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The Challenges and Pleasure of Making Photos in Snow
By David L. Brown
A juniper tree is decorated with fluffy, fresh snow. The red rocks and a blue sky add up to a colorful image. This picture was made a few years ago in Arches National Park.

Winter is here and with it the opportunity to make great winter landscapes. White snow sets off the vibrant colors of the red rocks, an effect I call “red, white and beautiful.” Here are some tips on how to make great photographs when it snows.

Winter cold and damp weather can fog up your lens, weaken the camera’s battery, and cause your fingers to turn blue. Here are some ways to deal with those problems:

• Put a clear UV filter over your lens. That will protect the lens itself should it get fogged up, or even worse, become wet or coated with ice. Since the moisture will be on the filter, the sensitive multi-coatings on the lens will be protected.

• Carry a microfiber cloth or two and use them to carefully wipe away any fogging on the filter, LCD screen, and viewfinder.

• Keep your lens cap on the lens whenever you are not shooting to further shield it from moisture.

• Your breath is moist, too, so avoid breathing on your camera. Try holding your breath when you bring the camera up to your eye.

• You especially do not want moisture to get inside of your camera, so it’s a good idea to use a zoom lens and keep it in place to avoid the need to change lenses during your shoot. Most cameras are somewhat moisture resistant, but don’t tempt fate. You might consider carrying a plastic bag and keeping it around the camera between shots.

• To prevent your battery from losing power, it’s a good idea to carry a spare battery in your pocket to keep it warm. You can switch them to always have a warm battery in the camera.

• Fingerless mittens or gloves are a good choice to prevent your hands from growing numb from the cold.

• Because it reflects so much light, snow can be a difficult subject. Here are some tips to get well-balanced exposures.

• Using a polarizing filter can help reduce distracting glare on fresh snow or ice.

• Light reflecting from the snow can cause lens flare, so use your lens hood to block stray rays.

• Capturing the right color balance can be tricky when photographing in snow. If the snow in your photo looks blue or yellow, you know something is wrong. It’s a good idea to shoot in RAW format so that you can adjust the white balance in post-processing your images.


This photograph was made from Island in the Sky, looking east toward the distant La Sal mountains. Red rock spires and canyon walls stand out against the white landscape.

The bright snow can trick your camera’s exposure system, which is set for medium gray. You don’t want a picture of gray snow, so tend to add an extra one-third to two-thirds stop to your exposure. You can check the histogram on your LCD screen to make sure your exposure is in the right range. Again, if shooting in RAW you can adjust the settings in post.

Now it’s time to have some fun. Composing pictures with snow offers the chance to get a different look. In general, seek to feature pure, unspoiled snow. Watch your step and avoid making footprints where you will want to make a picture a few minutes later. Or, be creative and make your footprints part of the composition. Contrast is necessary for a winter scene, and the addition of color is a plus. Here in the Moab area, it’s usually easy to find red rocks to make the snow shine.

In the first picture I photographed a juniper tree in Arches National Park that was decorated with fresh snow. Patches of red sandstone and a clear blue sky add plenty of color.

The second picture was taken from Island in the Sky, looking down across the canyons to the distant La Sal mountains, all highlighted by winter snow.

This photograph was made in early December showing snow on the La Sal mountains. I made it by balancing my iPhone on the steering wheel as I drove south on 191 at twilight.

Despite our drought, there are signs there may be reasonable amounts of snow this season. The third picture was one I snapped recently with my iPhone while driving south on 191, featuring the snow-capped peaks of the La Sal mountains at just after sunset.

So be on the lookout for more of those wonderful flakes, pack your camera, and venture out to make pictures of a landscape transformed by layers of snow.


David L. Brown is a landscape photographer who has led photo tours from his base in Moab since 2015, now as Printworks Photo Tours. His fine art prints can be seen at Printworks Gallery, 1105 S. Hwy. 191. He invites you to visit or call at 435-355-0121.

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