So here is what I have learned the hard way:
1. Phone camera or something else?
I recommend using the camera you can use fast and know well. There is also the coldness and possible moisture to consider. It’s easy to try out the camera at the current light conditions before starting. iPhone and Windows phone cameras are good enough to capture family snow activities, but if you have possibility to use something else why not give it a try?
More on what camera to use
For family photos with snow, iPhone and Windows phones make a great job unless the light is challenging. With Samsung (Android) I have had the experience that requires ideal lighting conditions to work well, so sunlight is great but otherwise things may get grainy. The difficulty with the phone camera is that you have to be quite near the action to take good quality pictures with faces – you cannot much zoom. The risk of using the phone camera is that you get a good shot but then when you’d like to magnify the photo to a page print the resolution may not be enough.
If you have a compact, this might a be a good place for it if you know how to adjust it or you can use it on manual. There are currently so many different kinds of compacts available that you really need to try it out to see how it works with snow and how to adjust it (See point 4. The colour of snow)
Of course the best option is still the DSLR (systems camera) and second the quality compact because their flexibility with aperture, zoom, less distortions etc. Especially if you want a high quality classical group photo of your family or do a face portrait, DSLR can give you an edge.
2. Decide your first priority
Is the photo about the face or a general view/snow landscape? Contrasts are going to be big because snow reflects light so well. It means that when you get faces nicely exposed, the snow will look just white without any shades or texture or it becomes “blown” appearing just solid white.
On the other hand, if you want to get shadows and textures in the snow captured, the faces are in danger of becoming too dark.
Automatic metering decides there is plenty of light – and tries hard NOT to make snow solid white (“blown”). So by default, snow looks darker than white. So its just easier if you decide the priority first and make camera settings as to avoid unsuccessful compromises.
3. If your first priority is a face
If you are photographing on a snow surroundings and you want to get face nicely lit on the photo, you really need to take care the light metering is measured from the face.
In a face close-up without snow this is not a problem, but if your photo includes snow surroundings you may need to set the light metering mode into one spot metering to measure lightning only from face. This simply meant that light meter uses one spot for metering and does not measure lighting from several spots which is the typical default.
4. Check the colour of snow!
You need to overexpose your shots to get the snow look white instead of grey, especially on a gray day. Some cameras can handle this automatically (iPhone and Windows phones do great job here), some even have special ‘Snow’ mode that you can turn on. For a quick shot you can just “fool” the automatic camera by targeting the focus metering points to some darker object on the same distance. On a manual mode overexpose with one or two stops and check the results.
If the colour is not correct, check the white balance. This is much easier than it sounds, to the correct white balance you basically just need to tell your camera the current type of light: select whether its cloudy day or sunny day or a specific type of indoors lighting.
Sometimes you may want the snow a bit bluish instead of white. On most cases, we do not want it to look yellow…
5. Use snow as a reflector for face photos
For face photos, snow is a good all around reflector of light. Remember to set the camera flash off as to keep the light soft. Let instead the reflected light caress the shapes of the face. For once people do not have black shadows under their eyes. Perfect!
4. Use snow for photo background
It is sometimes difficult to find nice and calm background for family photos. Snowy landscape is a good alternative and brings feeling to it. You can even use the just the snow as the white background. Even in a small yard, you can utilize the snow as plain white background for group or family photos. One way is to get to the higher ground than your targets: Take the pictures from an upstairs open window, climb on a ladder, a fence or something else that is safe enough. Or ask your family to lie down on a pure white snowdrift.
For more alternatives on how to achieve white backgrounds do search on ‘high key outdoor photography’.
6. Throw a ball to make a war
(Note that is the last point on purpose.) If you have water protected camera gear (or action camera), try shooting some action from within the action too. If your camera is not protected, stay a little farther away. A battle on the snow can make everyone feel young again, so it’s an opportunity for getting memorable shots – just remember to make peace afterwards.
Do your need an easy way to share and enjoy family photos privately?
See more about snow photography from http://www.imaging-resource.com/news/2014/12/27/nicks-photography-tips-13-tips-for-photographing-snow
About the Author
“I have been photographing with digital and non digital system cameras (DSLR and SLR), compact cameras and with camera phones since the first phone camera Nokia 7650. I have studied photography techniques starting from dark room courses to studio lighting for portraits, but my photos are not at all about technical possibilities – or even about beauty. I shoot for to keep personal memories of moments and sometimes really crazy stuff. I’m interested in the specific microsecond moment that camera captures. I have developed a style called ‘accidental photography’ as part of my “crazy stuff”.