Beginner Winter Photography Tips And Techniques

Winter brings its own set of issues for photographers

Siblings playing with snow on field against clear sky

Cavan Images / Getty Images

Shooting photographs in winter can be challenging. Cold weather can fog lenses and quickly drain batteries, for example. Sun and snow can cause exposure problems.Each of these issues can be difficult to deal with on its own, but combating more than one can be a significant hindrance to your photography. Try these tips to improve your winter photography and overcome seasonal problems.

Manually adjust the white balance

White balance is the biggest problem with shooting photographs in bright snow and sunlight. When automatic cameras have problems properly judging white balance, white objects in the photos tend to have a bluish cast. If possible, manually adjust the white balance setting to the cloudy-day setting, which should remove the blue tint.

Change the scene setting

Scenes vary by camera model, but generally, you'll find something like "snow" or "winter" among them, usually under the SCN or S setting on the dial or in the display.

understanding camera shooting modes
You usually can see the DSLR camera shooting modes by looking at the mode dial on the top of the camera body.

Adjust the Exposure

Center the subject in the frame. Then, depress the shutter button halfway to activate the light meter. As you continue to hold the button down, recompose the photo so the object is where you want it to appear. This holds the exposure setting in place. Then, press the shutter fully to record the image.

Get Flashy

Here's a good technique if your subject has harsh shadows—say, from bright sunlight on white snow: Force the flash to fire. With bright external light, the flash acts as a fill flash, removing shadows on the subjects and improving exposure.

Look for Interesting Subjects

Nature offers some beautiful photographic opportunities in winter. For example, look for snow-covered evergreen branches, brightly colored berries peeking out from snow, an animal standing in a field of snow, or icicles hanging from trees. What you're looking for is something that contrasts against the white snow.

Winter scene with red barn, snow, evergreen trees, and mountains.
These evergreens would look great even without the snow. Michael Interisano/Getty Images

Go for Where the Action Is

One benefit of shooting in the bright conditions of snow and sun: Shooting action photos with a fast shutter speed is easy. A skier moving down a mountain or a snowball fight can yield some interesting shots. Take advantage of the abundance of available light and shoot all the action photos you want.

Expert skier enjoys powder Winter Park, Colorado
Expert skier enjoys powder Winter Park, Colorado. Winter Park Resort

Embrace the Flurries

Snow falling around the subjects can create some great photographs. With the snow falling in the foreground, you can focus on a subject in the background, and the falling snow will have a blurred effect around the subject, for example.

If it's snowing while you're shooting the photos, snowflakes might appear blurred across the frame of the image. As long as this blur doesn't detract from the subject quality in the photo, the blurred snow look can provide a nice look in your image.

Young boy holding his french bulldog puppy in the snow
Falling snowflakes can create a blurred impression.  sarahwolfephotography / Getty Images

Bracket It

Shooting on a cloudy day with snow cover can produce photos with a flat, dull look. Try using a fill flash for overcast conditions. With thin clouds, though, the snow will still reflect plenty of diffused sunlight, making good exposures easier. Different types of clouds require different exposures, so experiment with a few techniques—for example, exposure bracketing.

Bracketed image of buildings and a bus
Smial/https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/CC BY-SA 2.0 DE

Protect Your Equipment

Finally, ensure you can keep taking fabulous winter shots by keeping your equipment safe and dry with these tips:

  • Keep your camera and accessories in a waterproof camera bag or a zipped plastic bag when it isn't in use.
  • Avoid frigid weather for long periods. Extreme cold can drain your battery or cause the LCD to malfunction.
  • Move the camera slowly from cold to warm conditions, e.g. outdoors to indoors. This allows the camera's temperature to rise steadily, rather than suddenly. For example, you might place the camera in an unheated garage or car first, then move it to a pocket near your body while you're still outdoors, where your body temperature can warm up the camera slowly. Quickly moving the camera from warm to cold conditions can fog the lens or cause condensation inside the camera, which can cause damage. In fact, such condensation eventually could lead to mold growth inside the camera or permanent lens fogginess.