Photography Tips for Taking Pictures in the Snow

Snow is falling as my Basic Photography students are working on their first shooting assignment.  As I walked around the farm this morning to take pictures, I kept thinking about tips I wish I could share with them.

Photography Tip #1: Watch for the light!  As with all photography, interesting light can make any scene more interesting, a snowy, icy scene can be magical when the light shines just right!


Magic light on a snowy icy morning (Emily Naff)

Magic light on a snowy icy morning.

One of the first things to understand about shooting in the snow (or sand) is that your light meter will not necessarily give you the best exposure. If you notice your snow looks gray or dingy, you may want to slightly over expose the shot… not too much or you’ll lose important detail.  I usually find that 1/3 to 1/2 of a stop over exposure does the trick.



 (Emily Naff)

Look for contrast.  White or bright subjects will stand out more against a dark background.

These icy branches stand out against the dark background of the pine and cedar trees. (Emily Naff)

These icy branches stand out against the dark background of the pine and cedar trees.

Know that in the shade, you might might start to encounter a blue color shift.  Adjust your white balance settings if you don’t want it, or use it for creative effect

Zooming in for a tight shot allowed for a simple composition and contrast of the switchgrass and snow against the dark background. (Emily Naff)

Zooming in for a tight shot allowed for a simple composition and contrast of the switchgrass and snow against the dark background.

Use Manual Focus for more control.  Auto focus lenses are looking for areas of contrast to focus on. When the snow is falling it might have difficulty knowing what you want to focus on.  If you focus on the background, the snow flakes might not show up.  If you want the snow flakes to be sharp, switch to manual focus and pick a point closer to your camera to focus on.

In autofocus mode, the camera kept trying to focus on the trees in the background. Switching to manual mode allowed control of focus to make the falling snow sharp and to blur the trees in the background. (Emily Naff)

In autofocus mode, the camera kept trying to focus on the trees in the background. Switching to manual mode allowed control of focus to make the falling snow sharp and to blur the trees in the background.

Experiment with different shutter speeds.  Do you want to stop the falling snow, or have a little blur from the movement of the snow.  What shutter speed you want will depend on how fast the snow is falling.  Try a few different shutter speeds until you gee the desired effect… just remember to use a tripod or avoid shutter speeds that are too slow to hand hold. Really slow shutter speeds will make the falling snow disappear.

Snow covered pine branches against the backdrop of a hardwood forest. (Emily Naff)

Snow covered pine branches against the backdrop of vertical lines created by the hardwood forest in the distance.

Get on Board for the PhotoSlam

Rail Runner Train from Santa Fe to Albuquerque, New Mexico (Emily Naff)

Ready to Board the Rail Runner Train from Santa Fe to Albuquerque, New Mexico


Saturday night (Nov 14) at the Main Street Gallery in East Nashville will be an event to remember.  Photography show meets Poetry Slam = #Bam a PhotoSLAM!.

Photographers of all levels are invited to participate in the community event organized by Sheila Turner Projects and SNAP (Society of Nashville Artistic Photographers)

It’s also the last chance to see the Travelogue Show of printed images by the Photo Girls!  Wendy Whittemore, Stacey Irvin, Amanda McAdams, Kay Ramming, Laura Carpenter, Emily Naff and Honorary PG, Nick Dantona have traveled the globe, and have some amazing images on display.

See the write up in Nashville ARTS Magazine for more information.

Photographing Festivals

Festival in Asakusa, Tokyo, May 2014 (Emily Naff)

Our first weekend in Tokyo,  just happens to coincide with one of the largest festivals in Tokyo.  Even luckier, it’s right in our neighborhood of Asakusa, which makes it easy to pop in an out over the course of the 3 days of festivities.  Since many of the students are going on Sunday, I thought I’d give a few pointers that came to mind as I’ve stopped by to shoot a little bit.

Research:  See if you can find out a schedule, and try to gain an understanding of the significance of the festival activities.  In the case of Sanja Matsuri, the Japan Guide website is a good source of information.  This allowed me to be on site for the opening ceremony.

Prepare:  Charge your battery, empty your memory cards (and bring extras) and wear good shoes!

Experience:  Festivals are a great time to meet people and have a good time.  Don’t get so caught up in documenting the experience, that you forget to experience it.

Eat:  Fair foods around the world are a treat!

Photographing a chaotic event like a festival can be a challenge.  So, how do you bring order to the chaos to make interesting photographs?

