Everyone loves Autumn.
There is always a delicious smell in the air. Everything pumpkin flavored is out (if you know what I mean). The trees are luscious and full of gorgeous color.
But after the peak of Fall comes that lull that isn’t quite as exciting to shoot in… when the trees are bare, dead, and void of color. But then comes Winter! And as much as I despise the bitter cold temps and driving in the snow, I absolutely love shooting in the snow. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when heading out to take photos in the snow.
1. Keep warm
Growing up in the Midwest, we are lucky to experience all four seasons. However, we also get the extremes of those four seasons. I love the snow (as do my children), but there are times when it’s just too cold to be out in it. We get days when the windchill is 30 below and must stay inside. But on the more mild days, we love to venture out. And subjects willing, I will have my camera in hand.
One thing to keep in mind is to make sure both you and your subject(s) are dressed appropriately for the weather. I can not emphasize this enough. This is true for both client sessions and when going out with your own children. If your subjects are cold and miserable, it will show in your images, and it’s just not safe. So please be smart and bundle up!
Also, you want to stay warm yourself. And if you shoot in manual, adjusting your settings frequently is much easier without cumbersome gloves. So find a warm pair of gloves that also allow you to easily maneuver your fingers to adjust your camera settings. Target has these gloves right now.
2. Watch your histogram
It’s very easy to overexpose and blow your highlights when shooting in the snow, especially on sunny days. You want nice, bright snow, but not so bright that you lose detail. I still meter off my subject’s skin (face), but make sure to watch my histogram to make sure I’m not clipping the highlights of the snow.
Also, the snow will act as a natural reflector (bonus for all of us natural light shooters!). So you tend to get nice, brightly lit subjects even on overcast days (which are very common here in the winter). But again, watch that histogram!
3. White balance
White balance can be a little tricky when taking photos in the snow. Often, when you upload your images to the computer, they end up looking really blue. I love a warm image, so when I process my images it’s easy to go too far the other direction and end up with images that are too yellow, red, and just mucky-looking.
There are a couple easy fixes for this.
One would be setting custom white balance in camera. This is a quick and simple way, but one that I unfortunately rarely take the time to do. Another is by adjusting white balance in post-processing. You can do this in Lightroom, ACR, or Photoshop. Use the color sampling tool and click a few points on your snow (points in even light), and adjust your color/tint sliders as needed to make those points read true white. Then take a look at your overall image and see where you are at. Occasionally if my subject is looking a little too cool for taste, I will selectively color-correct their skin with a color balance layer. Then I will add a layer mask, invert it, and paint only on their skin with a soft white brush. This way, only their skin is warmed up, and the snow remains untouched.
I already discussed a little on white balance when processing my images, but lets talk a little about color.
SOOC (straight out of camera) shots can come out a bit dull, especially on overcast days. There are a few ways you can add a little pop to your images.
One way would be to increase the blacks to add a bit more contrast. You could also add a touch of saturation/vibrance to the scene, such as your subject’s coat, trees in the background, etc. Another way to add a little pop to your image is by adding a soft light layer in Photoshop – duplicate your background layer, set it to “soft light”, and lower the opacity to taste. This can add great depth to the image as well. And finally, a little color play can do wonders. I like to photograph with colors that will make the scene pop a bit more and allow my subject to stand out against the bright white scene. Whether it be a pretty soft pink, muted neutral tones, or a bright vibrant blue, an isolated subject with a pop of color among a blanket of white looks amazing in an image!
5. Protect your camera
Extreme weather changes can have an effect on your gear so protecting that gear is very important!
When shooting outdoors in the winter, there is an extreme temperature change from the outdoor air to the indoor air. Coming indoors to a warm “moist” heat from the extreme “dry” cold, can quickly cause condensation to build in your camera and/or lenses. I try to reduce this risk by exposing my camera to the temperature change slowly. Before I go back indoors, I will put my camera back in my bag and then leave it in my car or garage for a little while before bringing it straight into my house.
The same goes for when you are actually shooting outside. If you try to keep your camera warm by putting it in your coat (but you are warm/sweaty under your coat), that more humid body heat is going to heat up the camera/lens and can produce condensation as well. If you want to keep your camera a little warmer while out, stick it in your camera bag!
Also, batteries tend to drain a little faster in the cold. Always try to remember a back-up battery or two just in case!
6. Get creative
Winters can be long here in the Midwest. I’m sure many of you can relate! The days are short and we get cooped up inside for way too long. We may get bored from days on end of shooting indoors. And many of us get into a creative rut. Trust me, I’ve been there!
But get outside. Try something different. Play with it. Overcast days or golden hour. Make snow angels with your kids. Throw some snow up in the air and capture it falling against a golden backlit sky and see the flakes make the most beautiful bokeh. Go out while it is snowing. This is a favorite for my kids. A fast shutter speed can capture those beautiful flakes falling mid-air (this is best done with a colored background – building, row of trees, etc – to make sure those flakes show well against your background and it’s not white on white). Try out that new Lensbaby. Practice some macro shots of snowflakes. Just get out there. There are so many options in the winter to keep your creativity flowing!