Capturing Images in the Snow

Kilnsey in the Snow by Sam Oakes
Stump Cross Caverns by © Sam Oakes Photography


Its coming up to that time of year when snow can be expected at anytime and can make for very striking images. Photography in the snow can be difficult to expose right with all the reflective surfaces, often-bright skies and of course getting around.

Using our five steps to making a great landscape photograph, here are just a few tips to help you on your way to capturing a snowy landscape.


During winter we have a whole new set of subjects to capture which perhaps aren’t as strong during the other seasons. Its good to find a contrasting subject that will break up the carpet of white. This could be a lone tree, fence posts, dry stone walls, or field barns. Rivers and streams make for great subjects as the dark water cuts through the white and draws the eye into the image.

River Wharfe, Yorkshire Dales
River Wharfe, Yorkshire Dales by © Sam Oakes Photography


Once you have found your subject, its important to compose your image so that the eye moves around the frame in a pleasing way. The rule of thirds is a general composition technique that can be used, but in snowy scenes, particularly if its quite a bleak setting then a lone tree in the center of the frame can add to the emotion of the image. Also remember that a landscape image doesn’t have to be landscape in orientation, often snowfall produces some lovely layers in the scene and a portrait shot works really well.

Winter landscape in Upper Wharfedale
Winter landscape in Upper Wharfedale
Winter landscape near Cray
Winter landscape near Cray














Above images by © Mark Sunderland Photography


Quite often, after a fresh snowfall the weather clears up and we have bright blue skies, and shooting in the middle of the day can produce some really nice light. Early in the mornings and twilight are the ideal times, where the sun is low in the sky and can produce some great shadows, and after the sun sets, there is still lots of time for long exposure shots. It’s a good idea to get out the OS map and a compass to work out where the sun will be during the day and time your trip out to get the best of the light.

Pen Y Ghent in Twilight
Pen Y Ghent in Twilight by © Mark Sunderland Photography


Now this is where it can get quite tricky. Left to its own devices the camera will try to read all the tones in the scene and find a mid exposure to capture detail in the dark areas as well as the highlighted areas. This will result in many of your images looking quite dark and dull on the back of the screen. The first settings to check is that you have your ISO speed set to as low as possible e.g. 100 and put the White Balance on automatic. It’s always easier to do the fine-tuning of White Balance in the RAW processor on the computer.

Once you have found your subject and composed your image (a tripod is still essential) you are ready to decide how you would like the image to look. With big landscapes you might want to opt for a large depth of field, so that the foreground all the way into the distance is in focus. So you would be looking at putting your camera on Aperture Priority and a setting of perhaps f18, f22 or even smaller depending on the lens you are using.

With the camera on Aperture Priority, it will still try to expose all the tones of the image which might be quite dark, so with snowy scenes it’s worth using your exposure compensation and setting it up to be +1 or even +2 which in most circumstances will over expose your image but with snow will bring through all the detail and colour.

Once you have taken the image, it is of great importance to check the Histogram. If it’s a sunny day, it might be difficult to see the image on the screen, and the Histogram will give you an absolute representation of the tonal range of the image. What you want to look at most importantly is if there has been any highlight clipping (areas of pure white). If the Histogram has clipped off into pure white, then bring you exposure compensation down and take the image again.

You might find some scenes difficult to get right in one exposure and the histogram clips off both sides. If this is the case you could use a ND grad filter to darken down the sky a little, or take two exposures, one for the foreground and one for the sky and blend the two later in Photoshop.

River Wharfe, Yorkshire Dales
River Wharfe, Yorkshire Dales by © Sam Oakes Photography

Post Processing

Getting the image right in camera is of great importance to make the processing quick and easy. If the Histogram is all in, then we have all the tonal range available to make minor adjustments. Shooting in RAW, we have the flexibility to adjust exposures slightly and tweak the White Balance to achieve a natural shot. You might find that the snow is looking quite orangey (or dare I say it yellow) if this is the case then you can adjust the temperature of the image to compensate for this, likewise, if its come out very cold with blue tones you can bring the temp up to add more oranges. The best tip I can give for this is, minor adjustments only and its really important that you have profiled your monitor so that you know the colours you are looking at on screen, are what will be printed.

A good final adjustment to make is add contrast to the image and make the dark areas darker, this gives the image a push and makes the details stand out next to the white snow.

Frozen Swinsty Reservoir
Frozen Swinsty Reservoir by © Sam Oakes Photography


Be careful in the snow, particular in the Yorkshire Dales, as it’s a rocky landscape with many hidden dips and holes, which get nicely covered up by the snow!!! Carrying all your gear around can be treacherous. Its good practice to do recce’s in the autumn so you know where your going to and what your stepping on.

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