A delicate balance of shutter speed and weather condition creates a texture-rich image resembling a sketch than a photograph.
Ah, the joys of winter photography! When it’s snowing outside, there’s always a case for photography. That’s why I couldn’t help but get outdoors in the cold during our most recent snowfall in the city. Like I always do, I opted to go to my favourite park in the city, Colonel Sam Smith Park, since I know there are various places that I could go for different backdrops. When I got to the park though, I didn’t realize how much colder it was by the lake; my fingers and toes got numb so quickly as I trekked through the snow looking for compositions.
My initial purpose for going to the park was to capture any waterfowl or other animals amongst the falling snow. I brought my 800mm f/6.3 for this very reason but I quickly realized I wasn’t about to change lenses in this weather with 20-30km/hr wind gusts, so my entire walk was done with my Z 70-200mm f/2.8 lens, which was already attached to my Z 9.
Let’s compare the two images above with each other. I love the look of this—and more importantly—I love creating images like this. The simple act of changing the shutter speed will create a more ethereal image that will be drastically different than if you were to keep the shutter speed required to main the details of the snow.
In the above image, the snow is streaking across the frame, creating a sense of movement. The chaotic nature of the snow blowing in different directions emphasizes the strength of the wind as it blows by my camera.
Ignore the missing runner in this image. The falling snow is no longer streaking, but are singular points across the entire image. The smaller the snow and denser the fall, the finer details of snow will emerge as you freeze the frame with a fast shutter speed.
So what shutter speed do I use?
Note that the shutter speed you choose will depend on how fast the snow is falling down. For really fast moving snowfall, a shutter speed of 1/400sec.—like above—may not even be fast enough. Shortly after that photo was taken the snow really started falling down. I noticed that even with a shutter speed of 1/640sec., I still had snow streaking across my frame! The photo below has streaking snow and was taken at 1/640sec.!
Can I use a tripod to make these photos?
Sure, why not? Given the nature of these snow storms though, you’ll have to act quickly since I had wind gusts of 20-30km/hr trying to blow me off my feet at times. While I had a Peak Design travel tripod with me, I never once used it. I opted to hand hold all of my shots for convenience and mobility. Know how slow you can go handheld before introducing camera shake without a tripod.
For obvious reasons you won’t see a difference where there is solid white in the image, but you can see the trees and fine branches even start to fade away in the background because of the streaking of the snow with the slower shutter speed.
The above image is of the famous Christmas Tree in Hokkaido, Japan. I took one image with a shutter speed of 1/50sec., and another at 1/800sec., and combined the two images into one so you can have a direct comparison between the two. Even with a small subject matter as this one lone tree, the effects are quite visible and make a noticeable difference in interpreting the overall image.
If I had to sum this blog post up with one sentence, it might be the following:
Choose a shutter speed that matches your intention.
I hope you have fun the next time it snows in your neighbourhood! View my YouTube video on this topic by pressing play below.
Have you tried slowing down the shutter speed to affect your image before? Let me know in the comments below.