How to Shoot Better Winter Photos

In win­ter, tak­ing good pho­tos means get­ting chilly and tak­ing your hands out of your warm mit­tens. But win­ter can pro­vide oppor­tu­ni­ties for great pho­tog­ra­phy. Crys­talline snow, fresh pow­der, and ear­ly sun­sets all make for prime pho­tog­ra­phy once you’ve learned a few tricks.  Here’s how to make win­ter a pho­to­graph­ic wonderland.

Tab­u­la Rasa

Win­ter is sim­ple. It’s cold and often white. You don’t need to dress it up much. Keep your com­po­si­tions sim­ple. Snow is a great blank can­vas, and the less you have going on, the more you can focus on the tex­ture and qual­i­ty of the snow.

Snow is White. Don’t Be Fooled.

Take your cam­era and set it on auto­mat­ic. Take a pho­to filled with the white snow (or even a white sheet of paper), and then look at your pho­to­graph. The snow in your pho­to will look gray, because cam­era light meters are pro­grammed to turn things “neutral”—which means gray. If you want white snow, you will have to over­ex­pose your pho­to. Find the Expo­sure Com­pen­sa­tion but­ton, which looks like a plus/minus sign. Add light (using the plus sign) until your snow looks like the white, puffy heav­en it is.

Use the Big White Reflector

Shoot­ing in the mid­dle of the day usu­al­ly results in bad light, because the sun being straight over­head cre­ates extreme con­trasts of light and shad­ows, espe­cial­ly on people’s faces. There’s one big excep­tion, and that’s when you’ve got a lot of snow: it acts like a giant reflec­tor, fill­ing the shad­ows with even light. Use the strong noon­day light to bring out detail in the shadows.

Go Macro

Get up close and per­son­al with frost, ici­cles, rime, and the many gor­geous crys­talline forms that win­ter brings us. Use your macro func­tion, a steady hand, tri­pod, and lots of patience. The beau­ty of macro pho­tog­ra­phy is that we see things on a detailed lev­el we don’t see with our own eyes. But macro pho­tog­ra­phy takes a lot of time and slow­ing down to get it right.


Win­ter sun­ris­es gen­er­al­ly pro­duce bet­ter light than sun­sets, and they’re late enough that you don’t have to be a total ear­ly bird to wake up for it like you do in sum­mer. But you will need a tri­pod, a lot of warm clothes, and a loca­tion you’ve scout­ed before.

Bat­tery Power

Be nice to cam­era bat­ter­ies. They don’t work well in the cold, so if you’re shoot­ing in action mode out­side, the bat­ter­ies may get too cold to pro­vide enough juice to run fast aut­o­fo­cus. Keep a cou­ple of extra cam­era bat­ter­ies inside your jack­et, where they’ll stay warm. In extreme cold, swap out bat­ter­ies between the cam­era and your pock­ets often for best results.

Pro­tect Your Camera…from Get­ting Warm

Cam­eras them­selves do fine in the cold, but as soon as you step into a warm build­ing, they are vul­ner­a­ble to con­den­sa­tion. Before you step inside, put your expen­sive cam­era in a Ziploc with a des­ic­cant pack or pack tow­el, squeeze out the air, and seal it. If this isn’t pos­si­ble, at the very least, put your cam­era under your jack­et and zip it up before you step inside to min­i­mize con­den­sa­tion. Wipe off any con­den­sa­tion that occurs as soon as possible.

Find Fresh Sto­ries, Not Just First Tracks

Sure, every­one loves the shot of fresh tracks through cham­pagne pow­der on a day of per­fect blue­bird skies. Those are gor­geous images, but there are plen­ty of them on ski resort brochures already. There are lots of oth­er sto­ries hap­pen­ing around you that may be more inter­est­ing, like the hard work of skin­ning up an end­less slope, the has­sle of scrap­ing the ice off your car, or some­one strug­gling to stay warm while they wait for their bud­dy. The word pho­tog­ra­phy has roots in words mean­ing “to write with light.” Use this mar­velous medi­um to find the most inter­est­ing sto­ries to tell. They’re all around you.