Things to Consider When Photographing Snow Landscapes

Things to Consider When Photographing Snow Landscapes

A snow-covered landscape can be truly breathtaking, exuding a pristine beauty and offering a unique canvas for photography. In this article, I will delve into the considerations one must keep in mind when capturing the allure of such a wondrous white world.

I have an immense fondness for winter landscapes blanketed in snow. This cold, white blanket possesses the remarkable ability to transform a cluttered scene into a captivating vista, free from distractions. It somehow manages to hush the surrounding noises, enveloping the land in tranquil silence, only occasionally disrupted by the gentle crunch of your boots against the snow as you walk.

Regrettably, in my home country, snow is a rare occurrence. Perhaps one or two days each year, if we're lucky, but often it vanishes as quickly as it arrives, leaving behind a damp and uninviting landscape that feels desolate and cold. This is precisely why I find myself drawn to Norway in the winter months, a time when the chances of encountering snow are at their peak.

One of the rare occasions we had a lot of snow in the Netherlands. 

If you also love to capture a snow-covered landscape, there are a few things to consider.

Keep an Eye on Your Exposure Settings

The light meter inside your camera is calibrated for 18% light reflection. In other words, it assumes the average brightness of a scenery will resemble 50% gray. In the case of a white snow landscape, the light meter will assume it has to be 50% gray instead of white. This results in an underexposed image.

It is often advised to increase the exposure one or two stops to compensate for the measured exposure by the light meter. But the truth is this depends on the situation.

If everything's white, the light meter will try to make it 50% gray.

It can be tricky to keep the exposure value at plus one or two stops at all times. Just keep an eye on the histogram instead. Especially with modern mirrorless cameras, it is easy to see how the exposure is before you press the shutter release button. In the case of the more traditional DSLR, use the live view option or take a test shot first. Use the light meter as a reference, but adjust the exposure value according to the histogram. Try exposing to the right, even if the image on the LCD screen looks overexposed.

Keep the Composition Simple

Unless you have evergreen trees in the composition, most trees and bushes will show only branches without any leaves. Although these branches form an attractive contrast with the snow, it can also result in a cluttered composition quite fast. Try to keep the composition as simple as possible. It’s better to capture only a few branches covered in snow. This way, it becomes much easier to make a composition.

Keep your compositions simple. Often, that will do the trick.

This also applies for other subjects that show a strong contrast with the snow. Find leading lines and create a visual flow in the frame. The more you include in your frame, the more difficult it will become.

Remove Footprints

If you’re the first one at the location, the snow will be undisturbed. This is the most ideal situation. But unfortunately, this will rarely be the case. If the foreground is covered in footprints, try to find a composition that won’t include these footprints.

If that’s impossible, don’t be reluctant to remove these prints in post-production. With the latest removal tools and AI-powered options, it’s never been easier to accomplish this task. I don’t think it has anything to do with altering reality. It’s just cleaning up your composition. On the other hand, sometimes, footprints can also tell a story. This can be prints left by a person or an animal.

This location is always crowded with photographers and tourists. There will always be footprints.

If you happen to be the first one at the scene, be careful where you stand. Try to avoid leaving your own footprints in the parts that you want to capture. It’s frustrating when you discover you need to step back a few meters for the best composition, realizing you ruined your composition with your own footprints. Although you can remove these during post-processing, it will take work that could be avoided in the first place.

Mind your step. Don't leave your footprints.

Be Careful With Contrast Enhancements

With post-processing, it’s easy to enhance the details in a landscape photo. It can be done up to a point where it’s hyperrealistic. Be careful with a snow-covered landscape, though. Don’t bring too much detail into the snow by adding micro-contrast.

Snow is soft and fuzzy. Too much contrast and you lose it.

Adding too much detail can make the snow look grainy and less fluffy. If you’re not careful, it can even transform into a gray-looking landscape. Although there is nothing wrong with some contrast, don’t use it to enhance details that aren’t really there. Often, it’s better to enhance the fluffiness of the scenery. Make it look soft.

A bit of morning fog over a snow-covered landscape.

Consider Black and White

If there is a beautiful and colorful sunrise or sunset, the warm colors will offer a nice contrast with the cold snow. However, if there is an overcast sky, the landscape can be deprived of color. Why not turn your image into black and white?

Snow-covered landscapes are ideal for black and white photography.

Removing any color or color cast from your image makes a snow landscape almost a graphic representation. In many cases, it’s also easier to find an attractive composition this way.

Photographing During Snowfall

There is something magical about photographing during a snowfall. Walking through the falling snow is a tranquil experience. There are a few issues when photographing during snowfall. First of all, snow can be sticky, covering everything, and it will melt. Your camera will get wet, just like you. Appropriate clothing is a must.

