Photographing in Snow – Gull Glamour


Some of the photos in this post are gulls shot in the snow. That is a white bird on a white background.  The post on Monday, Winging It – Gulls in Flight Part 2, had many of the birds photographed on a gray, snowy day, November 30.  That post gave you some insight into shooting birds in flight, but here we look at tackling the snow.

I don’t claim mastery of snow, but I have learned some helpful techniques to share.


It is tricky getting the snow white with the proper exposure that balances the details of the bird. The snow is so bright and reflects so much light that the camera is fooled into sensoring more light than actually is present, underexposing the image. This can occur over water too. The camera can not compensate to get a good light reading.


So many times you end up with blue or gray snow as a result. Some of these images, I exposed a little darker and the snow went slightly gray. I did this on purpose to accentuate the actual gloominess of the day. Blue gives a sense of the coldness of a day, so having either is not really wrong.

There is no such thing as incorrect exposure technically, as it depends on what you are trying to convey. But… how do you get an exposure without blowing out highlight or shadow detail?


The very bright snow acts as a second light source by reflecting sunlight or cloud cover from the ground. A subject will often be underexposed if the camera picks up on the brighter background to determine the exposure. Spot metering can help, by focusing on what you want properly exposed. It helps in situations where the background is too bright.


To learn about spot metering and if your Nikon DSLR can be set to it, see this site.

Most of the time the preset white balance cannot handle the snow either, resulting in a blue cast in all your snow images. Many point and shoot cameras have a Winter Mode and it is really helpful at getting a better exposure. My D7000 even has a snow/beach mode, but I never use it.  I will use modes on my Nikon P510 though since I have more limited manual setting adjustments, like the one listed below. The P510 has a Snow Mode.


On a typical dull day with the D7000, I use exposure compensation of +1 and do a test photo to see if that is enough. Or if your camera does not have the Exposure Compensation feature, just open the lens by a full stop to open up shadows lost in snow scenes. How you know if detail will be lost in highlights and shadow…

I keep my eye on the histogram. The histogram is on professional cameras as well as many consumer models like my P510. Here it is set in Snow Mode shown below and the red arrow points to the histogram. Snow Mode helps the highlights in that graph, but I could focus a bit differently to get the graph more to the right. The shadow detail would suffer a bit.

The histogram when shooting snow should be more to the right, indicating that the image has bright highlights, yet still has texture. If the histogram is in the middle like normally desired, the snow will appear gray. If you expose for midtones, this is when you would dial in for positive exposure compensation. Too far right, the image is clipped and the snow will blow out with no texture at all. This is not as complicated as it sounds, so if you read up on histograms, it will help you improve all your photographs at anytime of year. Here is a professional site where you can read up on histograms and shooting in snow. They give much more detailed information than I have posted.


If you don’t know where to find the histogram in the menu of your camera, you should try to find out. You will be amazed at its usefulness and valuable information.


If you own a polarizing filter, use it. Winter light can be harsh at times.


Do you make any camera adjustments for snow?


I am not an expert by any means, but shooting on snow is one of the more difficult shots to get good exposure. Use the histogram, Exposure Compensation, polarizing filter, or the Snow Mode on your smaller cameras and you will have added success.


And don’t forget about shooting later in the day or early morning. The snow glistens at those times.


Snow or no snow, gulls are a fun bird to photograph.


If you get a chance, check out any of my winter shots at the Falls or colorful birds in snow. The snow makes a cardinal or blue jay just magical.


And since I was saying snow should be white, I edited two of these images for brightness and a tad less messy snow, the first and last photos. Editing takes time and usually I do it very minimally. Both images required a number of steps to get a clean, white background of snow and fine tune the bird. Honestly though, the other photos are fine with me!


Monday, see how I make an easy homemade Christmas wreath using  greens from the garden. I show you how wreaths that you buy are made and also, where you get ideas for those to make yourself. Thursday Thoughts, Seasonal Photo Inspiration and what to do to get some.

About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at:
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19 Responses to Photographing in Snow – Gull Glamour

  1. Zurandrya says:

    Absolutely beautiful, love the pictures! Thank you kindly for sharing.

  2. Absolutely gorgeous I will shoot mine today from a foggy Portland Maine how I adore these birds. Thanks for lesson and link I need both badly 🙂

  3. kerlund74 says:

    Fantastic series of photos. My favorites are the ones from behind, where the bird is lifting one feet up, because it is cold…

  4. More stunning shots and so much advice huge thank you. x

  5. Wow…fantastic shots. My favorites are the first and the bird in flight. I finally am getting 70-300mm telephoto zoom lens for my Canon to upgrade a bit. Your photographs are amazing and I love reading all the advice you give.

  6. acuriousgal says:

    You take such great pics, Donna….thanks for all your advice! I love photography and am new to it….I can use all the help I can get!!!

  7. You make me so happy whenever I visit here, Donna. It’s like I am looking at the Vogue of nature! Have a wonderful weekend! 🙂 xx

  8. alesiablogs says:

    Histograms! I am checking into that more! Love the title of this post and of course the photos is without saying.

  9. Phil Lanoue says:

    All very nicely done!

  10. Nice post. I love gulls and snow! Blessings, Natalie 🙂

  11. blog and pics are awesome…..

  12. These are great pictures, I forward all these photography posts to Judy. Have you ever considered writing a post on photographing Christmas lights at night? Judy says that is very hard to do, and when I go to my class at CBG I always wish I could take a picture of the wonderful lights they have up this time of year.

    • Maybe I will, but time is limited at this time of year. I did a post on shooting fireworks on Green Apples that is similar. Many cameras that have shooting modes have a night mode or fireworks mode. Tell her to try either. I myself don’t use modes like these, but set the camera manually, ON A TRIPOD. It is necessary when shooting in low light. Green Apples will not be paid for in two weeks, so you might want to check it out soon.

      What I learned in that post, is not to start out too late. You want to go before it is completely dark. The ambient light and the light from the decorative lights must balance. Very key point. Next set the camera’s white balance to tungsten, but you may do a test shot first since LED lights register differently, but it is good place to start. That is what night mode does I am guessing.

      Use a tripod because you will have a shutter speed of 1/2 to 1 second long. I learned this time of day for the best shots from working with an architectural photographer. That is when these great shots are taken, in that 10 minutes before the sun leaves everything in dark.

      The next two links are to posts on night shooting in the Botanical Gardens. I am not sure if they help, but all images there were hand held since we were not allowed tripods. I used a very high ISO and a shutter speed of 1/40-1/80. It varied by how dark was each area.

  13. Yes, I’ve definitely had trouble photographing objects on snow or with snow in the background. I do have a snow mode on my camera, but I’ve had limited success with it. I seem to like the manual settings a little better. I haven’t really used the histogram, though, so I will pay more attention to that. Thanks! My biggest problem, though, is cold fingertips and a low tolerance for cold, in general. 😉 (Too many winters in Wisconsin, I guess.)

  14. I love shooting in snow but need to spend a bit more time checking out some of the resources you provided…my favorite time is in early morning light.

  15. I just love that you offer practical advice, Donna. This post is amazing. One of my New Year resolutions is to master my DSL – a Cannon Rebel. I haven’t posted anything I’ve taken with it yet. I keep copies of all your photography instructions — you should write a book! P. x

  16. elmediat says:

    Great post that is very informative, plus having beautiful shots.:)

  17. Fergiemoto says:

    Thank you for the tips! They will come in quite handy this winter.

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