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12 Tips for Snow Photography

Photo Moment - February 28, 2018

Snow photography and video poses a unique set of challenges… here's 12 tips to help you get the most from your snowy day!


Products Mentioned In Today's Photo Moment

Panasonic Lumix GH5S — Get Yours Here

Panasonic LUMIX G9 — Get Yours Here

Fotga Variable ND Filters — Get Yours Here

Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmarit 8-18mm f/2.8-4 ASPH. Lens — Get Yours Here


[00:00:00.18] Hey everybody! I'm PhotoJoseph and as you can see, we've got some snow out here today and I want to give you some tips for taking pictures in it.

[00:00:18.02] When it comes to camera batteries, extreme temperatures are the enemy. Whether you're in extreme hot or extreme cold conditions, your camera batteries aren't gonna be happy there. So what you want to do is keep your batteries as close to room or body temperature as you can.

[00:00:30.13] If you're keeping your batteries in an outside pocket or in your camera bag, they're gonna get cold and they're gonna lose some of their energy. But if you keep them on an inside pocket, then you're gonna keep your batteries nice and warm and ready to shoot. Not only are they going to be handy when you need them, but they'll be kept at a good temperature so they'll last even longer.

[00:00:51.23] When it comes to shooting snow, what lens are you gonna shoot with? Are you gonna bring a wide, the telephoto, a standard or a macro lens? Well, whatever it is you do decide to bring out, consider bringing a zoom. The reason is, you don't really want to change lenses if you don't have to. Not only do you have to worry about falling snow getting on the sensor or the inside of your lens, you also have to worry about condensation.

[00:01:10.19] If you take that lens off on a cold snowy day, you might end up getting some condensation on the inside of it and even on the sensor, and that's not gonna be good for anybody. So, if you're out shooting in the winter, consider shooting with the zoom so that you don't have to change lenses. 

[00:01:28.10] Another lens accessory to consider is your lens shade. Not only will this keep the sun from glaring on your lens and creating flares where you don't want it, it'll also help to keep the falling snow off of the front element. You really don't want those snowflakes landing on your lens, they're just gonna melt and end up creating smears on your photos.

[00:01:50.28] Most professional camera bodies are both weather sealed and freeze proof, like this LUMIX G9 here. But if you're working with a non-pro body, then you may not want to be out in conditions like this with a naked camera. 

[00:02:01.20] So let's take a look at some options: This is a professional rain cover from a company called Kata and I honestly don't even know if they make these anymore… I know you can find it from other companies if Kata isn't but I've had this thing for probably 15 years. And this is a cover that allows me to completely weather seal the body, even cinch these cords around my wrist so that I can make sure that no rain or snow gets in there and because it has a clear plastic bag on the back, I can see through and see what's going on, on my camera.

[00:02:30.25] So this allows me to shoot with just about any camera in any kind of conditions. But, these are expensive. And as you can see, this one's quite large and cumbersome. What if you just want something simple and easy to set up? How about a ziploc bag? 

[00:02:44.08] All I did here was cut a hole in the bottom of the bag and truth be told, I just stuck my finger through the hole and spread it open a little bit, wrapped it over the lens and use some gaff tape to cinch it down.

[00:02:53.03] The back side of the bag opens up so I could stick my hands in here and the bag is completely protecting the camera. This is a great way to go if you just want to go out quickly in the rain or snow and not have to worry about your camera getting wet, do this. It's an easy solution.

[00:03:11.05] You may not shoot with filters all the time but a snowy day is a great time to break out the polarizer or the Variable Neutral Density filter. A polarizer is gonna allow you to cut through the glare of which there's gonna be a lot of on a day like this and also make your skies a little bit bluer and richer. 

[00:03:25.12] A Variable ND Filter is gonna allow you to reduce the amount of light coming into the camera so that you can either shoot with a shallow depth of field even when you're in a really bright sunny day or if you're shooting stills and you want to shoot long exposures, it will allow you to do that too.

[00:03:45.07] Whenever you're out shooting, it's important to keep your lens clean, but in an environment like this, odds are it's gonna get wet and dirty pretty quickly and pretty often. So I recommend keeping at least one if not a couple of microfiber cloths in your pockets.

