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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!

  • See also: photo.stackexchange.com/questions/1256/… – Rowland Shaw Nov 29 '10 at 20:09
  • I like the first shot. Are those doghouses? – Evan Krall Mar 20 '11 at 6:21
  • Very nice pictures, is it taken in Brighton? – рüффп Jan 18 '17 at 21:55
  • One technique that should work well for daylight scenes where only the snow is moving with a tripod is to take two pictures slightly apart in time.. Then make a layer that is the subtraction of the two. Amplify this difference and blend back in with one of the images. The amount of amplification should correspond to how strongly the snow shows up. – doug Dec 16 '19 at 1:53

11 Answers 11

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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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    Nice shot! I like the ambience of it. – John Cavan Nov 29 '10 at 21:21
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    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
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    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
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    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
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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 lots 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
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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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  • Surprised nobody commented about this. I'll leave my 2c for anybody else that stumbles across it. I have tried doing exactly as you describe, and found it harder than I expected. You will need to have a lot of light, or the snowflakes are completely invisible, at about 2 seconds it looked like a light mist with just ambient light. If you have a powerful light you should get better results, I used a 300w shop light and it looked much better. – veryRandomMe Jan 13 '16 at 2:06
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Excuse this uncomposed for-demonstration snapshot.

enter image description here

It shows two very relevant things about snow in an urban night environment (usually found in abundance where snow is found):

  • Snow is not just reflective, it also can be lit-through and diffracts/diffuses light. In an urban environment, head-on or oblique light sources can be used to your advantage

    • There is some usable aesthetic in taking the snow head-on (mind keeping your lens safe. Not a way to document hail!).

Another quick snapshot showing the effect of an oblique light source:

enter image description here

The interesting thing is that while the brightly lit flakes are relatively far away, they do hide the snow falling in front of them (unlit and out of focus) quite well. The obvious thing to refine here would be to find a good balance between a fast enough aperture to not have near snow too sharp, and slow enough not to cause a lot of halo effects from the point light sources....

(all AF-S Nikkor 35mm f1.8 DX. Wide open IIRC.)

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  • Your first photograph has to be lie. It's a deep-field astronomy photo from Hubble, right? ;-) – scottbb Dec 13 '19 at 20:15
  • nope, straight into streetlamp and out of camera. – rackandboneman Dec 13 '19 at 20:51
  • (It was totally a joke comment). But in all seriousness, great example, and very interesting shot! =) – scottbb Dec 13 '19 at 20:53
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    Not exact same streetlamp in both pictures ("train track advice": Standing under the one in the second picture would obviously be extremely dangerous!), same location though. – rackandboneman Dec 13 '19 at 20:58
  • I'm curious if you cropped the second picture down to exclude the red light if it wouldn't yield a more powerful photo that really brings the eye's attention to the streetlight and the relationship it is having with the snow – Mike Dec 14 '19 at 18:11

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