How To: Take Great Travel Shots in the Snow

By: steve

December 29, 2010

The snow may have passed in much of the UK, but if you’re planning a skiing holiday or are off anywhere icy, there are plenty of opportunities for fantastic photography – as long as you know how to deal with the conditions. Steve Davey is once again on hand with expert tips and advice for getting those classic shots…

Skier, Diavolezza, Switzerland. By Steve Davey

Diavolezza, Switzerland. Look for patterns in the snow to create interesting shots. The skier is there for scale!


Action pictures of skiers and snow-boarders can be dynamic and exciting – especially if you know the people involved. Don’t wave the camera around after the action, compose on a spot and let the action come to you. Try to get close-ups, especially at jumps or corners. Pre-focus on a point where you know that someone will pass, rather than relying on autofocus. You will need to trip the shutter slightly early to allow for the shutter-lag of your individual camera. Compact cameras have quite an appreciable delay, which can be reduced by half-pressing and holding the shutter release button to focus in advance.

Shots of moving subjects will always look more pleasing to the eye if you leave more space in front of a subject for them to move into than behind them. If you can’t get good close-ups of people, compose your picture as a landscape shot, wait until someone comes into frame and use them as an element in the picture.

Technically, snow photography presents a few problems. The brightness of the snow can fool your camera into underexposing, giving dark pictures. Set a manual or automatic exposure to around +2 stops overexposure to compensate (assuming that most of the picture is bright snow).


Polar Bear, Svalbard, Norway. If shooting snow you will need to adjust the white balance to avoid an unpleasant blue cast.

Polar Bear, Svalbard, Norway. By Steve Davey


Snow scenes and mountains also tend to have a lot more UV light around, which can cause an unpleasant blue cast to your pictures – especially in shadow areas. Using the Auto white balance facility on the camera, should go some way to countering this, although manually selecting the Cloudy, or even the Shade setting will have a more profound effect. A UV or polarising filter will also help!

Selecting the ‘Snow’ picture scene mode will approximate most of these settings. You should be careful to remember to select a different mode when you have finished though!

If you are trying to shoot action, avoid the picture scene mode, and either shoot with manual exposure, or use a shutter-speed priority mode, with a fast shutter speed, and between +1 and +2 stops of exposure compensation set.

A Skiing holiday is not just about pictures of winter sports: there will be some terrific landscapes too. Mountain ranges will often look more impressive if you use a telephoto lens setting and just shoot a part of them. It can also work well if you hold the cameras vertically. Either way, don’t point the camera directly at the mountain: make sure that the top is close to the top of the frame to maximise its size in the picture.


Snowmobile safari, Svalbard, Norway by Steve Davey

Ship in the Ice, Svalbard, Norway. Look for action and sports shots in the snow to create dynamic images


If you do shoot with a wideangle lens you run the risk of making a soaring mountain range look like a few pimples on the horizon. Minimise this by shooting with something close in the foreground and have the mountains as a backdrop.

You should be aware of the cold. This will lessen the charge of camera batteries, so keep a fully charged spare battery in a warm pocket. Moving from cold to warm conditions, such as a bar or restaurant, can cause condensation on your camera, so keep it in a bag or case and allow it to warm up a little before switching it on to review your pictures.


Warning sign at the top of the Jungfraujoch, Switzerland. By Steve Davey

Warning sign at the top of the Jungfraujoch, Switzerland. Look for elements of colour in a snow scene to make your pictures standout.


All photos by Steve Davey. Header image: Snow and Ice, Svalbard, Norway.

Steve extensive book, Footprint Travel Photography covers just about everything you could want to know about travelling with your camera. More information on

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