Shooting in a Winter Wonderland


Here in central Canada, it’s not uncommon to have snow on the ground for up to six months a year. Mother Nature is such a generous gal when it comes to the chilly white stuff, the brisk winds, and the unyielding cold – she’s such a sweetheart. My personal favorite is when I wake up to -43 degree Celsius wind chill warnings (that’s -45.4 degrees Fahrenheit) like the other morning. Don’t believe me? Check out this screenshot from The Weather Network that I captured for your viewing pleasure. Sigh

So, whether you have snow for six months a year, or maybe just a couple weeks, it never hurts to have a few tricks for shooting exterior listing photos in the wintertime. So let’s get started:

Proper exposure can be extremely difficult as the reflection off the snow can confuse your camera’s metering system. So what can you do to resolve this problem?

a) Use a Circular Polarizing Filter – A polarizer will help minimize the intensity of the reflected light off the snow, add contrast to the sky, and more deeply saturate bold colors.

b) Bracket your shots – If you shoot manually, or semi-manually, shoot each exterior shot at least three times – once using the metered exposure, once a stop over, and once a stop under. A gray card may assist you in finding a neutral exposure to bracket from.

c) Use spot metering – Most cameras have three metering settings (full frame, center-weighted, and spot). Full frame metering in snowy conditions is often inaccurate as the reflecting snow gives off too much light. Try spot metering on a neutrally lit area, and bracket your shots from there

Auto white balance (AWB) is an imperfect system. To avoid snow that appears overly yellow or blue there’s some simple steps to follow. Have a look at a recent post about color balancing your photos if you require more information.

a) White balance – Manually white balance your camera to about 6000k and fine tune as required. If your camera does not have a manual setting, set it to daylight.

b) Color Corrections – Check your photos for color accuracy in an image editor. A slight blue tint to the snow appears more natural than yellow.

a) Shoot in the morning or evening – Side-lit snow will appear to have more texture, and will be easier to shoot without risking overexposure. You may want to consider leaving the holiday lights on and shoot a couple of shots at dusk or dawn.

b) Fresh, clean snow – Winter scenes are always most beautiful after a fresh snowfall, but fresh snow also reflects the greatest amount of light. Choose your shooting times wisely. In my opinion, a fresh snowfall, and a good coverage of fluffy, cumulus clouds is best. And again, try to shoot during morning or evening hours.

c) Utilize your time – Shoot as many exteriors as possible on the good days. You never know when a string of bad weather might hit, so take the opportunity to shoot a number of listings in a row. You can always return to shoot interiors later on.

d) Aesthetics – Aim for eye-catching shapes and contrasts. Use bare trees, shoveled walkways, and the angles of the home to create an interesting composition. Intersecting lines, triangles, and layers of depth often make for images that attract more attention.

e) Take care of your gear – Photography equipment hates water. Always take extra care when shooting in winter. Pack extra batteries as cold batteries lose power more quickly; store your accessories in a water-tight bag; and keep your camera as warm as possible.


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