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by Aditya

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We don't get much snow in the UK, so I don't have much experience photographing it, and when I tried photographing falling snow last year I found it very hard to capture the snowflakes in the air — they either didn't show up or were just streaks. Is there a shutter speed that is best for this? I don't want to use flash to do so.

Any other snow photography tips welcome from those in snowier places!

UPDATE

Here's a couple of shots that I got when I tried the techniques suggested. These were taken with a Panasonic Lumix G1, 14-45 lens at about 25mm (50mm equiv), pop up flash, a plastic bag and an elastic band (to keep the camera dry). Also on my photoblog.

Snow pier

Promenade in the snow

Thanks to everyone for the help, definitely made the difference — the shots without flash are very boring; just looks like heavy rain. And I know the bench is out of focus in the second one — didn't set the focus point correctly and the DOF is wrong, but was starting to get so, so cold :-)

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See also: photo.stackexchange.com/questions/1256/… –  Rowland Shaw Nov 29 '10 at 20:09
2  
Excellent shots there! –  Jarrod Dixon Dec 28 '10 at 21:19
    
I like the first shot. Are those doghouses? –  Evan Krall Mar 20 '11 at 6:21

10 Answers 10

up vote 61 down vote accepted

If you want them to stand out against the background, you need to use a flash. On-axis will generally reflect the most light off the snowflakes to the camera and have them stand out more. I used a cheap eBay plastic cover with a space for the flash for the picture below. Otherwise, a fast shutter speed may make them visible, but it depends on the background and the lighting. You would need some bright sun but a dark shaded background.

photograph of falling snow

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11  
Nice shot! I like the ambience of it. –  John Cavan Nov 29 '10 at 21:21
2  
Thanks! By "on-axis" flash do you mean the camera's pop up flash will do? (Panasonic Lumix G1) –  Chris Betterton Nov 29 '10 at 21:30
8  
yes, but now that I think about it, the flash being higher up (and possibly tilted up) may have resulted in less blown out snowflakes due to the angle of reflection. Experiment! –  Eruditass Nov 29 '10 at 22:49
    
Great answer, great shot! +1 –  jrista Nov 30 '10 at 2:30
3  
No need for the light to be on axis - you can flash from any angle, here's one with the flash behind the subject: mattgrum.com/photo_se/jk_sample___M5M0385.jpg –  Matt Grum Dec 2 '10 at 19:28

Snow will be just grey before other snow. So you have to find a background (beginning of snow falling), use a lightsource nevertheless (like a flash) or wait for a sun-snow-mix (seldom, but worth it ... the glittering flakes are precious, halos are sometimes an extra).

I can understand that you don't like using flash (on the camera) as it highlights the flakes nearest to the flash. That doesn't always look good.

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Most important: put your camera down for a while and make a snowman!

But before that, here is one of my attempts from a couple of years ago:

alt text

I am afraid that I just pointed and shot to get this one - but I like the effect - quite subtle - it's a picture of the subject on a snowy day, rather than a picture of snow.

Anyway, my advice: take lost of shots - experiment - have fun :-)

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This depends a lot on the size of the snow flakes and how fast they are falling. It also depends on lens (wide/tele). Regardless, I would not advise using a flash if at all possible, if you must use a flash use one off camera or bounce/diffuse the on camera flash. Use a mid range aperture and a high shutter speed to stop the flakes. If you can do 125 or higher at 5.6 you'd be at a good starting point with most snow. 125th is about as slow as you'll want to go though. If using auto and an in camera meter you may need to over/under expose based on the scene and subject. a lot of white will throw a camera meter for a loop.

though, don't be scared to go for the streaks of snow either, it can be a great landscape technique.

good luck.

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The exposure settings to stop moving objects depends entirely on how fast the objects are traversing your frame. Falling snow falls at a variable speed depending on the particular storm. The focal length of your lens will determine the size of your frame, so the answer is different for a 100mm lens and a 35mm lens. Another factor is how far away the exposed objects are from you.

One technique would be to measure the time it takes for an object to traverse the frame, and divide that by the relative size of the object to the frame. So if it takes 2 seconds for a snow flake to travel from the top to the bottom of the frame, and the snow flake appears to be 1/100th the height of the frame, you would arrive at 1/50th of a second. I would double or quadruple this, so you get 1/100-1/200.

But most likely you will be fighting the other aspects of the exposure. I would crank up the ISO to the highest setting that is acceptable, open the aperture for the composition that you want, and see what the meter tells you.

Depending upon the composition, you can also cheat by following the falling snow with the camera during the exposure. This will blur the background, but if you are just looking to stop falling snowflakes and you don't have enough exposure breathing room, this might work.

If you posted some examples of prior failed experiments, folks here might be able to spot where the exposure went wrong.

Another thing to consider, snow is hell on a camera's brain. White balance and exposure computations are nearly always off with snow. If you can shoot in RAW, you can do the white balance yourself after the fact. The best way to deal with metering miscomputations is to carefully review the results on the spot and adjust as needed.

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The one thing not mentioned so far that you will want to look at is to set your exposure compensation, especially for frames that are mainly snow filled. The automatic metering built into you camera will try and make the white grey, so adding a stop or two of exposure compensation will bring out the white again.

It depends on your camera how you do this. If shooting RAW you can fix it up to a certain extent in post processing, but I think it is better to get the right exposure to start with if possible.

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Experiment and set exposure compensation at +1 stop. This worked for me yesterday!

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I was able to snap some pictures early in the morning during a recent blizzard.

I believe it depends on what effect you are after. Sometimes a longer focal length, focused on the background can make for some interesting, surrealistic effects with the up close snowflakes. A smaller aperture will show the shape of the blades. A larger aperture will turn them into balls. Firing the flash is a given. f/5.3. 120mm, 1/30

I wonder

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Sorry, but I don't think you actually captured snowflakes. These look like out of focus water drops on the lens, probably due to it getting hit by snowflakes. –  Olin Lathrop Dec 23 '13 at 17:00
    
No. They are snowflakes. Different sizes. Snowflakes on top of snowflakes. –  Mike Gilchrist Dec 23 '13 at 17:09
    
Very similar to the effect I got here: !(scontent-a-ord.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ash3/…) –  Mike Gilchrist Dec 23 '13 at 18:18

One thing I find I like, when there's a lot of snowflakes, is to use a very shallow DOF and focus it somewhere in the middle of the scene so that you have some up close blurry snow flakes, and some distance blurry flakes and something in the middle in focus with the flakes in that plane also in focus.

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I`m only an amateur photographer but I recommend using a short lens of between 20-80mm to avoid snowflakes near the camera ruining the photo. Also a fast shutter speed is important if you want a clear sharp photo. To get the right speed just think of how long it takes for the snow to move. 100th of a second is probably a good place to start. However I am thinking of taking a couple of long exposure shots of falling snow. Maybe about 5 seconds exposure. Would this work?

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