At this time of year there's a chance that you'll be able to take some snow covered photos of your local area. It's great fun and in this article I'll try and provide some useful tips an ideas.
Although when we look at snow everything appears perfectly white against the contrast of non-snow-covered things, the camera generally doesn't see things the same. It sees a large white expanse and assumes it to be grey but overexposed... it will therefore automatically underexpose it. The simple technique here is to over-expose and some guides will suggest +1 E/V. I would suggest a lot less actually - maybe +1/3, or even leave it as the camera suggests. The reason for this is that if you shoot in RAW you can manage the exposure in a RAW editor (there you will definitely need to over-expose it), and it also means you don't get over-exposure. It's a bit like photographing white wedding dresses - although you are photographing something that's white, the image is generally very close to white and if over-exposed it will be burnt out and not look good on a photo.
One of the beauties of snow landscapes is you really don't mind if the sky is white. So often I've had chances to take landscape photos only to find the grey sky spoil it.. not so in snow mode when you almost looking at black and white. Snow photography for me is much more about finding something of interest and framing it. Yes, you have to get the light right, but that's more about getting the right exposure setting (see above).
Tip: Black and white
I used to think that snow photography is ideally suited to black and white or sepia photography but I've changed my view a little. I quite like picking out the colour contrasts on snow photos. Either way, always shoot in colour as you can take colours away post-production.
One of the problems with snow is even when it's not snowing there's likely to be water in the air (eg. melting snow as you walk between trees). This means you need to be particularly careful about changing lenses etc. My advice would be use a waterproof camera bag and just take the camera out when you are ready. Keep a towel or similar with you as well to wipe any moisture off the camera. I find a general telephoto zoom ideal for this, such as a Canon 24-105mm f4 lens. That said, a macro lens can also be really useful. I tend not to use flash although perhaps I'll try that a bit in the future for fill-in.
Everyone has their own view here but I find three styles of photography particularly successful here:
- Local area when covered by snow - particularly if you live in a very residential area, local streets and not particularly photogenic. Somehow when it snows that all changes. Maybe follow the tyre tracks through your photo with snow-covered roofs providing the framing. It's amazing how different your local area can look when it snows.
- Colour highlights - my favourite technique for this type of photography is colour highlights, where you find something of colour in a snow scene which by nature appears fairly black and white. An obvious one is red post boxes, but things like signposts, people with bright coats, dogs etc can work well here.
- Macro - all the joy of macro photography when it's dry and sunny also apply when it snows. Catching an image of a branch seemingly overloaded with snow can sometimes work really well.
In addition to those, there's always family photography ideas to think about - recording the joy of children playing in snow, the efforts to make a snowman and adding grandpa's pipe etc are memories to treasure. Maybe it's a child's first sight of snow, or something more abstract showing different size shoeprints in the snow.