Snow Season for Photographers

It's getting closer, and closer to Christmas. It may well be a white one this year (2020). There has recently been a large snow drop where I am currently (UK), so I figured I'd write out some tips and tricks. Helping you to get the best shots you can get in the snow. It isn't guaranteed anywhere you are in the world. So make the most of it while you can.



Plan


Photographing in the snow can be one of the most dangerous conditions to contend with. Planning as much as you can in advance, can not only help you get better shots, but also keep you safe. If you have a car that is designed for snow or can deal with it, you can take much more risky road trips (ie going down minor roads just after a snow drop).


It can take a while for roads to get cleared, especially minor ones. I usually try to keep clear of minor roads unless the snow has been around for a while. In which case it is more than likely cleared. If you have a fresh drop, try to stick to major road- motorways etc, they are much more likely to get priority clearing first. Unless you have the car for it, in which case, crack on!


In terms of planning your photos in the snow, its hard to know exactly how much snow will be there and what it will look like. There are two options here that can help- 1) Look on social media for recent posts from that location. 2) Check for live webcams in that area, a lot of national parks have them set up all over. They're very useful. Obviously if you have local knowledge of that area, that puts you head and shoulders ahead of the pack.



Forecast


Though this might be quite an obvious point, I wanted to elaborate a little on it. If the forecast for where you are is snow, great, you are in luck. Get ready and prepare to make the most of it. If it's not, you can always check the forecast for areas near where you live. Especially mountainous places, anywhere higher up for that matter. As you can see in the picture below, sometimes you can get snow in the higher places but not the lower. So make sure you are aware of that, and scan places near you that could be applicable. You could be missing out on a golden opportunity if not!



Exposure


I wanted to write specifically about exposure because it can trip you up sometimes, believe you me it has done for me a number of times. The snow is so bright, it can be hard to expose it correctly alongside potentially dark (not covered by snow) parts of your image. Firstly I'd always recommend shooting in RAW, you will have a much greater chance of balancing this out in post if you do that. Secondly, I'd try to expose midway between the snow being exposed well and everything else. Don't underexpose your blacks, its very easy to do when you are photographing snow. The contrast looks amazing, but can be tricky to balance sometimes.



You can see in the image above, the contrast between the black and white looks awesome. It is hard to balance though, just be aware of this to make sure you don't underexpose your blacks too much. It's always good to be able to see all the details (or at least have that option available to you in post) in the dark shadowy parts of your image. With a balanced exposure halfway between blacks and whites, shot in raw you can an edited image like above.


Capturing Falling Snow


If you are lucky enough to find yourself in the middle of a snow drop (hopefully not too much). This can really add to your photos. Make sure you have a fast shutter speed (at least 1/1000). To get the snow nice and sharp. I mean unless you want to go for something more abstract. You can use similar techniques to the ones I talk about in this blog, here! You can also use a wide aperture like f4 to blur the snowflakes, as pictured below.



Drones


Anyone lucky enough to own a drone, theres a few points you should take into consideration when flying in the snow. Most important is keeping your batteries warm. When a drone battery gets too cold it can malfunction midair. This has actually happened to me twice. First time my drone lost control, flew away from me and I never found it. Second time, it lost control and landed on-top of one of the tallest pine trees I have ever seen. Took me like 2 weeks to get it down! So yeah, don't do that. Now I try to keep them nearish my car heaters while I'm driving so they're reasonably warm when I take off. They will keep their warmth while being used in the air.


Secondly, be very wary of any snow storms. They can happen in a flash. I'd be careful flying too far away incase there is a storm. You will have to land straight away. I mean, unless you have a specialist drone that can handle it.


With that being said, drone shots are insane in the snow. Definitely worth trying. Just be careful like I say, and you'll be fine.



Use it to your Advantage


Everything looks completely different in the snow. You could go to the exact same place with and without snow, and come back with very different shots. So make the most of it while its around! Get imaginative, try something unique.




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