter priority mode (TV Mode for CANON or S mode for NIKON) which will let you choose the shutter speed of how fast your camera shutter opens and closes.
For beginners, I recommend Program mode. For those who feel comfortable taking more control, I recommend Aperture priority so you can choose a larger aperture and get more of a blurry background.
Once you’ve selected which semi-automatic mode you want, then follow your manual’s instructions to set the exposure compensation. Basically you want to tell your camera to expose one (+1) or two (+2) stops over what it thinks it should take the picture at. This way the snow will be white and not dark grey. You may even need more stops of overexposure but play around and look at your LCD to ensure your snow pics look like snow pics.
TIP SEVEN: GET DOWN AND DIRTY
Ahem, with your perspective. I always think it’s better to get down on the level of the people I am photographing. So for my daughter, I’m down in the snow with her when I take her picture. Not standing over her shooting down on the top of her adorable little toque. So remember, kneel, sit, crouch, whatever you want. But getting down on the ground allows you to catch their expressions and experience. A way better way to capture memories.
TIP EIGHT: SHOOT A LOT
If you’re learning, just take a lot of pictures. That allows you to learn quickly. Experiment, take some in one mode, then maybe push your exposure compensation higher and see what that looks like. Or shoot in P mode then switch to AV mode. Be brave. Shoot lots.
TIP NINE: HAVE FUN + PLAY WITH YOUR KIDS
You’re capturing memories. You’re playing in the snow. HAVE FUN!!! The more fun you have, the more fun will show in your pictures. And you want your kids to actually remember doing these things with you, not just of you taking pictures. If you’re spouse or partner or big kid or someone is with you, give them the camera SO THAT YOU CAN BE IN THE PICTURES TOO!!! This is about how your kids will remember this time too. You want them to remember you being there. That’s what is really most important. And sing some Christmas carols, gets great smiles if you’re extra silly while singing.
TIP TEN: DON’T FORGET THE SNOWMAN ACCESSORIES
Don’t be like us and build a snowman and then realize you’ve got noting to make his face because it’s all buried in the snow. HA HA!!! Bring a couple rocks, buttons, a carrot for a nose, maybe even a scarf and toque. Have fun. Build a snowman.
Enjoy playing in the snow.
And please, please, pretty please, let me know if any of these help you.
And if you’re interested in my upcoming photo classes for beginners and intermediates, please send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject “PHOTO CLASS INTEREST” to get info sent directly to you.