5 Tips for Shooting in Snow and Cold Weather

Just in time for the holidays, my neighborhood has been dusted with several inches of snow. And since getting snow in the Seattle area is never a sure thing--I've experienced a few winters with nary a flake--I didn't want to squander the opportunity to take some photos. After all, snow makes a great backdrop for wintertime photo shoots, such as Christmas light displays. Taking great pictures in the show can be challenging, though, so I offer you five tips for taking pictures in snow and chilly winter weather.

1. Plan for the Cold

This might seem obvious, but it's cold out there. Dress warm and in layers. I've found fingerless gloves very handy for manipulating camera controls. Recently, I've come across a new style of fingerless glove, mittens with fingertip covers that flip off, so you can keep warm most of the time and then expose your fingertips when you need to access small camera controls. Of course, these things might have been in stores for years and I've just never noticed before--as my wife is quick to point out, I'm oblivious to fashion trends.

2. Keep a Spare Battery

Your camera's battery won't last as long in the cold as it does in normal conditions. If you don't want to end your day early, carry a spare battery in an inside pocket, where it will be somewhat protected from the cold. After you switch batteries, put the "dead" battery in the inside pocket, and it's possible your body heat might revive it to take a few more shots later in the day.

3. Frost Is Best Shot Early in the Day

I love taking pictures of virgin frost clinging to trees, leaves, pine needles, and holiday lights. But frost is unbelievably delicate, and even a little sunlight will make it start to melt and lose its magically light, crystalline structure. If you want to get close-ups of ice crystals and frost before they start to decay, get outside in the early morning hours.

4. Don't Trust Your Camera's Exposure Meter

Think about it this way: Learn what your camera is trying to tell you, and know how to adjust it accordingly. The problem is that snow is pure white, and when you take a picture, your camera exposes it so it comes out gray. Worse, if your photo is composed mostly of snow but features a dark, small subject (like a person), then that subject will be underexposed. The fix? Overexpose the shot by about one stop using your camera's exposure compensation control.

You'll also want to keep an eye on the histogram display in your camera's LCD viewfinder and make sure that the graph is mostly on the right, but not badly "clipped" off the side. Alternately, you could also shoot the photo as-is (especially if you can shoot in RAW mode) and then tweak the brightness and contrast on your PC using your photo editing program. Read "Digital Photography Basics: All About Exposure" for more tips.

5. Check Your White Balance

Finally, snow confuses digital cameras--often the resulting photos turn out a sickly blue. The best way to fix this is to manually set the camera's white balance using a sheet of white paper before you start shooting. If you aren't enthusiastic about carrying paper around to set the color balance in the snow, you can try setting the white balance to its tungsten setting instead. Or, if your camera lets you shoot in RAW mode, you can whiten the snow afterwards on your PC and not worry about white balance at all when you take the picture. For more tips on working with RAW files, read "Using Your Camera's RAW Mode."

Hot Pic of the Week

Get published, get famous! Each week, we select our favorite reader-submitted photo based on creativity, originality, and technique.

Here's how to enter: Send us your photograph in JPEG format, at a resolution no higher than 640 by 480 pixels. Entries at higher resolutions will be immediately disqualified. If necessary, use an image editing program to reduce the file size of your image before e-mailing it to us. Include the title of your photo along with a short description and how you photographed it. Don't forget to send your name, e-mail address, and postal address. Before entering, please read the full description of the contest rules and regulations.

This week's Hot Pic: "Yellow Trolley" by Timothy Hacker, Sylvania, Ohio

Timothy took this photo with his Canon EOS 20D while visiting Lisbon, and then selectively removed color from the photo to generate this image.

This week's runner-up: "Cheetah" by Stephen Henry Puttock, Thailand Stephen writes: "I took this photo of Cheetah using a Fuji Finepix S100fs set to Macro mode. I think this shot stands out since he'd just opened his mouth, whilst looking at a bird that had landed nearby."

To see all of this month's winners, visit the November Hot Pics slide show. Visit the Hot Pics Flickr gallery to browse past winners.

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