Stephen Studd Photography

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How to photograph snow

Arctic circle, North polar region, Europe, Scandinavia, Norway, Svalbard, Spitsbergen,  Longyearbyen, woman photographing beware of polar bears sign in Adventdalen valley

When it snows it is a great time to go out with your camera and capture its pure white freshness, but how many times do your photos appear dull and grey and lacking that freshness and purity? When photographing snow scenes or ones that have lots of white in, be attentive to your meter readings, it’s very easy to underexpose a predominately white scene.Watering can in snowSnow is much brighter than the 18% medium grey that your camera is averaged to expose for. Your camera is trying to capture the bright white scene as 18% grey which results in underexposed photos, making them look dull and grey like the one above.

So how do you make the image look bright and fresh whilst keeping detail?Watering can in snowIf your camera has an exposure compensation dial then you should dial in about 2 stops overexposure as a starting point. Exposure compensation is used to move the camera away from the cameras suggested exposure to brighter or darker ones. Look at the histogram and make sure the image preview isn`t blinking (indicating overexposed highlights). It takes a bit of practice but after a while you will be able to expose the shot perfectly. It is a good idea when practicing this technique to bracket the shot.

This scene below was a tough one to get right as the bud is against snow and the ice crystals on the bud I wanted to show with all their intricate detail.

Blackcurrant "Ben Nevis" branch with buds covered in snow and ice crystals, winter

As a starting point I added 2 stops overexposure in the exposure compensation dial, which gave a decent image with no highlights (snow & ice) overexposed. As the camera was on a tripod I then bracketed around this exposure for a perfectly exposed image which retained all the detail in the ice crystals.

On a photo shoot for Manfrotto in Svalbard this technique was essential as the whole place was covered in snow and ice at the time of year I was there. At -30C it was important to act quickly and know the way around the camera, as I had 3 pairs of gloves on, a thick outer extreme weather glove, then inside a woolen glove and a silk glove, this was a technique that Alan Hinkes told me about when I met him and asked his advice. I thought he should know, as he is the only British mountaineer to have climbed all 14 mountains with elevations greater than 8,000 metres and he also photographs his ascents. Basically you keep the 2 outer gloves on for as long as possible and for the shot remove the 2 outer gloves on the one hand leaving the silk glove when you are ready to take the photo.

For the shot below I dialled in 1 & 2/3rd stops overexposure in exposure compensation. This kept detail in the snow and also held detail in the blowing snow on the ground. The camera was mounted on a Manfrotto heavy duty 055 tripod as the strong wind blowing, nearly knocking me off my feet!

Arctic circle, North polar region, Europe, Scandinavia, Norway, Svalbard, Spitsbergen, Longyearbyen,  view towards Hiorthfjellet mountain and Adventtoppen mountain across Adventdalen valley

Again for the dog sledders below, overexposure was needed to keep the shot looking fresh, with full detail in the dogs and dog sledders.

Arctic circle, North polar region, Europe, Scandinavia, Norway, Svalbard, Spitsbergen, Longyearbyen, husky dog sled, dusk

When using your smartphone, in your phones camera settings there should be an exposure value / EV setting. Try shooting a snow scene without adjusting this and then shoot the same scene with it set to 1.5+ see those whites whiter, try moving it to 2+ brighter to see if this makes a difference, but be aware of over exposing the scene.

Arctic circle, North polar region, Europe, Scandinavia, Norway, Svalbard, Spitsbergen, view from Longyearbyen towards Hiorthfjellet mountain across Adventfjorden fjord, Advent Bay, woman taking photo across the bay

With this easy technique your snow will look snow white and not a dull flat grey. Have fun in the snow and keep warm!

This technique also works well with any scene that is predominantly white, such as with white flowers or buildings.


When you have finished photographing snow don`t forget to set exposure compensation back to 0

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