A couple of years ago I wrote a guide to help people that might have to shoot in the cold. I’ve recently updated this article and as I know many of you won’t have seen it before I’ve provided a link to the page below
Here also are some tips for shooting snow scenes with conventional gammas. Of course you can also shoot with log or raw, if you do just make sure your exposure is nice and bright for the best results, generally when there is a lot of snow around dynamic range isn’t a huge problem as the snow acts as a reflector to fill in a lot of shadows.
With conventional gammas such as Rec-709 exposing for snow is tricky. You want it to look bright, but you don’t want to overexpose and it’s very easy to end up with a lot of the bright snow in your scene up in the knee or highlights where it will be compressed and loose contrast. This makes the snow look odd as it will have no texture, it can all too easily look over exposed when in fact it is not. In reality, although we often think of snow as bright and white, often you really don’t want to expose it too high. With Rec-709 if your camera has a high level zebra set them to 90% (Zebra 2 on most Sony cameras). This way you will get a zebra pattern on the snow as it starts to enter the compressed knee or highlight area. If you are using Sony’s cinegammas or hypergammas I would lower the highlight zebras to 80% -85%.
On overcast or flat light snow days I prefer not to use Hypergammas/Cinegammas as the highlight roll off can make the snow look very flat unless you grade the images a little and boost the contrast in post. However on bright higher contrast snow days with clear skies and strong shadows the Hyoegammas/Cinegammas work very well. You may want to consider using a little bit of negative black gamma to put a bit more contrast into the image.
You also want your snow to look white, so do a manual white balance using a proper white card or better still a grey card. Don’t try to white balance off the snow itself as snow can reflect a lot of blue light and skew the white balance a bit. If you are shooting during golden hour at the beginning or end of the day and want to retain that warm look you might want to use a 5600K preset rather than a manual white balance to capture either the golden hour light or the blue light that follows it.
If the overall scene is very bright you may need to watch your aperture. In most cases you don’t want to have the camera stopped down to an aperture of f11 or smaller. Due to an effect called diffraction limiting, in HD, at f11 a 2/3″ camera will start to show a slightly soft image. A 1/2″ sensor camera will be just starting to get slightly soft at f8. In 4K/UHD a super 35mm camera will start to show a slightly softer image from f11 – f16. So use you ND filters to control you light levels so you do not have too small an aperture. You may need to add additional ND in very bright scenes to avoid diffraction limiting.
One last tip. If you are standing around in the cold and get cold feet you should find something to stand on. Small twigs and branches, a rubber car mat anything like that will help insulate your feet from the cold ground helping keep them warm.