Best Camera Settings for Shooting in Snow

Shooting in the snow is a lot of fun and can produce some stunning images.

However, there are a few things to consider in snow photography that requires the camera to be set up differently. 

Before venturing out into the snowy landscape, make sure your camera is adequately prepared with the right settings. 

Best Camera Settings for Shooting in Snow: Tips and Tricks

How do you take good pictures in the snow?

Here are some handy tips and tricks when shooting in the snow under different conditions:

Exposure 

Shoot from an angle on sunnier days and expose the shadows, so faces aren’t underexposed and squinting. 

A grey sky can appear brighter than it is, so exposure might be correct looking at the scene before you even shoot it.

Try photographing through the falling snow for neat effects.

If you’re shooting in RAW mode, adjust the exposure compensation to make sure faces are exposed correctly. 

Overexpose your images by 1/3rd stops. This will ensure snow does not appear grey but rather white and brilliant. 

Exposure Compensation

When photographing in snowy conditions, use your camera’s exposure compensation feature, especially if your picture appears too dark or too bright.

For snow photography, increase the exposure compensation by one stop, or “+1” in your settings.

Adjust as needed.

When your photos have too much contrast between highlights and shadows, try decreasing the exposure compensation by half a stop or so until faces appear correct in mid-tones without any blown highlights or blocked-up shadows. 

If you have a camera that lets you preview the effects of your changes in the viewfinder, use it so you can see how changing your exposure compensation affects your shots.

Depth of Field

Depth of field decreases as the lens aperture gets smaller. Keep your ISO a bit higher and aperture lower to get a sharper image when shooting in the snow. 

This is especially important for portraits with people in them because you want to make sure their faces are sharp and not blurry.

Aperture (and Aperture Priority)

It’s always great to have options when choosing aperture settings for snow photography. 

The majority of cameras can shoot wide open even in low light conditions without any issues. However, if yours isn’t, then down to f/8 or f/11 will give you the most sharpness.

Make sure your camera is set to Aperture Priority mode (AV or A on a dial) and use the lowest f/number possible under the given circumstances for overall sharpness.

If your camera does not have Aperture Priority, check for Snow Photography or Winter mode.

Movement 

If you’re photographing moving subjects, set your shutter speed at 1/500th or faster to ensure that movement won’t blur the shot.

If you’re using a tripod or other type of stabilizer, then use one that’s rated well above what you’ll need because snowy conditions can add more shakes than usual. 

Composition

Make sure to take a look at your composition before shooting. You may want to move closer, further away, or change the angle you’re shooting from. 

Check that you have a clear subject and foreground with a background that’s not too cluttered.

Test a few shots before hitting the shutter button to ensure every shot is exactly how you want it.

ISO 

How to shoot portraits in the snow

To keep high-quality images in snowy conditions, try increasing your ISO as much as you can without introducing noise into the picture.

This will help increase your camera’s sensitivity to light. 

High ISOs such as 800 or higher will allow your camera to absorb more light and enable it to capture fast action without motion blur.

The trade-off with high ISOs is that they’ll give your image a lot more noise than lower settings. 

If you want less noise and can live with slower shutter speeds, use an ISO between 100 and 400 instead.

Experiment with both settings until you figure out what works best at different times of the day. 

If you’re using a camera that has an Auto ISO setting, this is where it will come in handy.

White Balance

Set to Auto or according to the time of day so that colors appear accurately in the final shot. 

Shutter Speed

You can use shutter speeds anywhere from 1/500th of a second to several seconds.

Try setting your shutter speed at 1/125th or even faster for photos of people if you don’t want them blurry. 

When photographing moving water, slow down your shutter speed considerably for a remarkable effect.

Lens

Be sure to bring lenses that are made for low-light situations.

If you’re shooting with a zoom lens, use the widest aperture available so that more light can enter your camera and create more precise images. 

Avoid using telephoto lenses unless you have to.

They reduce the amount of light entering your camera by increasing the distance between the subject and the lens. 

Focus 

If you’re shooting people, try focusing manually on their eyes to ensure that they are in focus.

This is especially important if there’s snow covering the ground because it can be difficult for your camera’s auto-focus system to lock onto anything with so much white around. 

For non-human subjects, have fun experimenting with all sorts of different focus points for exciting effects.

Flash Usage 

Using flash during winter photography is fine if you understand how it works and controls it. 

As much as possible, turn your flash off.

Otherwise, here’s the deal—your built-in flash will provide light for up to an 11-foot distance at best, so if you’re within that range, then feel free to use it. 

If you want to brighten up shadows or photograph something far away, you’ll need external lighting equipment (or a powerful Speedlight).

RAW

Set your camera to take shots in RAW mode, which produces unprocessed images. 

Despite their large file sizes, RAW files give you a lot of flexibility and control when editing.

Other tips for shooting in snow

Tips for snow photography

Watch out for wind

If it’s too windy, then you might want to consider postponing your photography session altogether or rescheduling it for another day. 

If there’s some snow on the ground, but it’s not blowing around too much, try shooting close-ups of individual flakes for a neat effect. 

Remove Your Filter 

Remove any polarizing filter while photographing snow.

The light reflecting off the snow will make your images come out unevenly, and this is especially true if you’re photographing in direct sunlight. 

If you’re doing landscape photography, use a polarizing filter to enhance colors and saturation levels.

Shoot at the Right Time of the Day 

If possible, shoot during the “magic hours” of sunrise or sunset for a softer light that reduces shadows and contrast. 

If shooting during midday isn’t an option, wait until late afternoon when sunlight is at a lower angle to avoid harsh shadows on subjects’ faces.

Bring a Backup Camera 

If you don’t have a backup camera or second lens, make sure you bring along extra batteries to ensure nothing goes wrong with your camera. 

Since there’s no chance of getting reprints if something goes wrong, make sure every shot turns out precisely as you want it to before hitting the shutter button. 

Pay Attention to the Foreground 

In snowy conditions, remember to pay extra attention to the foreground of your pictures.

Look for interesting subjects such as trees, bushes, stones, and other objects that will provide a sense of scale. 

Watch Out for Icicles 

If you’re photographing snow-covered landscapes, then watch out for icicles on trees or any other type of snow buildup nearby.

They can ruin a photograph by shattering or dropping unexpectedly when they warm up from the heat emitted by your camera. 

If possible, wait until they melt before continuing with your shoot if they’re in a location that you can’t move them to.