The bright, white, reflective surface of a snow-covered winter landscape not only requires some adjustments to your camera’s settings but also some adjustments to the cold weather. First, let’s talk about your camera’s settings.
Compensating for the Wintery White Wonderland
Your camera’s autofocus automatically chooses the lightest, brightest area as white and adjusts the grays, blacks, and colors accordingly. But when confronted with a snowy landscape, your camera interprets almost everything as white. While it may seem that you want to darken the exposure on the image, you actually want to lighten it to between +0.3 to +0.7. Lightening the exposure lets the camera distinguish between more of the lighter colors and gray shades and helps it select the areas that truly are pure white.
Shooting landscapes during the photographer’s magic hour – one-half hour after sunrise and one-half hour before sunset – puts the sunlight at an angle that captures more detail. Incidentally, shooting cloudscapes one-half hour before sunrise and one-half hour after sunset puts the sun’s rays just below the horizon where they reveal more details in the clouds.
Capturing the Falling Snow
To capture snow that’s falling around your subject, you’ll need at least a 70mm zoom or telephoto lens, but a 200mm or greater zoom or telephoto lens is best. Choose a shallow aperture between f/4.5-6.3 and your camera’s fastest shutter speed, at least 1/400th of a second. With these settings, the snowflakes directly in front of your lens and those directly behind your subject will appear larger and be slightly blurred, showing their falling motion.
Only Rudolph’s Portrait Should Have a Red Nose
When you’re shooting outdoor winter portraits, cold weather brings out ruddy cheeks and also ruddy noses. Use your photo editing software to select the red noses and reduce the red saturation level to between –10 to –15, and then reduce the orange saturation level to between –5 to –10.
Keep Yourself and Your Camera Warm and Dry
Enjoy an extended winter photography session by wearing your winter coat, boot, gloves, and a hat. Camera stores offer gloves with thin layers of thermal fabric at the fingertips that allow you to easily operate your camera’s controls. To keep cold temperatures from draining your camera’s batteries, keep your extra batteries in an inner coat pocket. Invest in a rain/snow cover for your camera if you love shooting during snowstorms. If your camera should get wet, leave it wrapped in a towel for several hours. Trying to wipe the moisture away could push it inside the camera and damage the electronics. Finally, to keep your lens from fogging up put the lens cap on and put the camera in your camera bag before moving from the cold outdoors to the warm indoors.