[00:03:56.20] Keep one that's dedicated just for your lens so you know that all that it ever touches is going to be the lens itself. Keep another one, maybe a bit bigger one, for the body. This way if your camera gets wet or covered in dirt or snow, you have a dedicated cloth for cleaning that off with.

[00:04:16.06] One of the biggest challenges when shooting in the snow is getting an accurate exposure, and that's because the snow being so bright and white really throws off your camera's meter. Remember, a camera meter sees the world as 18% gray. So, if you point the camera at something that's pure white like this pile of snow right here, then the camera is going to interpret that as gray and it's going to expose it for gray.

[00:04:36.15] Let me show you what I mean… Let's get a picture, just - just the white ground here, nothing else. As you can clearly see in this histogram, this white snow isn't white. It's leaning much more towards middle gray. So, we need to tell the camera to overexpose the scene using exposure compensation.

[00:04:52.23] How you actually do that on your camera will depend on your camera and you're gonna have to figure that out. But let me show you what happens when we do take the exposure compensation up just a little bit. There's one stop overexposed and… there's about a stop and 2/3. At that point, in a stop and 2/3 or so, we're seeing the white at pure white, possibly even clipping, possibly even going a little bit over, and you want to watch that histogram. You want to make sure that you are not going too far over.

[00:05:19.17] If we're shooting RAW, remember, we'll be able to pull some of that detail back in if we lose it and we definitely want our shot to be on the bright side. After all, we're shooting the snow. But if it's leaning towards middle gray, by the time you lift it up in post, it's just not gonna look good.

[00:05:32.00] So, overexpose your shots… Usually between one and two stops over, closer to two before you're gonna find that exact right exposure for shooting in the snow.

[00:05:46.10] It should go without saying, but when you're out shooting in conditions like this, you definitely want to be shooting in RAW. Take a look at this example; I shot the same photo in RAW and JPEG, and I've deliberately overexposed the shot. If I try to bring the exposure down on the JPEG, look at what happens to the highlights… they're completely clipped, they're lost, they're gone forever. 

[00:06:05.10] But now let's look at the RAW file. In the RAW file, you'll see that I have quite a bit of detail hidden away in that raw data that I can pull back. Even though the photo is overexposed, I was able to recover it. If you shot JPEG only, that shot would be gone, but by shooting RAW, you're able to save the shot even if you ever expose it by a little bit.

[00:06:28.23] When it comes to White Balance, I gotta be honest, I almost always shoot auto white balance. The camera almost always gets it right and if it doesn't, it's easy to fix in the computer. But if you do want to get it perfectly right in camera, auto white balance on a snowy day like this may not be the best place to be.

[00:06:43.01] Auto white balance could lean towards blue so you end up with kind of a cool blue snow, and if you try and compensate, go the other direction, you end up with yellow snow and that's not good for anybody. So, how do you set your camera in a mode where you don't have to worry about it too much but you can still get that perfect photo? 

[00:07:06.16] We might want to consider setting the camera to the white balance for the flash setting. I know that seems counterintuitive but flashes tend to be a little bit cool and so the camera warms up the image just a little bit. So you might find that by setting your white balance to flash, you get an image that looks just right. And again, if it doesn't get it perfect, remember that if you're shooting RAW, you can fix it in post anyway, no problem.

[00:07:33.00] The snow being predominantly white means your scene is gonna be pretty monochromatic. So, there's a couple of things you might want to consider; look for some element of color that you can add to your scene, whether it's a red jacket or scarf or just anything that you can find to add that little element to color, it can really make the picture pop.

[00:07:51.00] On the other hand, if the scene simply is very monochromatic, consider making it black and white. Black and white snow photography can be quite beautiful. And if you're shooting RAW, of course you have the option at any time to adjust it however you like. So, play with it in color and in black and white and see which one looks better.

[00:08:11.19] You might be thinking, “What in the world do you need a tripod for on a snowy day?”! You've got more light than you can possibly know what to do with in a snowy day, so you don't usually need to stabilize the camera. Well, remember, if you take a long exposure, anything that is moving throughout that exposure will get blurry or even completely disappear. 