Festival in Asakusa, Tokyo, May 2014 (Emily Naff)

Festival in Asakusa, Tokyo, May 2014

Consider the background:   If you know that a certain activity, like a procession, is going to occur, then position yourself so that you can have an interesting background.   Look for large, simple structures, that can act as a framing device, or that will look good blurred when using shallow depth of field.  Even better, choose a background that gives a sense of place to the action happening in front of it.

Observe other photographers: When I got the festival on Friday, I wasn’t sure of the route, so I noticed a few photojournalist, and paid attention to where they were positioning themselves.  No, I didn’t steal their spot, but it did give me some ideas of where to stand, and what I wanted as background shots.

Festival in Asakusa, Tokyo, May 2014 (Emily Naff)

Festival in Asakusa, Tokyo, May 2014 (Emily Naff)

Get above the crowd:  I thought I’d have an easy chance of this, until one of the photojournalist I mentioned earlier, set up his step stool! Look around to see if  you can stand on a rock or stairway or get on someone’s shoulders like this little guy.

Pay attention to details:  The little things are the adjectives that make the story interesting.

Festival in Asakusa, Tokyo, May 2014 (Emily Naff)

Festival in Asakusa, Tokyo, May 2014

Use all of your senses:  Listen for the sounds, if there are drums, there is a party!  While walking back to my hotel this afternoon, I heard the sound of drums, so I followed my ears to find a procession with children playing the drums, and carrying the shrines.  Doesn’t get much more adorable than that.

Photograph the crowd:  Festivals are not all about the parade or procession, the crowd enjoying themselves is also part of the story.

Eat:  Photograph what you eat.  Vendors are often more willing to let you photograph them if you’ve just purchased something from them.

Festival in Asakusa, Tokyo, May 2014 (Emily Naff)

Festival in Asakusa, Tokyo, May 2014 (Emily Naff)

Be mobile:  If you’re going with a group, it’s best to divide into pairs.  If your intention is to photograph, then more than 2 people can have a difficult time navigating a crowd.  Better yet, give yourselves a meeting place, so that you can follow the pictures, without keeping up with a crowd a friends.

Follow the Procession:  There are often good shots to be had as the parade waits to turn a corner, or allow the next float to catch up.

Linger:  Don’t be in a hurry to leave..  It’s not over til the Kabuki Theatre performs.  Just as I thought the festival was over I hear a drum beat, then a flute… next thing I notice there’s a Kabuki performance beginning on a little stage beside the shrine.

Festival in Asakusa, Tokyo, May 2014 (Emily Naff)

Festival in Asakusa, Tokyo, May 2014


These are a few of my favorite things….

When spending extended time away from home, sometimes it is the little things that can make a difference in your comfort.  I often travel for 3-4 weeks at a time. These are a few things that I have learned make life on the road just a little easier.

  • Bandana- I won’t leave home without it.  I wear it as a head band, or tie it onto my day pack.  On the plane, I pull it down over my eyes when I want to sleep.  It’s like hanging a “do not disturb” sign.   After an overnight flight, I can then use it as a wash cloth.  Washing my face and brushing my teeth after an overnight flight, makes it much easier to face a new day in a new country.  It also serves as a napkin, or “table cloth” for a quick picnic.
  • Waterbottle– one that will fit in your daypack, so that you will take it with you everywhere.  It is so important to stay hydrated when traveling and little bottles of water are expensive.  If tap water is not safe, then I  go to a grocery store and buy the biggest bottles of water available and use those to refill my small bottle. Make sure it is empty before going through security.
  • Earplugs- great for sleeping on an airplane and in a noisy hotel.   A good nights sleep makes all travel much more pleasant.  Earplugs are especially helpful if sharing a room or sleeping with an open window.
  • White noise – I’m addicted to white noise because I sleep with an airfilter in my room at home.  It does wonders for drowning out the little exterior noises that wake you up, especially if you are in an unfamiliar environment.  I used to travel with a radio, alarm, white noise combo, but now I just have a white noise app on my iPhone that does the trick.  I guess you’ve figured out that I value my sleep.  It helps keep me healthy, both physically and mentally!
  • Flashlight– I keep a little one clipped to my camera bag.  I also love headlamps, because they free my hands.  They work great for reading in bed, if your hotel doesn’t have a small lamp by the bed, or if you’re sharing a room.  It’s also helpful for getting things out of your suitcase at night, without disturbing your roommates.
  • Multi-tool and/or Swiss Army Knife–  You never know when you’ll need to fix a piece of gear, or open a bottle of wine!  If you pack one,  be sure to pack it in your checked luggage, so it doesn’t get confiscated by security. 
  • Duct Tape- You can repair all sorts of things with duct tape: rips, tears, shoe soles… you name it, it’s been “fixed” with duct tape.   I wrap a few feet of it around a pen, and keep it in my camera bag.  If you need any more ideas for the possibilities for duct tape, check out this blog.
  • First-Aid Kit– stuff for blisters, indigestion, diarrhea, motion sickness, pain, cuts, bites, etc.  I don’t take an entire pharmacy, just enough of these item to prevent an inconvenient emergency trip to a drugstore.  You can get little sample packs at most pharmacies that have 2 pills of each, just enough to get you through until you can go to a pharmacy. Make sure you are aware of any restrictions that may be in place.  Japan, has some pretty strict guidelines for what they allow in to the country.  Always pack prescriptions in their original container, and bring a copy of your prescription.

