Getting Great at Snow Photography

Oh man, it’s been snowing so much here in Indiana. It’s a lot more than we get most winters. So, I’ve been out documenting it. I use snow photography as an opportunity to practice all of the classic elements: framing, shadows, contrast, action, texture, and of course, composition.

The featured image at the top of this post is my favorite composition I’ve taken this winter. I love the angels and geometry. It has great lines that draw your eyes across the frame. It has a timeless quality and feels like a classic image to me.

Frozen Creek Play with Falling Snow

Just across the street and down the hill is another world on the golf course in the winter. It’s great having a park-like setting to explore the woods and play in open areas.

The highlight to our kids is playing on the frozen creek. It’s not cold enough in Indiana every year for creeks and lakes to freeze enough to walk on. But a few weeks of below-freezing temperatures has been enough to freeze the water. They definitely made good use of it!

snow photography frozen creek winter midwest indiana
snow photography portrait

I love the above candid portrait of my daughter. My kids are used to me getting up in their faces while we’re out doing stuff. They never seem to mind, but I try not to stay too close for long because everyone deserves their personal space.

Taking photos of kids at play really shows them at their most free. Add a snowy environment and it makes for something unique because it gives a great sense of time and place. I work to capture eyes in the photo because they add so much to an image.

I don’t photoshop my images in any way. I only do minor color and tone adjustments. Can you tell by that red thread sticking out from her mask? To me, perfection comes from what’s real, not from what I can manufacture in editing software.

snow photography winter contrast shadows

The image above is a study in light and shadow. My kids were throwing snow over the edge of the bridge. I knew that the strong sunlight and shade of the bridge would provide for some nice contrast and highlight the powder in the air.

The contrast of the ice and water below lead to some great minimalist images. There are all sorts of natural abstracts that are unique to winter and snow photography.

Sledding Hill

About 200 yards from our property is a very nice sledding hill. If you follow me on Instagram or Twitter, you definitely see me post photos from this spot every year. It’s a great place for the neighborhood kids to gather, bring their sleds and snowboards, and just let loose.

winter sledding snow photography

The above image is a good testament to how I assess the full frame when I’m shooting. In watching the scene unfold through my viewfinder, I noticed the kid on the far left about to take off down the hill. I waited for them to slide directly between the two trees before I took the photo. It’s a small detail that I think makes a big difference in the image.

Snow Photography at Home

Sometimes it’s nice to stay close to home. Especially when you want to play with your 20-month-old little brother. There’s still plenty of chances available to practice my snow photography at home.

winter snow photography neighborhood suburbs

Natural Snowy Settings

There are lots of trees and woods around that provide a great opportunity for snow photos both with and without people.

snow as a backdrop

Shooting from a higher angle and excluding the horizon, combined with the white snow provides a nice, simple background. I used that here in addition to the lines of the tree trunks and spacing/directionality of the kids in the frame to form a composition that’s both simple and complex.

The photos above are all examples of natural framing. Look for ways to use elements like trees and patterns in the snow to frame the subjects.

So venture out like the intrepid explorer below and see what elements you can find unique to snow photography to really practice your art!

snow toddler black and white photography

Related Posts

It’s a veritable winter wonderland around here, so I have multiple snow posts to share this year. There’s also some great photo tips on my YouTube channel about snow.

Photography Practice: Return to the Scene

A good photography practice can be to return to the same scene multiple times to photograph it under different conditions. If you saw my post about photographing night snow, you’ll have seen this first image already. Well, I found myself in the same area the next day, both during the afternoon and again in the evening. I decided to make the exact same image (or as close as possible) at three different times of day to see how the mood changed.

Even though the actual framing of the subject hasn’t changed at all, things like the light and other people in the scene change things significantly.

afternoon snow with shadows, midwest, indiana
snow photo at dusk in indiana
night snow indiana midwest

Here’s a side-by-side view of all three photos just for the hell of it. Try out this photography practice yourself and tag me in the resulting images!

