The country is currently blanketed in the white stuff and everything is shutting down. So what better time to fetch your camera and take great photos in the snow? Before you rush out and start snapping, here are five tips to help you get the best shots in the snow.
1. Protect your camera and lens
Before we get on to photographic techniques in wintry conditions, it’s important to make sure you’re protecting your camera equipment. Water and cameras don’t rub along fabulously, and although most cameras should be fine in a light snow shower, it pays to take precautions if you want a working camera in a week’s time.
If you’re shooting in a heavy snow shower, you may want to wrap your camera in a polythene bag to prevent melted snow seeping into the camera’s electronics. You don’t need anything fancy or expensive here – a Tesco’s bag should be enough to see off the worst of the snow.
If you’re shooting in snowfall, fitting a lens hood to your camera is also a smart idea. This will help keep your lens snowflake-free, avoiding awkward-to-shift spots on landscapes and portraits. It will also do its primary job – avoiding lens flare (or sun spots) when the harsh light reflects off the snow.
If you don’t have a lens hood, don’t get stung by paying for officially branded ones – the cheapo no-brand versions are normally fine.
2. Acclimatise your camera
One of the biggest mistakes you can make when shooting in the cold is to come rushing back in and plug the camera straight into the computer in your warm living room, desperate to see what you’ve shot.
That’s a surefire way to induce condensation, which can be deadly for the camera’s electronics and sensors. It will almost certainly invalidate the camera’s warranty, too.
Instead, leave the camera in its bag for at least an hour, preferably two, and let it gradually adjust to room temperature. If you absolutely must see the photos the second you walk through the door, then remove the memory card and plug that into your computer – although that wouldn’t be my recommendation. Memory card readers are notoriously fickle and can corrupt cards. Far better to plug the camera in with a USB cable when it’s had time to settle.
Likewise, when you’re out shooting, don’t be tempted to stuff the camera under your coat to keep it warm. Your camera will be fine in all but the coldest of conditions.
3. Shoot in RAW
If your camera offers the RAW format, use it. Shooting in the snow can be tricky and it’s easy to blow the exposure (see tip 4). Shooting in RAW gives you the maximum chance of being able to rescue a poorly exposed photo with software.
For example, here’s an image taken ‘as is’ by the camera. You can see the brilliant white of the doves and the snow is lost:
And here’s that same photo, after I’ve boosted the exposure of the RAW image:
You can use photo-editing software to simply boost the exposure (brightness) of the JPEG images most cameras shoot by default, but you stand a far greater chance of introducing image-wrecking ‘noise’ into the photo if you do.
If you’ve never used RAW mode before, beware that this means you won’t be able to instantly grab photos from your card and bang them up on Facebook etc. You’ll need a piece of software such as Photoshop Elements, Lightroom or full-blown Photoshop to edit the images first.
4. Tend towards over-exposure
Cameras aren’t used to metering for the harsh white of snow. The camera’s looking for boring greys, not brilliant whites, and your photos might come out murky and drab if you don’t compensate for that.
Shooting in aperture priority mode will help minimise the problem. You can also use the camera’s exposure compensation setting to boost the exposure by, say, two-thirds of a stop (as shown in the photo below) to let more light in and keep that snow bright white. The exposure compensation button normally has a +- sign on it.
5. Avoid the cliches
If I see another ‘arty’ shot of footprints in the snow on Facebook, I’m going to cry.
Search for the unusual. By all means look for patterns in the snow, but birds’ feet, dogs’ paws and your postman’s Dr Martens up the drive have all been done a million times before and often a million times better.
Portraits are a good choice in the snow, because people’s faces often have more colour in the cold and it stands out from the stark white background. There’s nothing wrong with a classic landscape, either, but try and find something different than the sheep on a hillside.
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