[00:08:28.20] So, imagine if you will, that it was snowing right now… It's not but let's pretend that it is, and I wanted to get a picture of this vista but I didn't want to have all the snowflakes interrupting the scene, if I take a long enough exposure, all that snow will disappear. So of course that means the camera’s gonna have to be on a tripod to make that a reality.

[00:08:44.04] Now, the other thing I'm going to have to add is that Neutral Density Filter that we talked about earlier. That will allow us to reduce the amount of light coming into the camera so that we can get that long exposure allowing us to blur out the snow and make it completely disappear.

[00:09:01.24] At the end of a day of shooting in the snow, before you head back inside, it's a good idea to take your camera and put it inside of a plastic bag. So what will happen is when you go into a nice warm climate or even inside of your car, your camera could start to build up condensation and that condensation could take a long time to dry out. 

[00:09:18.00] So you're better off putting it inside of a sealed plastic bag and letting the condensation accumulate on the outside of the bag. But before you do that, make sure that you take out your memory cards because if you don't, then you're gonna have to wait for the condensation to all go away before you get your memory cards out so you can start editing the photos that you shot today.

[00:09:35.18] So, go ahead and get that camera into a bag… seal that bag up tight… squeeze out some of that air and now you're ready to take this bag inside. Let the condensation build on the bag and not on the camera.