During snowfall, it can be a struggle when photographing the landscape.

Consider using a rain cover for your camera and use a lens hood to protect the front lens. However, be careful with lens hoods since these things can collect a lot of snow on the inside as well. Keep a dish towel at hand to remove any snow that sticks to the front of the lens.

Capturing snowflakes.

Dealing With the Cold

Most cameras have no issue with freezing temperatures. Even modern batteries can deal with the cold without any problems. However, having a spare battery in your inside pocket is advisable.

If you’re using a UV or protection filter, condensation can occur due to the cold. Removing the filter solves this issue of condensation. The biggest condensation problem occurs at the moment when you get indoors. With extreme temperature differences, your equipment can become completely wet.

A cold camera will get wet when placed in a warm environment. 

If this happens, detach the lens, remove the lens and camera body caps, and let it acclimatize. Don’t turn the camera on, just leave it on the table. However, the best choice is to keep the camera inside the closed camera bag. Let it acclimatize this way, which prevents condensation altogether. If you want to grab your photos from the memory card before it’s acclimatized, remove the card before you get inside.

Final Words

Photographing snow and snowfall can be a wonderful experience. Allow yourself to enjoy it as well. If you do so, it will be noticeable in the images you take.

Landscapes with snow, I love them.

Do you have additional advice or considerations for landscape photography in the snow? I invite you to mention it in the comments below.

Nando Harmsen's picture

Nando Harmsen is a Dutch photographer that is specialized in wedding and landscape photography. With his roots in the analog photo age he gained an extensive knowledge about photography techniques and equipment, and shares this through his personal blog and many workshops.

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This was a nicely written article. Thank you!

You're welcome

There's a saying in Swedish that translates roughly to this: There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing. Top thing when shooting in the winter is to dress appropriately, be warm. The more comfortable you are whilst shooting, the better the results will be. There is a photo glove company called Vallerret that whose products are super helpful in this regard. Also, as mentioned above - remember to keep your spare batteries warm - they last much longer then! I usually always have a lens hood on to shield the front of the lens from the elements a bit, a rocket blower is useful to blow off any dry snow (which you get when it gets properly cold...). Also keep a shovel in the back of the car so you can rescue the car should you need too. Be careful driving off the side of snow covered roads, I once had 3 wheels of my car hanging over the edge of a ditch, I realised just in time.

Great advice from someone who knows I can tell. I’m an experienced and very avid outdoorsman and see you also have experience in the cold for taking photos.

I use Vallerret as well and am very happy with the gloves.
Thanks for commenting

Excellent article.

Excellent article. Snow and minimalism go hand in hand. I've got some of the best minimalistic show landscape photographs in winter.

Really nice winter scenes Rhonald Rose , they really set a mood.

Thanks, I appreciate it 🙏

Nice photos, Rhonald Rose
Thanks for sharing.

Thanks, also thanks for the article Nando Harmsen

I see minimalism comments and what great advice. Thanks for the great article and comments

Living in the American Midwest snow is fairly common here 🙂 One thing that can be helpful is carrying an umbrella. Unless it's windy, an umbrella does a great job keeping gear dry and snow out of the lens hood. It can also make changing lenses a bit easier. I sheltered under an umbrella for these shots.

Make sure not to use a colorful umbrella. A black, white or transparant one is to be preferred.

Very true! Mine is predominantly white/cream.

Very nice. Thx for the good points. Really helps.

You're welcome

Nicely written article! I know cold as I've spent the last 7 years in Winnipeg, Manitoba (affectionately called 'Winterpeg'). The coldest day I spent out was -25C and I lasted about 2 hours. I have to mention that the 30+ years prior to living here were spent in Tampa, FL and New Orleans, LA. My wife's from Winnipeg, so that's how we ended up here.

I spend most of my cold weather shooting looking for critters in the woods, but will shoot the occasional winter scene. This one is just a small pathway that I noticed. Done with enhancements to make it more 'contrasty', I print this on metallic based paper and it looks pretty neat. It was a pretty good seller when I was selling prints. Probably wouldn't sell well in Tampa, but it fits here in Winnipeg.


Nice. Thanks for sharing

Good article. In snow, I think liberal use of bracket exposures, preferably on a tripod, is helpful. Correct exposure of snow can lead to overexposure of darker colors, such as vegetation, structures, or blue skies. Different exposures of the same shot can then be combined in post-production as layers.

True, but if a dark colors turn out to be a bit too light for your taste, it's easy to darken those in post-production. Exposure bracketing is not necessary for that.