Related Posts

Be sure to check out my other recent posts about shooting in the snow. There’s also some great photo tips on my YouTube channel about snow.

Moody Photos of Night Snow

Twenty years into photography, it’s rare to find a subject I haven’t already photographed in some capacity. Enter Night Snow. Whenever possible, I get outside when it’s snowing those big, fat beautiful flakes, but I had never tried it at night.

First, it required me to do something I absolutely hate: take a tripod. I’m about as anti-tripod as anyone can be who still owns one. I find them extremely limiting. I knew with how dark it was that I would need a tripod to shoot at slower shutter speeds if I wanted to have a low(ish) ISO, which increases my image quality.

But, of course, slow shutter speeds mean that the snow streaks across the image, which isn’t really the effect I was going for. And if the speeds are slow enough, you can’t even tell it’s snowing at all.

Comparing Shutter Speeds for Night Snow

Let’s compare the three images below. The image top left is at a shutter speed 0.8 seconds. Is it even snowing? I can’t tell! The top right image is at 1/8 second. Better! The bottom image is 1/100 second and it has more of the type of night snow look I was going for. However, I had to shoot at ISO 12,800 AND underexpose the image quite a bit to shoot at that shutter speed, which means the quality of the image wasn’t great. The color was terrible, but it does look decent in black & white.

The image below is the best compromise between all the factors. It’s 1/50 sec. And even though it’s ISO 12,800, since I didn’t underexpose it as much as the image above, the color didn’t turn out too terribly. Oh, and all of these photos are at f/2.

photos of night snow in Indiana

Know Thyself

I can admit that my greatest strength as a photographer isn’t thinking of all possible scenarios in advance. One of my greatest strengths is being very quick to adapt to a situation to make it work in my favor.

photos of night snow in Indiana golf course

So that means I decided to crank the ISO (3200-12,800) and accept the graininess that comes with that in order to get my shutter speed high enough to (somewhat) freeze the flakes in midair and get the type of night snow photos that I wanted.

I was glad to have the tripod, though. It made a nice walking stick.

photos of night snow in Indiana holiday lights

Pro Tip: Stability Technique

Just because I’m morally opposed to tripods, it doesn’t mean that I don’t do whatever I can to stabilize my camera to get sharp images. For example, for the image below, wedged my lens into the corner of one of those small squares at the top of the fence to add some stability for this night snow shot. I used trees, buildings and all types of furniture to do the same.

photos of night snow in Indiana at the pool

Related Posts

The snow has been plentiful the last couple weeks, so check out these other posts I did in the snow. Also, I have a couple photo tips about shooting in the snow on my YouTube channel.

Jingle Rails 2018

jingle rails eiteljorg indianapolis

You see model trains a lot during the holiday season, but nobody does model trains like the Eiteljorg Museum in Indianapolis. Jingle Rails is their annual train display. Models travel through famous local scenes and national landmarks from the American West. You’ll find downtown Indy, complete with a scale model of the Soldier and Sailor’s Monument, lights and all, along with Lucas Oil Stadium. There’s also Las Vegas, Yosemite, and new this year: Route 66.

jingle rails eiteljorg indianapolis

The Men of Jingle Rails

Equally as interesting as the trains are the old men who are really into it. I happened to notice one gentleman making a repair, so of course I had to take a moment to capture it…

jingle rails eiteljorg indianapolis
jingle rails eiteljorg indianapolis

Indiana Railroad

Jingle Rails is sponsored by the Indiana Railroad. Their signature red locomotive travels overhead throughout the entire exhibit.

jingle rails eiteljorg indianapolis
jingle rails eiteljorg indianapolis
jingle rails eiteljorg indianapolis

Had enough trains yet? No? Here’s a few more…

jingle rails eiteljorg indianapolis

Thanks for visiting our Jingle Rails coverage for 2018. We were there last year as well, so you can check that out here: Jingle Rails 2017. I work to take new angles each year.