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Comments from YouTube

thanks for the tips, great ideas from practical experience...gave it a go (noob) after a spring snow in the foothills of the rockies
Nice! If I may… many of the shots are quite underexposed. Remember that looking at your histogram (or waveform) the snow should be almost to the very top. Glad you got out shooting, and enjoy the snow!
PhotoJoseph got it thx!
To sum it up, just shoot raw
That’s all you got out of this?
hello to you friend here
Hello back, new friend!
Right on needed this the first 3 tips helped my photos instantly
Awesome!! Hope you come back for more ;-)
Love it !!! But I'm gonna need a bigger zip lock bag to fit the whole rig hahahaha
Here you go…
Great video and commentary as always. I live in Canada so my winters have many conditions. I admit to struggling with snow. I also own a g85. Thanks for the tips.
Thank you and enjoy shooting in the snow!
When u dropped the camera I was like phoebe from friends; pick up the camera PICK UP THE CAMERA PICK UP THE CAMERA
hehehe it's funny how many people have reacted to that!! The camera is weather sealed, it's fine! ;-)
Awesome tips! This helped a lot.
Awsome!!! Thanks I have lots of snow here in Québec and am looking into getting the M50 so this video caught my eye :)
Enjoy the white stuff!
Thank you very much for tips master!!!
Haha I hope they are helpful!
great tips thank you. this will be my first attempt of snow shoot .. so these are really helpful.. esp the explanation of over exposing
Right on! Good luck!
I like the sound plastic makes when recorded. It's very soothing. Conversely, the same sound made live is agitating and nerve racking. The crunching sound with a deeper base sound I think make it desirable recorded, whereas live I think it's higher pitched and crackling rather than crunching. Therefore I think this video is oddly satisfying. I will thumbs up this video and conversely, thumbs down this comment.
LOL that has to be the most thoroughly (de)constructed comment of the year. I love it. I counter your 👎🏻 with a 👍🏻!
Hi, I have Nikon d3400 with kit lens, af-p DX 18-55 or 70-300 mm lens. What is the best ISO for snow photography?
Great sound quality even though there is clearly wind, what do you use for audio?
Thanks! Hm, I did this a while ago but it’d almost assuredly be my Sennheiser wireless (g3 ew100) with a deadkitten on it. Probably tucked behind the lapel of my coat.
Actually at 0:40 you can see it. It’s just dead center on my chest.
Thank you!
I still had a panic attack when you dropped the camera in the snow 😂
Weather sealed, baby! 😁
Just got our first snows
Wow, where?
PhotoJoseph Helsinki, Finland. Northern parts of Finland got the first snows a long time ago
Let's Gaming YT haha does it eve me go away up there? :-)
PhotoJoseph But here’s Northern Lights, beautiful landscape and snow
Great advice - thanks for this great post.
So useful and easy to follow, thank you.
Thank you so much for all the great tips!" Great video post!
Thank you!
5:15 if you're not sure if its not white or too white, look at the histogram, don't rely on image review.
Awesome tips! Check out our winter tips for drones- featuring the frigid tundra of Toronto :)
I vacuume seal my camera with a food saver and date it and keep it in the freezer. It generally is good for a year or more!!
Very good !
Tip # 13, get a coat with 200 pockets.
this is very smart nice dude
Thank you!
great tips and excellent clear explanation.
I love the plastic-bag to keep your camera dry. Just purchased the Nikon Z7. And in upstate New York, don't want it getting moisture.
Thanks for the great tips! Living in Michigan we get our share of snow. I had been using a Canon, now I've got a Nikon (nothing fancy), but it doesn't give me blue snow. It blows the snow out, where everything is blindingly white! I'm still working on learning how to adjust that. The rest of your video was very helpful!
Sounds like you might be using an "intelligent" mode that is recognizing that it's snow, but over compensating for it. Just dial down the exposure compensation a bit and be sure to watch your histogram. It's the only way to know for sure
I'm think'n that an incident read with a hand held meter may just be the ticket for proper exposure in snowy conditions.
Yep, if you want the hassle!
Thank you for making this video I appreciate your tips. It’s going to snow this week in Birmingham, England, United Kingdom and I’m looking forward to taking some snow pics.
Have fun and good luck!
PhotoJoseph thank you
Great tips here!❄️
In winter you can in/out warm places many times, when you carry electonic devices inside cars, building etc they doesn’t go wet, and nobody use plastic bags.
Just live camera in normal bag (without opening it) for some time, temperature will go up slowly and camera will stay dry.
I agree. But I also have silica packets in my camera bag just in case.
I died when you threw the camera
LOL that got a lot of people's attention 😉
I was exactly the 1000 like
I like that!!
If you want to achieve a near perfect white balance, buy yourself an Expodisc. The best $50 you will ever spend
You mean like this one here? 😁
Really great tips. I'm surprised its not #1. YT is so weird. Thanks for sharing!
Haha thanks, I appreciate that 🙂
I'm planning some winter photo/video walks, thanks for the useful tips. Well done!
🙏 thanks!
If you chose long exposures to make the snow flakes unseen especially in much more than leight snowfall won`t you get white or light grey photos and nothing else instead just like a curtain?
Not of there's just a little snow. A lot of snow, yes, that would happen. But not in a light snowfall
very informative!
to get the right exposure I turn the inside of my left hand (without a glove of course) towards the light source (sun or cloudy sky), position my hand nearly 100% in the viewfinder and press the shutter halfway to get the expose in any automatic mode I want, after this I set these exposure values in manual mode, so that they don`t change until I essentialy change my position for new photos or the light changes or things like that
Old school trick!
@PhotoJoseph But it still works :))
No doubt!
Where did you get your gloves? Do they keep you warm?
I liked the zip lock bag ice! You made me laugh!!
I used your video as a baseline for my own personal methods for snow. exposure compensation is the one that I overlooked.
Great tips! Keep up the great job
That beard Joseph. 👌
That should have been tip 13… grow a beard for warmth!! Haha
PhotoJoseph hahaha love it. Btw I really liked your courses on Watched all of them. :) I practice what you show as far as angles and composition. New photographer here if you couldn’t tell. Got a new Canon 60D in my lap for free by luck so thought Id give it a go and found your vids. Ive been having a blast lately with it.
Good tips. Snow is a challenge - +1 stop - say no to gray snow!
Du bist Deutsch oder aus den USA ?
I’m American, but my last name is German. My family line traces back there a few generations ago.
@PhotoJoseph but you understand German
Ja, danke an Google Translate! 😂
That's awesome!👍✨
Excellent and timely tips. I was planning to take my gfx-50s outdoor this weekend which is right after the fresh snowfall (I live in Edmonton - Canada).
Fantastic! Funny how many Canadians are commenting right now… guess the snow has landed 😊
@PhotoJoseph yep, it definitely has landed. This year it's sort of warm winter though
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