The UK and parts of the US is covered in snow again which many might curse as they have to trudge to work, but it can also present some fun opportunities too. So before the sun rears its head you can grab your camera and get shooting. The snow makes for some great photos, but also some tricky shooting experiences.
Here are five tips to help you take some great pictures, whether you're just capturing the moment or trying to grab that perfect picture for your Christmas cards.
Chances are your camera is going to get confused by the snow no end - you can use a "snow" scene setting if your camera has one, else just notch up the exposure compensation on the camera. If the subject is too dark against the snow then +1 should do it - don't worry if the snow overexposes a little, it can add to its look and stop everything from looking too grey.
Another approach is to change the camera's metering. By default most cameras are set to centre-weighted where they consider the majority of the scene before making an exposure. There are also partial and spot metering options that consider only the centre and the pinpoint centre of the shot respectively and so will base an exposure on this area. If that's where your subject is, the exposure will be set accordingly and you probably won't need to adjust the exposure compensation as outlined above.
Contrast & Colour
Shooting a snow storm doesn't look that pretty because there are no contrasting colours - everything looks rather monotone in grey or white. Wait till the sky clears and the snow stops falling and now you've got a crystal blue sky to shoot against. If the sun is refusing to come out then it can help if your subjects are brightly dressed. Scarves are a great way of adding a dash of bright red or green into the picture to offset the white backdrop.
However, colour - or the lack of it - can also pose an issue with what's called "white balance". Your camera will be set to auto white balance (AWB) by default, but if you find shots are coming out too blue it's because the white snow is confusing the camera. As in the previous tip, using a "snow" scene mode can help out, or if you're feeling really adventurous go to manual white balance. The lower the number (in degrees Kelvin) the bluer or more "cool" a scene will look, the higher the number the more yellow or "warm" it will appear. It can be fiddly to mess around with, but getting the right balance where the snow is as close to white as possible pays off in the final shot.
Point of View
This goes for all pictures you take but think about getting down to the level of your subject. Shooting a snowman by lying on the floor will give you a sense that he is far bigger than he is. Likewise when it comes to shooting a snowball fight if you're photographing kids - get low. If you're feeling brave get them to throw snowballs at you just as you take the picture... just make sure your camera's up to it!
At the other end of the scale getting up high for landscapes will enable your camera look down upon the subject - it will reveal more of what you're looking at and look that much more professional. Choose a wide-angle zoom setting to open up the scene to be broader than the eye can see. But keep your wits about you - don't go climbing up any precarious icy things to get the shot; it's best to stay safe.
All that reflective snow around means there will be plenty of light. Avoid shooting into the sun if it's out, as it'll confuse the camera's exposure and you'll get lens flare. Also avoid your subject staring into the sun's direction as they'll squint - and it's already bad enough with all that light bouncing around from the snow.
Keep the sun at right-angles to your subject during morning and evening hours and at an acute angle from behind you when it's high in the sky, for improved scene exposure. The best shots will also mostly be snapped either late in the day or first thing as this is when the light is golden and, at least often, the sun is untouched. That warm light may look better to not be white - see the white balance colour tip above - so review your shots after shooting and keep taking more.
If you're venturing out into the woods or city it might sound obvious or even silly to say, but wrap up warm. Take a blanket (for lying on), gloves are an essential to avoid cold hands and wellies can be useful to avoid wet feet.
Also make sure you've got a full charge in your camera's battery. Batteries don't last as long when they are cold so you're likely not to get quite as many shots out of one, though only marginally, compared to a baking hot, sunny day. Just like a car windscreen, camera lenses can also steam up when removed from warmer bags. It's not like you've got a heated bag, but those subtle changes can cause the lens to fog up so also pack a microfibre lens cloth as tissues and the like just won't cut it.
One other fun thing about snow is that you can always "build a tripod" out of it rather than a snowman so at least that's one less thing to pack.
Original article published on 3 February 2009