How to get great snow photos with your phone
One of the prettiest parts of winter is pristine, freshly fallen snow. Taking photos of snow however, especially with a phone, can be challenging. Here are a few tips on how to get great snow photos with your phone.
1. Capture snow while it’s still fresh
The best part about freshly fallen snow, is…freshly fallen snow!
To get great snow photos with your phone, you have to act quickly. If you want pristine snow in your shot then get outside with your camera as soon as possible after the storm. There is a short window of time to take get images without footprints, lot’s of traffic or dirty snow banks.
A few years back I acted very quickly after an early Spring snow blanketed the trees with thick, wet snow. I grabbed my phone, headed out and was rewarded with this Wintery scene of our street. Within 30 minutes the snow was rapidly melting off the trees and within an hour the branches were bare, and the snow, along with my beautiful shot, was gone.
2. Adjust the exposure and white balance
In order to get great snow photos with your phone, you will need to adjust both the exposure and white balance.
The problem with snowy scenes is that the large areas of bright white snow, confuses the camera’s light meter into under-exposing the photo.
Basically, the camera reads the scene, sees all the white, and thinks it’s too bright. So it reduces the exposure which effectively makes the snow look gray.
It’s easy to control the exposure by placing your finger on the camera screen and swiping your finger up the screen to lighten the image (with an iphone) or sliding your finger to the right if you have an Android phone.
If you forget to lighten the image before you shoot you can always fix it afterwards in editing. Using the in-camera editing app or an app like Snapseed it’s easy to brighten the image to get a better exposure.
Another common problem is that snow often photographs BLUE. This is especially common when shooting on overcast days, early in the morning or in the shade.
In the above photo, the photo on the left is how the camera exposed the shot. It was taken early morning around 8am on the shady side of a building. Look how blue the image is, as well as how underexposed it is.
In this case both the exposure and the White Balance had to be adjusted. The White Balance can easily be fixed in an app such as Snapseed. The edited photo on the right, is clearly a much better image and more true to how the scene actually looked.
3. Best way to capture falling snow
During an actual snow storm, is not the best time to try and get a good photo. Visibility is greatly reduced, the lighting is dark, the color will be lost and nine times out of ten, the photo will read flat and gray.
Here is an example of a photo taken from the balcony of our old apartment during a storm. The scene isn’t pretty but even if it was, the photo would still be flat and gray.
The photo below was taken in Boston, also during a snowstorm. Even though the subject matter is better, the photo is still flat, gray and not very compelling.
So what is the secret behind all those beautiful falling snow photos you have seen? I have found the best time to get a good photo of it actively snowing, is to capture the snow as soon as the snow starts to fall.
When the ambient light is still somewhat bright and a light snow starts to fall, that is a great time to capture a snow photo.
The photo below was that exact situation. I was walking around Beacon Hill in Boston and it started to lightly snow. I was in the right place at the right time and was able to capture this pretty street scene. It was more of a snow shower that a snow storm so the light was still fairly bright.
This happened again while on vacation in the mountains. In this case, I was sitting in the car waiting for my husband to get coffee. All of a sudden a snow shower popped up. It was over in less than 5 minutes but it allowed me enough time to get this cute dog looking in the window for his owner.
4. Add some color into the scene
Adding a pop of color into your snow photos is a beautiful way to offset all that white. Color will add some life to the image and be a nice contrast against the white.
Look how this American flag pops against the almost all white barn and surrounding scene.
Red is my favorite color to incorporate in snowy scenes as it really stands out against the white. If you are going to “stage” a snow photo, think about how you might incorporate a pop of color. Maybe put your child in a red jacket or have someone wear a bright pink hat.
The color will pop against the white and make a great photo.
5. Place people in the scene
We all love a beautiful snow landscape but consider adding some people in your photos. After a recent storm I saw this man snow blowing his side walk. I was drawn in by the backlighting and couldn’t resist grabbing a shot.
When you are shooting someone or something in motion, try using burst mode so that you can choose the best placement of the person, especially if they are in motion.
I wrote about how to use BURST Mode HERE.
I love this photo of a couple walking on a snowy path in the woods after a fresh snowfall. They add both scale and interest to the image. If I could have staged this photo I would have put the man in a red jacket. Otherwise, I was happy with the life they brought to the photo.
For those of us in cold climates, I know it’s challenging to enjoy snowstorms and all the inconveniences they cause. However, if you get out there with your phone, you just might find yourself looking forward to the next “big one”.
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