Snow snow snow. If you're in the UK especially, the jet stream is doing odd things and as a result we're being whacked left right and centre by Arctic winds. This has brought us the coldest November for years and it shows no signs of abating. Given that you've all got camera phones or better and access to basic editing tools is better than ever before, it seemed like a good time to go over taking photos in the snow. So often a vista turns up which blows us away yet by the time we get them up on the computer screen they look like a big whited-out mess, or at least not as impressive as the naked eye saw it, anyway. Here, Lensfunk will look at a few basics to help you get more out of your photographs this time around.
In this post, we'll look at black and white photographs when it's snowing. After it's snowed a lot there often follows a sunny period, which causes all kinds of different problems, but here we'll look at while it's happening or just after it's stopped. For guidance on getting ready here's a link for you.
1) Contrast: The key to successful snow shots in dull overcast weather is contrast. Shots which would probably look uninspired or average in normal weather can take on a totally different light in the snow. Take the tree below. Normally there would be loads of background detail distracting the eye's focus and the colours of the tree would blend in with the grass and distant foliage. In the snow however, the fallen snow all around provides a studio-like background for anything not covered by it in the foreground. The great thing about big trees is that the snow lands on parts of them and leaves their huge majestic branches to snake patterns through the glaring white. To achieve this effect, the same rules apply about composition - make sure that you get the best bits in and try and give the shot some scale. The first photo here is a lovely shot of the tree but it's difficult - aside from knowing the tree species - to know how big it is. In the second photo, we add a person to it, and the eye's reaction to the picture changes from seeing only the pretty pattern to being in awe of the size of it too. Ideally, the first shot would contain the person too as the composition of the tree is better, but alas, it's a blog not the BBC so you're stuck with that, but hopefully you get the picture.
If you're out and you've got adjustable settings on your camera, try playing about with the shutter speed - the slower the shutter moves the greater the contrast between the snow and whatever patterns you're trying to capture (to a point, then it just becomes over-exposed madness - but you should get a feel for when that's about to happen). You should also be able to take photographs later than you can normally - when the sun starts to disappear, the snow continues to reflect what's available to often great effect.
2) The sky. Getting the sky right is a bit of a 'mare with automatic settings but if you've got Photoshop or similar it's not a problem to fix it when you get home. The ideal scenario is (if you're using a DSLR) is to have a Neutral Density (ND) grad filter. In layman's terms it's a filter that fits on your lens which darkens half of your photo. When you take a photo of the bright white snow, the ND grad filter will darken the sky and leave you some detail. Obviously most people won't have one, so here's a way to get some detail without losing the rest of the picture.
Let's assume you're trying to create a shot like the one of the cottage below. In this case the focus is of the entire scene as a pretty rural winter scene rather than on any detail like drifting snow or footprints (save that until the sun comes out). Here, we're only bothered about the overall picture with enough detail in the building and some in the sky to give the picture some depth. If you take the picture so that the picture is a little underexposed, the sky should appear like it does in this picture. In PS, you can then select either half of the picture, darkeing the sky a little bit to create even more drama, and lightening the bottom half, to bring the snow back up to it's natural whiteness. the overall effect is like the one seen below.
if you were photographing in light or non-snowy conditions this technique won't work. Look at the cottage; normally the definition lines wouldn't be on the window sills or the roof, outlining the important bits that tell the eye it's a cottage, but here they are, even though the cottage's stone walls are dark and under-exposed.
3) Foreground Interest: It's very easy to just get out there, see a load of snow and be a bit bowled over by it and start shooting stuff. If you wait a bit you'll get better shots. Looking at the photo of the cottage again, we've already established it's a photo which wouldn't work on a normally overcast day, and here's a second reason. The white expanse of over-exposed snow in the foreground works only in this instance because it has some interest in it to break up the monotony of the snow. The dog, in this case shows not only how deep the snow is, but also conveys movement really well. (NB: this goes back to the contrast element of this post too - not all contrast has to be between light and dark, it can be between other elements too, in this case the stillness of the scene contrasted with the dog-in-a-hurry) Whenever you've got tons of snow on the ground, always be looking for the lone figure or the dark patterns and when you find them, try and frame them within a larger picture, you're photos will bring you so much more pleasure if you can do that, even though you'll undoubtedly take far fewer.