2018 Holiday Events

As legendary Hoosier Michael Jackson once said, “Don’t stop ’til you get enough.”  So by all means, please enjoy our other posts from this season.  Click the image below.

indianapolis holiday photography

Christmas at the Zoo

Santa's Village at Christmas at the Zoo in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Next up for our holiday events is Christmas at the Zoo in Indianapolis.  This is always a great event at the Indianapolis Zoo because in addition to Santa’s Village and lights throughout the zoo, a lot of the animals are out and about and available for visits.

Santa's Village at Christmas at the Zoo in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Santa’s Village

Santa's Village at Christmas at the Zoo in Indianapolis, Indiana.

The Bicentennial Pavilion houses Santa’s Village which includes Santa’s house, decorating cookies with Mrs. Claus, reindeer, a mirror maze and more.

Santa's Village at Christmas at the Zoo in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Tunnel of Lights and Santa's Village at Christmas at the Zoo in Indianapolis, Indiana.

The tunnel of lights at the edge of Santa’s Village is a popular spot for portraits and selfies (above).

Santa’s Study

Santa's Study at Christmas at the Zoo in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Christmas at the Zoo is one of the best places around to visit Santa.  He has a very tastefully appointed study in the village.  This Santa has nailed the classic Santa look and he’s very good with the kids, as you’d expect.

Simon Skjodt International Orangutan Center

Simon Skjodt International Orangutan Center during Christmas at the Zoo in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Follow the lighted walkways to visit attractions like the Simon Skjodt International Orangutan Center.

Visiting the animals at night is a great part of Christmas at the Zoo.  Max, a three-year-old orangutan, was kept up late by visitors, but his mom did her best to get him calmed down and back to sleep.


Christmas at the Zoo in Indianapolis, Indiana. Cownose Ray exhibit.

The oceans exhibit is a popular spot during the cold weather.  It’s close to Santa’s Village and a good place to come in and warm up for a bit.  The kids enjoyed these cownose rays (above) because they look like they’re smiling.  The California sea lions (below) like to swim laps, passing as close to the glass as possible.

Christmas at the Zoo in Indianapolis, Indiana. Sea lion exhibit.
Santa's Village at Christmas at the Zoo in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Christmas at the Zoo is a must-do for families in central Indiana.  I recommend arriving early to enter Santa’s Village right at 5:00.  That way you can do the Christmas activities with little to no wait and spend the rest of your evening just walking through the zoo, enjoying the lights and animals.

For more Christmas at the Zoo, check out my photos from last year on this blog post.

2018 Holiday Events

As legendary Hoosier Michael Jackson once said, “Don’t stop ’til you get enough.”  So by all means, please enjoy our other posts from this season.  Click the image below.

2018 Holiday blog posts by Zach Dobson Photography

Newfields Winterlights 2018


This week we visit Newfields Winterlights in Indianapolis, now in its second year.  With over 1.5 million lights, this is THE light display to see.  Newfields is the Indianapolis Museum of Art and the surrounding grounds.

In this post I talk about photographing in the difficult lighting conditions we encounter at this time of year.


Winterlights Before Sundown

When you think of light displays, you probably think of nighttime.  However, if you wait until total darkness to start shooting, you miss out on some great opportunities.

The above photo shows the Lilly House during Newfields Winterlights.  This image is made after sunset, during what’s known as the “blue hour”.  A couple benefits of having the ambient light left in the sky in this photo is that it throws some additional light on the primary subject (the house) and it adds some subtle color and texture to the sky.


Let Lights Stand Out After Dark

Once it gets completely dark outside, I like to take the opposite approach I talk about in the last section.  I embrace the contrast of the lights against the darkness. In the photo above I found a line of sight where I have lights filling the frame at varying distances from the camera.


