Whether it’s snow-capped mountains, kids engaged in a snowball fight or the family dog frolicking in a snow bank, wintry white scenes are a thing of beauty, yet challenging to capture in photos.
To catch the texture and movement of snow, you want a high level of detail for the snow to be visible – a tricky feat when dealing with all that bright white.
Now’s the time to turn off auto settings. Yes, even the snow scene mode. You can’t rely on auto-white balance either, as the camera has difficulty gauging the mass of white, giving the image a blue hue.
Even minor overexposure will turn rolling snowy hills into a flat white patch.
These are just a few of the tips from Nikon professional photographer Alex Soh, who has had 15 years of photography experience. A Singapore-based snapper, he’s braved the cold to capture wintry scenes from China and Japan to Chile and Scotland.
Before you head off to snap your own winter wonderland, here are a few other things Soh suggests:
Check those meters
First things first, don’t rely on LCD screens to give an accurate preview of the scene, he says.
“Judging exposure compensation from your camera LCD screen may be tricky in the snow,” says Soh.
“To overcome this, use Matrix metering on manual and check the histogram [the camera’s graphical representation of exposed pixels] in your image regularly. If it’s slightly ‘humped’ in the middle, dial in a little compensation for brightness.”
It’s also good to check that the overexposure indicators are not blinking.
To see the details on the screen, he suggest bringing along a magnifier loupe that comes with a cover, or using black tape to stop the light from coming in.
Embrace the simplicity
As pointed out above, capturing the pureness of snow is tricky as images overexpose very easily, while the pretty white stuff is usually accompanied by gray skies.
To remedy this, Soh suggests photographers play around with the white balance until they find what they like.
“My tip is to embrace the simplicity of the photograph and capture the artistic visuals with simple line art instead,” he says. “Find points of colors; particularly warm tones. When everything is gray and white, colors pop and add beautiful contrast to your image.”
Timing is also key, he says.
“The best time for winter shots is early in the morning. Aim to capture the fresh overnight snowfall against a beautiful blue sky, before the sun gets too high and the snow begins to melt.”
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Protecting cameras from the elements
In the winter, condensation can build up in the camera and equipment works differently in the cold.
“Camera batteries go flat very quickly in the winter cold, so I keep them warm at all times by keeping them close to my body,” says Soh.
“It’s not easy to clean your lenses during rain or snow, keeping the lens cap on prevents snowflakes or water from getting into the lens.”
Never blow warm air onto your lens like you would in warm weather, he adds, as this can cause a layer of ice to coat it. “Instead, use dry cleaning cloths and pack extras.”
Rain gear is also a good option, Soh says. A cheap and quick alternative is to place a plastic bag around the camera, leaving an opening for the lens and securing it with a rubber band.
“To protect the camera, I avoid changing lenses outside,” says Soh.
“Cold weather can trap moisture in the camera body, which freezes and damages the camera.”
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Keeping the lens fog-free
And finally, camera lenses fog up when there’s a sudden change in temperature from warm to cold. Naturally, this makes it harder to take clear photos.
“Put the camera in a plastic bag before you enter the car and place it on the floor, near your feet,” says Soh.
“Leave the plastic bag closed and only open it once you are out of the car at the next shooting destination. This will help adjust the temperate around the camera slowly.”