Remember, pack light.  Carefully consider each item in your suitcase.  Is it necessary?  How much does it improve your quality of travel?  Can I buy it in country?  I’ve decided that for me, each of these items are worth the little bit of space they take up, even if it means I have to take one less book, or one less pair of shoes.  The good news is that for this year’s trip, Japan is known for being the land of convenience, with 7-11 stores on just about every block, and even vending machines filled with an assortment of items.  So don’t feel like you have to pack everything but the kitchen sink. Going to the store and figuring out which bottle is shampoo, and which is laundry detergent is an adventure in itself.  Allow yourself that experience!


I’d love more suggestions for the “little things” that makes a big difference when traveling.



Updated and reposted from 5/15/12

So you’ve got a new camera, now what?

Photography students learning about all the features on their cameras. (Emily Naff)

Photography students learning about the features on their new cameras.

You’ve done your research and decided on a camera, then as you start to unpack the box, a little panic sets in.  Now what?  What in the world are all these buttons and symbols on the lcd screen?   You could put it in auto mode and start clicking away, but which is auto mode?  How do you turn the flash on, or off?  How do you focus?  Why are the pictures blurry, or too dark, or too light?

All of these questions and more will be answered in the Basic Photography Class that I’m teaching in Japan this summer. This next series of articles is geared toward the new photographer who wants to learn how to take control of the image making process to make more creative photographs.

So let’s start from the beginning. Make sure your battery is charged and you’ve got a memory card inserted into the camera.



A few ground rules to help you get started:

  • Never insert or remove a memory card with the camera powered on. Doing so, could corrupt the data on the card, making the images unusable.
  • Do not remove or change lenses with the camera powered on. This can increase the amount of dust inside the camera. It’s a good idea to the hold the camera with the lens opening pointing down, to prevent dust or debris from falling into the camera while changing lenses.
  • Format your memory card before you start to shoot.  This will ensure that the card will work best with your new camera. You will also want to reformat your card once the images are downloaded and backed up. Reformatting will erase all the data on the card, but it will also prevent corruption. This is better than simply deleting all images, or deleting images one by one. You may need to refer to your manual to find where the format option is found. It is usually buried in a menu.
  • For your first day or two of shooting, go ahead and set it to Auto or Program Mode.
  • Auto mode will make all exposure setting decisions for you, including f/stop, shutter speed and probably ISO.
  • Program mode will allow you cycle through different combinations of aperture and shutter speed settings. On most cameras this is accomplished by turning the rear dial. With this setting you want to avoid shutter speeds lower than 1/125 of a second, to avoid images being blurred by camera shake, or use a tripod.
  • Make sure your lens is set to Auto Focus (AF)  If the auto focus is not focusing on what you want, then you may want to switch it to manual focus (MF) or learn how to adjust the focus points in your camera.
  • Turn on IS or VR on your lens, if it’s an option. Camera shake is a result of camera movement during a slow shutter speed, some lenses will have VR (vibration reduction) or IS (Image Stabilization) to help prevent camera shake. With these lenses you can usually use slightly slower shutter speeds.
  • Don’t worry, I’ll explain shutter speeds and aperture settings in a future blog post.
  • Keep that manual handy!   You’ll need to refer to a lot in the beginning. I’ll use this blog post as a way to help explain some of the concepts that will help you decipher the manual.

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