How to photograph snow

Snow can be such a beautiful thing to photograph, its so pure and clean and the white starkness against a blue sky can be breathtaking. But snow can be a little tricky to photography and exposure and white balance are key to those crisp white images. We highlighted some beautiful snow landscapes last week to give you all a little winter photo inspiration. But how do you get that beautiful start white snow in your photography. Here are a couple of tips to help you out photographing winterscapes.


First lets start with why some of your snow images might be muddy and the snow isn’t that crisp white that you see with your eyes. Your camera sees everything in grey, 18% grey to be exact. What this means is that your light meter in your camera always evaluates things as if they were 18% grey, so scenes that have a majority of white (or black) in them will trick the camera and your exposure will be off. You will need to make some adjustments to balance that out to get a correct exposure.

Brightly lit snow is about 1.5 – 2 stops brighter than 18% gray. To make up for this there are a few different ways of getting a correct exposure:

  • Use a hand-held incident light meter – An incident light meters gets an exposure from the light falling on a light sensitive dome on the meter. This way you get an accurate measurement of the light falling on a scene vs the camera where you are metering the light reflecting back to the camera (and basing the scene off 18% grey). Just take a meter reading with the incident meter in the same light that is falling on your scene and done. Perfect exposure. I have used a Sekonic light meter for years that I absolutely love. Sekonic L-758DR Light Meter is a great meter for incident and flash photography.
  • Use your Exposure Compensation Dial – If you are photographing in Aperture or Shutter priority you can use the Exposure Compensation Dial to add between 1.5 and 2 stops of overexposure. Remember that all snow scenes are different so bracketing is a must for critical work.
  • Another part that is key to white snow photos is doing a custom white balance. I really always recommend doing a custom white balance if you can with any photography. It saves a ton of post production time, and gives you the best results. Setting a custom white balance on a snow scene is simple, since you are surrounded with white you don’t need any special disks or cards to carry with you. Simply start with a photo up close of the snow and then set your cameras white balance to custom choosing the close up snow image as your reference point. For questions on the different types of white balance check out our post, Understanding White Balance.

    Do you have any great snow images? We would love to see them, add a comment below with a link or post one to our facebook wall at:

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    Author: Mark

    Mark is a fine art wedding and portrait photographer from Northern California. He has been passionate about photography since childhood and started his studio 12 years ago to bring a fresh style of photography to the wedding and portrait world.

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