Don’t let your camera hibernate this winter, go out and shoot!
For landscape and scenic photographers, snowstorms bring a host of benefits you might not think of at first. They very effectively reduce visual clutter. Snow-covered ground can hide rocks, dirt, and weeds, and low clouds and falling snow blot out busy backgrounds. Foreground subjects can be isolated, standing out where they may have been camouflaged in a normal visual environment. With cloud cover, the lack of shadows also helps simplify a landscape.
These same factors can also emphasize depth, as objects become more obscured with distance until detail disappears, creating a suggestion of the infinite. The wetness of falling snow can intensify color, especially in rock. Look for deep color against the white for added drama.
Snowstorms provide another boon to digital photographers: flat light. This makes it easier to capture a full range of tones in the scene within the limited dynamic range of digital sensors. And you can always adjust contrast and brightness in postproduction for a different look—more on this below.
One further advantage of shooting during snowstorms? Most people stay indoors. I’ve spent time on the roads of the Uinta Mountains in Utah, where I didn’t see another soul for an hour or more. The only time this may be a disadvantage is if you get stuck and need help. That’s why it’s a good idea to keep provisions such as a shovel, tow rope, rock salt, blankets, flashlight, food and water, and even a change of clothes in your car.
When to Shoot:
Naturally, the middle of winter in snow country offers the most opportunities for this type of photography. The ground is more apt to be completely covered, hiding the clutter. Without leaves you see the skeletal structures of tree trunks and branches. The more snow, the simpler the landscape.
In many places, though, snow is a three-season event. When autumn creeps onto the scene, few landscapes are more vivid than brilliant fall color backed by fresh white snow—especially when sunlit. Spring snowstorms, on the other hand, provide a different atmosphere: new leaves droop beneath loads of white, and bright green provides a striking color contrast. Colorful spring flowers are also striking when poking through a layer of snow.
Spring and fall snowstorms often move faster than those in midwinter, giving a variety of lighting as the storm comes in, moves through, and exits a location. A small break in the clouds can allow sunshine to peek through, illuminating a small area in the scene, even while snow is still falling.