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How to capture snow falling in picture?

Maryanne Morrow , Feb 03, 2010; 08:26 p.m.

I'd like to take some outdoor daytime photos when the snow is falling and be able to capture the snow falling as part of the picture. Some of the pictures may be portraits with a shallow depth of field, while other photos may be more landscape or just simply have a larger depth of field. How would you recommend that I do this? Is it all about the shutter speed irrespective of my aperture for DOF? If so, what shutter speeds would be typical to capture falling snow? Also, does it matter where and what I'm focusing on in order to capture falling snow (since likely my focus will be a person or object or landscape primarily and not the snow)? Do I need to increase the ISO since it won't likely be a sunny day (other than a lot of white from the sky and snow)? I'm shooting with a Nikon D90 DSLR if this is relevant and I can give you the lens information if needed (unless you have any good lens suggestions for this)? Finally, what would I do if I wanted to capture falling snow at night time?
Many thanks!


Jeremy Jackson , Feb 03, 2010; 09:10 p.m.

Hi Maryanne, to capture snow falling as a single flake (not a blurred streak), you'll need at least 1/120th of a second. 1/250 is getting ideal. Aperture does matter somewhat. The larger your DOF, the more snow flakes you will see clearly defined. The more snow flakes you see, the busier the image will get. So, for example, f22 will give you a very snowy, busy image. F2.8 will blur most of the snow so you will not see very many flakes clearly defined.

What I would do is experiment with different apertures to see what looks nice. Then choose the lowest ISO for the aperture you want so that you can have at least 1/250th. Start at ISO 800 and if you can get away with less then go down.

If you want to see the snow at night a flash is the only viable, easy method. But very finicky.

This is one instance where the ability to quickly see your results is very, very useful. The wonders of digital. Cheers, JJ

Nathan Gardner , Feb 03, 2010; 09:23 p.m.

Jeremy has good advice. Also, you may want to experiment with a slow shutter speed, like 1/2 second or 2 seconds, just play around with it. This will cause the snowflakes to blur giving the photo a sense of movement. We don't get a lot of snow here so I haven't been able to try this yet, but I am hoping to soon. Oh, and use a tripod and either a self timer or remote for the slower shutters.

Jeff Lear , Feb 03, 2010; 09:53 p.m.

To capture falling snow (day or night) you must illuminate the flakes. This can be done with a flash or under the influence of a local light source other than the diffuse/cloudy sky. For the most part, snow flakes tend to blend in very well with their background so they don't show up at all or just appear as haze. The same applies for day or night. Obviously, the more of your image you have in acceptable focus the more falling snow will be visible.

Here are some examples of mine, both with and without flash...

1/200 sec. @ f/4 ISO 400 EF 17-40 f/4L

1/100 sec. @ f/5.6 ISO 400 EF-S 18-55

1/250 sec. @ f/10 ISO 400 EF-S 18-55

1/100 sec. @ f/8 ISO 400 EF-S 18-55 (no flash)

1/60 sec. @ f/4 ISO 400 EF-S 18-55

Maryanne Morrow , Feb 04, 2010; 03:48 p.m.

Many thanks for your responses!
For once I'm looking forward for the snow to fall so that I can experiment!

Rob Bernhard , Feb 04, 2010; 04:12 p.m.

Focal length also plays a roll in capturing snow (or rain for that matter). The longer the focal length, the more compressed the scene, the more snow you'll be able to see within your frame.

[[To capture falling snow (day or night) you must illuminate the flakes. This can be done with a flash or under the influence of a local light source other than the diffuse/cloudy sky]]

If you have a dark background to work against, shadows, dark walls, etc., they show up nicely without external/supplemental light.

Maryanne Morrow , Feb 04, 2010; 07:52 p.m.

...and also any suggestions for how to protect my camera from falling snow as I take these pictures?

Jeff Lear , Feb 04, 2010; 11:43 p.m.

If you have a dark background to work against, shadows, dark walls, etc., they show up nicely without external/supplemental light.

Absolutely, but they have to be lit... from some light source. The more contrast you can introduce to differentiate your flakes from their surroundings the better they will show up. This could be flakes lit by a diffuse, cloudy sky against a dark or shadowy backdrop or it can be artificially lighting the flakes to increase contrast. If you want the flakes to appear white you just about have to light them, yourself.

Regarding camera protection. The danger of snow damaging your D90 is fairly inconsequential. I would do my best to prevent snow from accumulating on the top surfaces. I would wear gloves to insulate the camera from the heat of your hands and vice-versa. The snow won't really hurt your camera but if it comes in contact with the warmth of your hand and melts, that water can cause problems.

I would leave the camera in the trunk of your car for a period of time prior to shooting so that it can acclimate. When you're finished, remove the memory card (because I know you'll want to look at your pictures) and put the camera back in the trunk. Taking it directly into a warm environment will cause water molecules to condense on your camera and lens (both inside and out)... this is not a good thing.

Mike Hitchen , Feb 05, 2010; 09:50 a.m.

I have seen some impressive shots of deer in a snowfall (not mine, unfortunately). Take with a telephoto, it gives enough distance for the snow to be evenly spread over the picture and with a shutter speed of 1/2sec there is enough blur to add motion to it all. This was in daylight with no flash/strobes (which will freeze the motion of the falling snow). But it all depends so much on the intensity of the snowfall and how fast it is falling.

Rob Bernhard , Feb 09, 2010; 10:38 a.m.

[[Absolutely, but they have to be lit... from some light source.]]


Your statement was that you can't capture snow without a man-made light source, even if you have the sun. (my original quote from your post). That was what I was referencing. I guess I thought it obvious that one can't see snow in complete darkness.

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