Freezing Snow In Holiday Shot

I'm not going to spoil the surprise of this year's family holiday cards--I haven't even sent them out yet--but I did have a successful photo shoot, and since I had been wanting to give this shot a try since last year when I bought fake snow on super-clearance in January, I thought perhaps one or two of you out there might be interested in how to make it happen for your family photos, too!  So here are my outtakes and I will try to explain how freezing snow in action to create a beautiful and unique holiday card works.

First of all, you have to set your scene. I put the kids on a blanket (I wish I had used a plastic table cloth that I could have just thrown out--what a mess! I was shaking out fake snow for days!) and I put that blanket several feet in front of my in-laws' Christmas tree. The sun was behind them and to the right--I tried to block the direct rays entirely with the tree. You don't want direct light. Direct light is bad. And why a few feet in front, you ask? Well, to create that lovely blurry Christmas scene behind them (as explained in a great tutorial on creating Christmas light bokeh (blurriness) on I Heart Faces I pinned on my photography board). Too close to the tree and I'd have too much detail--I wanted mood, not ornaments and pine needles.

Then I had to work on proper exposure and making sure my shutter speed was fast enough to freeze the motion of the snow. The blurriness in the background is created by having a low f/stop for your aperture (which is a bonus because it lets in a lot of light and therefore you can increase your shutter speed). Here were my settings for the above shots, in manual mode:

I highly recommend you use manual to achieve these shots, so you can control all the elements of the shot. My ISO was pretty high (although not high enough to make my photo grainy) because even at 10 a.m., the light in Vermont is pretty mediocre in December. Plus, remember, I wanted indirect natural light so I had all the lights off and was only using the lights from the glass doors and windows surrounding Jax (hence why I took these at my in-laws'--their light rocks). I had a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the motion of the snowflakes, but not so fast that the focus was on the snow and not Jax's face. I wanted you to see the snow, but not have it be so super crisp and clear that you didn't look past it to my little guy. Low f/stop to create the blurred background, NO FLASH, auto white balance, and my beautiful 85mm lens that I have raved about so often.

Em's shutter was a little slower (to accommodate changes in light and thus exposure) and so her snow was a little blurrier. The slower your shutter speed, the blurrier your snow will be. What shutter speed you choose depends on what look you're going for--the faster your shutter speed (the bigger the denominator in the fraction), the more your snow will "freeze" but your picture may get darker. If that is the case you can up your ISO (but beware of your photos getting too noisy) or decrease your aperture (f/stop) if your camera can handle it.

My other HUGE suggestion is to select your focal point when taking this shot and to be sure that your camera is focusing on your subject's eyes. What I mean by that is make sure that your camera is not choosing where to focus, because more than likely it will not focus BEHIND the avalanche of snow, but rather it will focus directly ON the snow. You don't want that--you still want to be able to see your kids behind the snow, so find the part of your camera that looks like this:

and choose the focal point that will allow you to focus where you like. I ALWAYS choose my focal points, especially when using a very shallow depth of field--otherwise you may miss the shot because the camera decided to focus on your kids' hands on not their face, or vice versa. If you don't know how to do this, dust off that trusty manual and make it a priority to practice with it this weekend.

I hope this answers all your questions about how to take a great holiday shot while freezing action. If you give it a try, let me know! And I'll share the finished product a little closer to the holidays after all my cards have made their way to the mail!


Recent Posts by rubsomedirt


In order to comment on, you'll need to be logged in. You'll be given the option to log in or create an account when you publish your comment. If you do not log in or create an account, your comment will not be displayed.