Photographing the snow has something magical. The snowy landscapes seem like paradise, everything is white, everything is beautiful. Snow transforms landscapes by softening them, masking the details, bringing purity. You would like to transcribe all this beauty in your camera but you do not know how to do it? You do not really know what settings to use to shoot snow? Some examples of photos of landscapes under the snow would allow you to better prepare your photoshoot? After taking your photos, you do not know how to edit them?
I propose to answer these questions in 3 parts. First, I will tell you how to make the right settings, second I will give you some ideas of photographs that you can make, and finally I will show you how to edit your photos of snow.
Make the right settings
Preparing for your photo shoot under the snow suppose you should know a minimum of the required settings.
Gray snow problem
The trap when photographing snowy landscapes is to get pictures with grey snow instead of white. This comes from the fact that the camera, which sees too much “whites”, considers that it is necessary to lower the amount of whites of your image. Our cameras are programmed to maintain a “medium gray” presence at 18% in your image. If your device thinks the image is too white, it will expose it to get that 18% by converting the white to medium gray.
On your histogram, blacks are present on the far left, whites on the right, and midtones on the center.
The problem of the gray snow will appear especially if there is no element of contrast on your picture, that is to say if there are only very clear colors. On the other hand, if there are enough dark colors on your image, your device will have more facilities to expose it correctly. This is for example the case if there are chalets or fir trees in your photo.
Correct the exposure to have a white snow
So that your snow is white and not gray, it’s up to you to do the exposure compensation.
Your camera will make sure to stay at 0 to expose your photo. As we saw earlier, if you stay at 0, your snow may be gray and not white. To correct this, you need to go to +1 or even +2 depending on your image.
Do different tests to find the right exposure. I recommend you start at +1 to see what happens. Then look at the histogram and make sure your whites are not “burnt”, that is to say that the cursor has no sharp spike on the right extreme edge of your histogram. It is indeed important not to overexpose your image, otherwise you will loose the details in the snow. You have to keep the reflections and the shadows so that your image is the most interresting possible.
After testing at +1, if the photo is still not exposed enough, correct again until you find the good exposure.
For other types of landscape photography, I do not usually have any problem with white balance. I put my camera in automatic mode, and it correctly evaluates the light to put the right mode.
For photos of snow, it is quite different. The camera has a lot more trouble evaluating the white balance mode it should choose. It will be mistaking often and you will have another problem: a blue snow.
In order not to have problems with the white balance for snow photography, the best is to shoot in RAW. This will allow you to remain in automatic mode for more tranquility and to change your white balance later if your device made the wrong choice.
Aperture priority mode
To make photographs of snowy landscapes, as for all landscape photography, I prefer the aperture priority mode (Av). What matters to me in priority is to have a large range of sharpness in my photo, so that the foreground and the background are both sharp.
Speed priority mode
If it snows, it can be however very interesting to use priority speed (Tv). Indeed, the falling snow can appear on your image in two different ways.
First, snow can appear as streaks if the speed is slow enough.
Secondly, a fairly fast speed will “freeze” the snow flakes that fall.
Photo ideas to realize
Now that you understood the settings to make, I give you some types of photos that I like to take. This may give you ideas for your next photoshoots!
Clouds on the peaks
As you probably know, the weather conditions in the mountains are extremely changeable. If the sky can be very clear at a precise moment, it could also snow one or two hours later. Changes in the weather will have an impact on the photos you can make. It is therefore very important to pay attention to these changes.
Sometimes the clouds are positioned high above the peaks, which I find very interesting to photograph.
Clouds revealing the mountains
I also like the times when the clouds cover the mountains, and only reveal the summit. In these moments, jump on the occasion and quickly take the picture before the summit is hidden again!
Shadows and light contrast
The snow purifies the landscapes by masking the details. But when taking a picture of the snowy landscapes, it is important to keep the shadows created by the relief. These shadows create detail and brings interest to your photo.
Also, depending on the position of the sun in the sky, some parts of the mountain will sometimes lighten while others will be in the shadow. These moments are extremely interesting for photography because they allow to produce contrasting images.
Sunrise and sunset
Sunrises and the sunsets are fairy in the mountains. The warm colors brought by the sun contrast with the cold of the mountain, creating a beautiful mix of orange and blue. This mixture works extremely well because these two colors are complementary.
Minimalism is a style of photography that aims to remove anything that is not essential from the frame. The snowy landscapes are perfect for this exercise because the snow is already making the environment easier. There are many ways to make minimalist photography, I propose you two different examples.
Shape repetition is a way of bringing simplicity to a photo. The snowy fir trees are perfect to make this type of photos.
The landscape is extremely simple, there are almost no details in the snow, none in the sky. The only point of interest of this photo is the tree, and the border of the forest allows to delimit the snow from the sky.
It can also be interesting to focus on details, whether on snowflakes, stalactites, or on wooden logs under the snow like in my example.
Editing snow photography
Once your photos in the box, it remains to carry out the post treatment. How to edit your snow photos? I give you some leads.
You will see that even if you have done exposure compensation during your shooting, it still needs a slightly increase of brightness to get a very white snow. So try to push the slider a little to the right, but without forcing too much to prevent the whites from being burnt.
On your photos of snowy landscapes, highlights have an important place in your photo. By giving them a slightly different hue, your photo will be totally transformed. Personally, I like to give a slightly rosy hue to my landscapes. Sometimes I give an orange hue, everything depends on my feeling with the image. It’s up to you to tests and find the shade you like!
In general, I like to reduce shadows in the foreground on my landscape photos, to bring more details. However, on snow photos, I sometimes add shadows, which add contrast and detail in the image.
I sometimes desaturate my images so that the focus is more on reliefs and details than on colors. Indeed, I sometimes find that colors bring too much information and divert attention. It also happens that I find that some colors do not fit together. Finally, I tend not to like blue skies in pictures. In this case, I achieve a partial desaturation, by only desaturating blue.
Black and white
Black and white is also very interesting in snow photo because it creates a beautiful contrast.
This article on How to successfully photograph snow and snowy landscapes is over, I hope it will help you preparing for your shooting and make the most of your images!
It was the first article in a series on the theme of the mountain. Coming soon: How to protect your camera against cold and snow? How to make a photo shoot under the snow with a model?
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Practice makes perfect