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Snow pictures

edited February 2015 Posted in » Nikon D5100 Forum
What settings would be good to use on falling snow and a 55-300mm lens? High shutter or ISO? Any help would be great!


  • edited February 2015
    If you want the snow to stand still, what you need is high shutter speed. \You'll probably need a medium aperture as well for depth of field. I'd try something around 1/250 and f/8 to start with, and keep the focal length fairly short so as not to lose too much depth of field.

    You want the lowest ISO you can get away with. One way to do this would be to turn auto ISO off, set it at 100, put the camera in S mode, and select 1/250 shutter speed. Look at what aperture the camera has chosen, and only if necessary, dial up ISO to get the aperture up to around f/8. For minimal noise, I'd try to keep the ISO at or below 400, and sacrifice a little aperture if need be.

    Alternatively, you could put it in A mode, select your preferred aperture, and dial up the ISO until you get the shutter speed you want. Both modes can achieve the same result, except for what you decide is your "pin everything else to it" setting.

    Because the camera's meter tends to turn snow gray or blue, you will likely need to overexpose a little, but be careful you don't blow it out. On film, the rule used to be about +2, but on digital, you may be better off at +1 or +1.5. If you shoot in RAW mode, you can adjust exposure afterwards. How much overexposure you need will depend a bit on what subjects are in the picture. Small dark things will tend to turn into silhouettes.

    You can also do all this manually, of course. The meter will give you the suggested exposure, which you can violate at will. If you leave auto ISO on it will up the ISO when you underexpose, but you can always overexpose.

    You can experiment a bit with shutter speeds and the like to decide what effect works best. If your shutter is too slow, snowflakes will not be defined at all, but if you get just the right speed you might find a little motion blur emphasizes their movement more than freezing them completely. Below about 1/60 the blur will make snow look more like rain and probably end up just a mess if the snow is heavy. You can make it pretty well go away if it's not too heavy with a very slow shutter speed.

    Owing to shallow depth of field, the 55-300mm lens may prove to be a challenge, but it will depend on what you're shooting. If you have the 18-55mm I'd experiment with that too, going wide for scenery and maximum depth of field. If you're going after a dark object - a skier, a cat, a penguin or whatever - you might try switching to spot metering. This will meter only the small center point (about the same dimensions as the focus point) and ignore the rest. The object will be well exposed, and the snow most likely blown out. It can be tricky to get this right, but it can result in an interestingly "high key" picture in which little detail exists except in the subject.

    Flash will freeze falling snow, but usually in an unattractive way that lights it up at the expense of subjects behind it. You see this often in shots made with pocket cameras that default to flash. Not recommended with the built in flash.

    You get a lot of contrast on bright days, and a bit of overcast can be better, but when the light goes low, direct sun can be very pretty. In this season the golden color can be very nice without any post processing trickery. Watch out for your own shadow when shadows go low. Many snow scenes are nearly monochromatic, so consider going to actual black and white. If you shoot Raw you can try this out in post processing without penalty.
  • edited February 2015
    I had to go out to the mailbox and it's snowing, so I threw the 55-300mm on my camera and grabbed a quick and dirty shot on the way back in. It's wet snow and my poor little D3200 is warm from indoors and not waterproof (nor is the lens), so this is a hip shot.

    If you're going out in the snow and it's snowing, make sure your camera is not going to collect a lot of melted snow. It helps if it's already a bit cold. Be careful with sudden changes of temperature, as a very cold camera will get condensation when you bring it back inside.

    So anyway, here's quick shot, lens at 55 mm., ISO 100, S mode at 1/250, which in this light opened the aperture to 5.6. Focused on the tree, the 55 mm focal length gives moderate depth of field, showing some snow in the background but essentially losing it in the foreground. No exposure compensation in this, as there's a good bit of tree in the metering. Snow is a bit dark, but we don't want to lose too much detail in it.
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