Bokeh, Bokeh, Bokeh

For the uninitiated, bokeh is the visual quality of the out-of-focus areas of a photo.  People often ask how to achieve that “blurry background” (see photo below), but bokeh can occur in the foreground as well (see above photo).

People often assume that you need an expensive lens for this, but that’s not exactly true.  The two most important factors are a lens with a wide aperture (f/1.4, 2 or 2.8) and the distances between the camera, the subject and the background.  The foreground should be close to the camera and the background should be a good distance away.

For the image below, I am standing a few feet from the subject, shooting at a low aperture (f/1.4).  As a result the background has a nice blur.  For the above image I am standing just a couple feet from the lights in the foreground.  My focus is on the tree in the background that is about 50 yards away, again shooting at a low aperture (f/2.8).  A telephoto lens heightens this affect.  For the image above, I’m using a 70-200mm lens at 200mm.


The image below, inside the Lilly House at Newfields Winterlights, shows how you can use both a foreground AND background blur in the same photograph.  This image is shot with a 24mm lens at f/1.4.


Underexpose Holiday Lights

I typically underexpose images with holiday lights.  That means I make the images darker than what the light meter recommends, so the image appears somewhat dark on the camera screen.  If you go the opposite direction, you risk the lights being overexposed.  When that happens, you lose the subtle detail in the lights and you can’t get them back.  Sometimes overexposure is an interesting affect with holiday lights, but it’s better to do it purposefully.


Embrace the darkness of interior spaces.  Expose for the brightest point and underexpose at that.  Don’t use flash! Tape it shut if you have to.  Flash will kill all the subtlety of warm winter lighting.

If all you have is a lens with a high minimum aperture (~f/4 or higher), well, I suppose your best bet is just shoot at a high ISO (1600, 3200) and see how it goes.  If you have just a little bit of money to spend, there are a few options of lenses you can get to make low light photography easier.

Canon 50mm f/1.8 for $125 (new)
Canon 35mm f/2 for $240 (used)

Happy Holiday shooting! 

Extra Credit & Extra Newfields Winterlights

How do you photograph the same thing more than once?  Check out my Newfields Winterlights post from 2017 to see how the images compare.


2018 Holiday Events

As legendary Hoosier Michael Jackson once said, “Don’t stop ’til you get enough.”  So by all means, please enjoy our other posts from this season.  Click the image below.

Jingle Rails

Another stop we made on our holiday tour of Indianapolis was Jingle Rails, presented by The Indiana Rail Road Company, at the Eiteljorg Museum.  Eight model trains travel through miniature scenes including downtown Indianapolis, Hollywood, Las Vegas and western landmarks such as the Grand Canyon and Mount Rushmore.  After the Jingle Rails photos, you’ll see a few general shots of the museum which has plenty to explore too.

Jingle Rails runs through January 15th, so be sure to check it out!

Christmas at the Zoo

This week we headed to the Indianapolis Zoo for their annual Christmas at the Zoo.  2017 saw the addition of a new Santa’s Village under the Bicentennial Pavilion. With Santa in his study, Mrs. Claus in her kitchen and reindeer in the barn, there was plenty to see and do.

The kids enjoyed multiple trips through the “Snowflakery”, which is a short, but surprisingly tricky mirror maze. PRO TIP: Keep your hands in front of you so you don’t smack your face into a mirror!

Head to the zoo early and you’ll probably see a good number of cool/cold weather animals out. We took a short walk through the the forests (located next to the pavilion) and saw tigers, bears and eagles out in the cold weather.


Winterlights is the newest of the major holiday attractions in the Indianapolis area.  A part of the 152-acre Indianapolis Museum of Art campus, recently rebranded as Newfields, the event features more than a million lights, winter treats and displays set to holiday music.  The family and I decided to check it out this week and we highly recommend a visit!

Pro tip: Arrive just before sunset. The colors of twilight in the sky behind the lights is a nice bonus, and night falls within half an hour, so you get the full effect of lights at night, too.