Forest Lace, Blizzard

Forest Lace, Blizzard

How To Take This Shot 2

Doing photography in snowy conditions can be challenging. Not only are you attempting to compose an image, but you are dealing with the elements. Here are several key factors to keep in mind when venturing out to photograph while the snow is falling.

  • Dress to stay dry and warm while standing in the snow.
  • Keep your camera gear dry.
  • Create a "platform" for your tripod.
  • Remember your rules of composition.
  • Pay special attention to your exposure.
  • Be safe!

Before I get to the details of taking an actual photo while it's snowing out, let me share some tips on doing it safely and comfortably. To begin with, take someone with you or, at the very least, let someone know where you are going and when to expect you back. The snow is beautiful, but it can make it difficult to find your direction if you are distracted (as photographers often are). The snow can also hide dangers like streams, logs and rocks. It can be easy to fall and get hurt. (When walking in the snow with a fellow photographer, always leave a gap between you so if one of you falls through, the other can assist or go for help.)  Finally, wear the proper clothing. Waterproof, insulated boots are a must. Dress in layers, enabling you to remove some when hiking and working hard, and to add some when you have stopped to take pictures. On top of your insulating layers wear waterproof and breathable pants and jacket. You can't stay warm if you aren't dry! Finally, find a pair of gloves that will keep your hands warm and dry, as well as enabling you to work your camera. You may need one pair for walking and another for shooting.

Now to the photography tips when it's snowing! If you have a quality camera pack, it should come with a rain/snow cover that will keep your bag dry while you hike. While I recommend this, if it's not in the budget, use a heavy duty plastic bag and adapt it for this use. I also carry a large clear plastic bag (like they use at UPS) that I can fit my pack into when I set it on the ground. That way the back stays dry and the snow stays out when I reach in for gear. Next, I recommend a rain cover for your camera. Numerous versions are made, from expensive gore-tex to fancy plastic bags. Often times a shower cap will suffice. A small travel umbrella can work well once your camera is set up on the tripod. Chances are, snow will get to your camera and lens. Carry a non-abrasive cloth that is absorbent. I've found that many cloths are good for wiping dust from the lens, but they merely spread the water droplets. Plan ahead and be ready with an absorbent cloth that won't scratch your glass.

One issue when setting up your tripod in the snow is the fact that the legs may sink in deep. A couple of suggestions I have are: 1) Stamp down the area in which you are going to set up. This will compress the snow and give you a platform on which you can stand your tripod. Set it down gently so it doesn't break through. 2) Bring a small tarp that you can stand your tripod on. This can hold the legs up out of the snow. 3) If your tripod has locks that enable you to set the legs at different widths, undo the locks. This enables the legs to stay straight if they do happen to sink into the snow. If the locks are set, the bottoms of the legs will splay out, arching the legs and putting stress on the attachment points that could be catastrophic, breaking your tripod. 4) Be especially careful not to bump your tripod, as the unstable support of the snow may cause your composition to be lost, or the tripod could more easily topple.

Finally, given the distractions of dealing with the snow, remember to take care with your photography. After getting to your location safely and setting up your tripod and camera and keeping everything reasonably dry, you still need to capture a great image. Use the same rules and techniques you do when not in the snow. Start with the rule of thirds, consider leading lines, pay attention to foreground-background-middleground, etc. One factor that will differ is the metering of your scene. With a very white scene, your meter will invariably underexpose the scene, as it sets the exposure for medium grey. Be conscious of this and, as always, check your histogram to confirm that you captured a solid exposure. Chances are you will have to compensate by adding 1-2 stops of exposure to bring the white snow away from a dull grey. 

Remember, if you plan well and think things through, you are more likely to be successful with your photography and enjoy the experience. Feed off of the energy found in a new environment, find compositions that draw you in, focus on the technical aspects of the image when you're shooting, and make sure you enjoy being out in a world transformed by winter. I hope this article is helpful and motivates you to take your photography experience out in the snow!

Enjoy the View!

Jon Paul