I love the snow, I can hardly look at a snowy scene and not want to go out and play and take photos!

But if you look around at many peoples' snow photos, even though the scenes may have looked great at the time, some of the photos look quite dull, boring and uninteresting. So what happened? Well here are the main reasons for those dull looking images:-

  • Incorrect exposure
  • Incorrect white balance
  • Lack of colour
  • No excitement or drama

Incorrect Exposure
If you've watched my film about Exposure Compensation, you'll know that your camera's metering system works by averaging out scenes to a mid gray tone. This usually works very well because many scenes have both light and dark area in them and so the average grey tone for the whole image is usually about right. But when there is a predominantly bright or predominantly dark are in the scene, the camera can be easily fooled. I think it's safe to say that snow is quite bright stuff, and so the camera sees all of that white snow and tries to tone it down a bit to average the scene out to a mid gray tone.

Typical snow shot without changing exposure settings

The easy way round this is to use some positive exposure compensation to brighten up the scene, usually about +1.0 or +1.5 works well. If you have a compact camera or you just prefer not to mess around with camera settings, just use the 'Beach' or 'Snow' scene mode, it may look something like this:-

Incorrect White Balance Exposure
The term Incorrect White Balance is perhaps a little strong, sometimes although an image may have an accurate white balance, the colours are not always the most pleasing to our eyes. Snow images quite often look a little too blue, especially in the shadow areas, compare these two shots from a recent ski trip with my good friend Dennis:-

The photo on the left looks a lot bluer or colder (white balance preset was 'AWB'), the one on the right is quite a bit warmer. Which is best? Well, there is no 'best', it's really quite subjective, these photos are properly exposed, but if you combine an underexposed snow photo with a slightly colder white balance, the image can look far too blue. To compensate, consider changing the white balance preset to 'Cloudy', as I did in the photo on the right.
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Lack of Colour
Some snowy scenes lack colour and look almost monochrome, so it can be a good idea to add a splash of colour to the image, it can really gtreat against the white of the snow, here's a couple of examples:

Portrait 1
No excitement or drama
Being out and about in the snow is kind of a sensory experience isn't it? It's cold, the air feels fresh, it's crunchy underfoot etc... But sometime you can look back at your snowy photos and feel that they don't really convey the sense of fun or beauty that was in the scene. With that in mind, make sure your photos are nice and bright with a sense of fun, or capture some really nice light or colour, just try and add a little more drama than usual. For my video film on this subject, I got my friend Cathy to run towards me with a sledge:-
Other tips
  • Try and avoid footprints and dirty snow, freshly fallen snow usually looks better
  • Shoot wide angle to get in more of the scenery, think in layers, so keep something in the foreground, middle and background of the frame.
  • Try some close ups of some fine details, e.g icicles on a roof, frost or berries on trees, objects fallen in the snow. Try some of these against the light.
  • Children playing, building a snowman or sledging always looks great in the snow, remember they don't have to be looking at the camera.
  • Batteries tend to drain quicker when it's cold, so keep a spare in a pocket close to your body to keep it warm.