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.

See more: Eating Well Magazine’s Thanksgiving Issue

A funny thing about publishing a magazine is that most of the time you’re working a year in advance. That means for the Thanksgiving 2020 issue of Eating Well magazine, I took photos on Thanksgiving 2019.

Eating Well planned a spread of photos from across the United States to show different ways we celebrate Thanksgiving. My assignment was to document the role small farms play in the process while covering the Midwest section of the story.

Liz and Nate Brownlee own and operate Nightfall Farm in Crothersville, Indiana. Here are some images as I follow them around southern Indiana on their distribution day.

eating-well-thanksgiving issue nightfall farm indiana

Fun Fact: I took the image they published in the first 30 minutes of a 5 hour shoot. You never know which photos are going to be your best until you go through the entire process.

eating-well-thanksgiving issue nightfall farm indiana

Eating Well Thanksgiving Issue

Click on the image below to head to the Eating Well website and see the full story celebrating the diversity of our country on one of our favorite holidays.

eating-well-thanksgiving issue

Fall Photography in Ritchey Woods Nature Preserve

Today I took a walk through the woods at Ritchey Woods Nature Preserve in Fishers, IN. It’s basically a suburban oasis of forest and natural grassland.

I had five kids with me, but for this post, you can just go alone.

Bringing the Nature to you

Spending so much time at home these days, it can be a bit of an adjustment heading into public, even if it’s a natural and somewhat remote setting. Each time we spend some time in nature, I’m always glad we do!

I hope this brings some peace to anyone who is quarantining or currently without large swaths of nature in which to roam.

Ritchey Woods Nature Preserve in fall

Depth vs Expression

For the next two images, I noticed this woman as I walked along a trail and couldn’t resist taking her photo. It was a nice moment. Which of the two images do you like best? They’re very similar but have two subtle differences. Leave a comment and let me know!

Ritchey Woods Nature Preserve

The most obvious difference is her facial expression. The top photo is more serene and the second is almost funny. I think she was having her photo taken by her husband off to the side.

The second, more subtle difference is the depth of field. The top photo was taken at f/11 so it has more depth than the second photo, which is f/2.8. Although, at this distance from the subject, it’s not as pronounced.

I prefer the depth of the second photo with the expression in the first. But since I don’t make fake photos by combining images, I’ll choose the first photo as my favorite because of the expression.

Abstraction

For the next two images, I played with depth again to bring out some different abstract qualities in the scenes.

Indianapolis Fall Photography

For the image above, I liked how the shape of the leaves and the sunlight combine for some interesting abstract patterns. I used more depth (f/11) to get more of the shapes into focus. Also, in this case I thought the black & white edit better highlighted what I liked about the scene.

The image below is from the same area, but with the shallow depth and focus in the foreground, I ended up liking the color version better.

Ritchey Woods Nature Preserve

This next image below had some impressionistic qualities that caught my eye. By using a shallow depth of field, the foreground and background fall quickly out of focus to add to the painterly quality of the photo.

Ritchey Woods Nature Preserve in October

Visitors and Residents

The trails at Ritchey Woods Nature Preserve were busy with dog walkers and families having their portraits taken. We also passed some permanent residents who had not-so-recently had some flowers placed at their resting place.

Ritchey Woods Nature Preserve Fishers Indiana

Photographic Elements

This next section features some images that highlight basic concepts of photography and composition: color, line, texture, shape, pattern and more.

Fishers Indiana Fall Photography
Ritchey Woods Nature Preserve

Get Bent

When I saw the bent and gnarled vines below, I thought it looked cool in real life, but I wasn’t confident it would translate well into a photo. I decided to take a shot anyways and it turns out I was wrong!

The black & white edit really highlights the shapes as does the high contrast.

Ritchey Woods Nature Preserve

Visit Bloomington

I love Bloomington!  As a student at Indiana University, Bloomington became the first home that I chose myself.  And even (nearly) 15 years since I last lived there, it’s still one of my favorite towns anywhere.

I was thrilled in 2016 to collaborate with Visit Bloomington on a cover story about the renovations at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall for their visitors guide.  Last fall we took on a broader look at Bloomington in two parts. For Part One, I scoured the streets of Bloomington checking out everything from restaurants and bars to trails and public art.

Part Two is top secret and will be released in early May.  Follow Visit Bloomington on Twitter (@VisitBtown) and Instagram (@visitbtown) to see the news first hand.