It is fast becoming winter, and this will be my first winter that I have a decent camera, so I was wondering how to make the most of the seasons beauty.

I am wondering if there are any techniques that are good for capturing scenes that often occur during the winter in snowy areas. In particular, the terrain will be mostly mountainous, but not exclusively. Obviously there will be a lot of white, and during the day lots of reflection from the snow. I am interested in exposure technique, composition, and special filters. I currently use a circular polarizer, but I don't know what else is good in this situation.

I would also be interested in techniques and such for icy water photos. Some of the locations I will be shooting at will be near lakes and streams, likely to be overtaken by ice this time of year.

EDIT: Here are some very inspirational pictures, I thought I would share them. :D

  • See also: photo.stackexchange.com/questions/5273/…
    – ahockley
    Dec 4, 2010 at 16:47
  • @ahockley Thanks for the link, it is definitely relevant.
    – BBischof
    Dec 5, 2010 at 0:49
  • I worry slightly about the tag snow, it seems a bit localized. :/
    – BBischof
    Dec 5, 2010 at 0:50
  • 1
    Why is the snow tag worrying you. This question is about snow photos... Dec 12, 2010 at 23:25
  • 1
    @BBischof I don't think snow will hurt anyone... at least, not as much as snowballs. ;) Dec 25, 2011 at 6:14

6 Answers 6

  • Set the exposure compensation to +1 or +2 (or shoot manual!) as snow reflects a lot more light than the 18% reflectance that the camera's metering system assumes.

  • Filters wise just what you'd use for landscapes, a graduated ND and polarizer are helpful.

  • Composition-wise, isolating details can be difficult if everything around you is white so you have to work a little harder sometimes.

  • Definitely shoot Raw, if you can, as Leonidas states. Colour correction is inevitable as snow strongly reflects the colour of the lighting. Shadows in particular will look very blue with clear skies as they are actually being illuminated by the blue of the sky.

  • Colour is also a very important tool for altering the mood of an image, an overall slight blue tint really emphasises the coldness of the scene, and to me looks more normal than a "correct" neutral white balance.

Other things to be aware of:

  • Battery life can become significantly diminished in cold conditions. The best approach is to have two batteries, keep one in an inside pocket for warmth while shooting with the other and rotate often.

  • Bringing cold lenses into warm buildings can cause condensation inside the lens which is difficult to shift (and can grow mould if it happens often enough!) To prevent this place your camera and lenses in a plastic bag until they have warmed up.

  • Thanks for another good answer, I have noticed the blue=cold a few times.
    – BBischof
    Dec 5, 2010 at 0:53
  • I have accepted this answer because it is very good and fairly comprehensive. The answers below are also useful however.
    – BBischof
    Feb 4, 2011 at 1:57
  • @ matt grum: condensation can happen as well if you take the camera out of your jacket's pocket, can't it? so if I am climbing a high mountain perhaps I should look at attaching the camera (with say a carabina) to the outer part of my rucksack. is that right?
    – chango
    Nov 22, 2012 at 0:07
  • @chango You wont get condensation taking your camera out of your pocket as the cold mountain air is very dry. You might get condensation putting the camera into your pocket if it's close enough to the body to contain some moisture. If you put the camera into a plastic bag in your pocket you should be fine.
    – Matt Grum
    Nov 22, 2012 at 9:50

On a sunny day, take along ND-filters if you want to use a small F-stop/big aperture for a shallow DOF. Even a DSLR really fast hits the shutter-speed-barrier. If you want to take longer exposures to smooth out flowing waters, utilize an even darker ND filter and of course a tripod ;)

Maybe use a grey card for setting white balance, if not, be sure to shoot in RAW too. Snow and sun often give a bluish tint.

Very simple advice: thin gloves to be able to handle your camera for a longer time. Lost a fingernail once during skiing + taking photos. Not nice :)


Great tips by @Matt Grum, and I'll add that if you have a Canon, your camera may have an "Highlight Tone Priority" option that you can enable in the menus. Metering is tricky when a scene is very bright (snow, wedding dress). This option can help prevent blowing out the highlights in very bright areas. According to Canon: "Highlight Tone Priority mode gives wedding and landscape photographers the option to boost dynamic range for highlights when shooting above ISO 200 – reproducing more tonal detail from wedding dresses, clouds and other light colored objects...". It is said to provide up to an extra stop of dynamic range in the highlight region.

Check more info and before/after comparisons here:


Using the snow itself to set white balance works pretty well -- you want the snow to look white, so tell the camera that it is.


Manually set the white balance. If you leave the camera on AWB, your photos will appear too cool. Using the "cloudy" or "shade" white balance will give you much more pleasing results.


A gray card for presetting/measuring exposure - otherwise your auto-metering will turn the snow grey ;)

  • I find it better to set WB from the snow, which I want to appear white. If one measures against an accurate neutral gray, the snow often appears blue. (And then dial in 1-2 stops of exposure compensation).
    – mattdm
    Dec 6, 2011 at 11:30

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