When I ventured into my first adult winter in New England, I found myself approaching the season with a certain giddiness and childlike innocence that bordered on naive. What I had forgotten from the winters of my youth was how a snowy world creates a sense of freedom with all that vastness of white. Winter is a photographer’s dream! I love to feel humbled by nature, and winter provides me with this experience. An expansive environment covered in a blanket of snow leaves room for creativity with your photography.
I quickly discovered, however, that a snowy environment is challenging to photograph. By keeping exposure, metering and white balance all in the forefront of my mind, I accepted my first winter challenge and documented this powerful season.
In winter, I become a storyteller. Composition is key while working with so much white space. I might focus on the sparkle of freshly fallen snow or the fine details of delicate snowflakes. The vastness of an all-white landscape will catch my eye, especially with the pop of color that comes with snow gear. It’s impossible to shoot all of these angles at once, however, so ask yourself what it is you want to see, then learn your settings accordingly for weather and situation. Later, in postprocessing, consider what images pair well together to bring out interesting perspectives.
Winter presents unique opportunities, challenges and inspirations for photographers of all experience levels. The days are short during winter, so lighting is everything. Snow is a reflective surface—it can be your best photographic companion if you keep the basics in mind.
Your camera’s light meter will be completely confused by a bright field of snow. The camera will try to adjust for the midtone of the scene, which will likely underexpose your shot, resulting in grayish-looking snow.
Exposure compensation is an easy way to get around your camera’s tendency to underexpose bright subjects. It lets you quickly add or subtract exposure by 1/3 to 2 stops. Using compensation doesn’t require extensive knowledge of ƒ-stops or shutter speeds.
While shooting in manual mode, however, exposure compensation is completely disabled. This means you have to make all exposure adjustments yourself. How much you adjust your exposure depends on the light available outside and the sensitivity of your specific camera. Play around until you find what you like. Keep in mind that any white subject photographed in reasonably bright light is at risk of losing detail with even slight overexposure.