Snow Photos 101 – Part 1 – Exposure basics & Composition

Readers of SBC Skier in Canada this year will have seen my series of ski photography tips. I have decided to put together a new section on my blog which initially starts off with the beginner tips featured in SBC Skier and then moves on further to more advanced information for readers looking for a a little more in-depth info. Every few weeks I will add a new section to the tips until I have covered the things that most people ask me about. Hopefully by the end there will be a good collection of information for people to reference.
We will start with the basics and gradually move on to more advanced subjects where I will expand on things a bit further for those wishing to delve a little deeper.

If your ski photos look flat and the snow looks featureless, try shooting them early in the morning or late in the afternoon when the sun is lower in the sky. This will create shadows on the snow and reveal details and textures that are not apparent when the sun is overhead at midday. On a clear day much darker and richer colors will come out in the sky.

For the same reason, try to avoid having the sun directly behind you when you shoot. Creating an angle, even a small one, between you and the sun will introduce more contrast into the brighter areas of your shot by revealing shadows behind objects such as snow drifts, ridges, trees and even individual crystals of snow.

A common miss-conception is that you should never shoot into the sun. Whilst that might apply to some aspects of photography, it can be a great way to bring a dramatic look to your ski photos by creating a back-lit spray of powder or a silhouette against the sky.


The rule of thirds states that compositional elements and points of interest in a photo should be aligned with either the lines or the intersecting points of an imaginary 3×3 grid on top of your photo (figure 1).

Composing your photos in this way will usually create nicely balanced images that are easier on the eye. From figure 1 you can see that the centre of the photo contains no intersection and no line. A common mistake is to put your subject right in the centre of the photo but aesthetically this rarely works well. Try lining up horizons with one of the horizontal lines or putting your skier subjects at the intersecting points and you will come away with a much more pleasing image.

The Rule of Thirds is not a rule at all though; it’s a guideline. Depending on the content of the image, there might be cases where you can make a good image without it but if you are uncertain how to compose a shot, it’s a great place to start. You can also try and look for lines in the natural environment that will draw the eye towards the intended subject of your photo.


Most people have experienced taking a picture of a beautiful snowy scene only to discover that the photo they see on the back of the camera looks dark, dreary and gray.Cameras are designed to expect an average scene with an average brightness and the huge amount of light reflecting off snow goes far above that expected value.The camera will often under-expose the shot, mistakenly thinking that the shot is overly bright when in fact there is just a lot more reflected light than an average situation.

Some smaller cameras have snow setting hidden away in the menu, be sure to use this if your camera doesn’t have any manual settings. If you are using an SLR camera and shooting on semi-automatic settings like aperture or shutter priority, you can use your cameras exposure compensation function to dial in an adjustment to your exposures. The adjustment will vary depending on the brightness of the day so experiment and try to understand how your camera reacts do different situations, every camera is different. Learning how to read the histogram on the camera will let you know when you have nailed the exposure correctly.

(The use of the histogram and the theories behind light metering go far beyond the scope of this first article. If you are seeking more information please read my longer essay on the subject, available on the website in the coming months.)

Remember photography is about being creative; there are very few hard and fast rules, only guidelines. Get out there, experiment and have fun but these few simple tips will get you off to a good start.

Photo of author

Dan Carr

Founder of Shutter Muse, full time photographer and creative educator. Dan lives in the Canadian Yukon, but his wanderlust often sends him in search of images all around the world to meet the needs of clients and readers alike.

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