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Snow Photography and Special Effects (DSLR Tutorial)



  • LED Lenser X21 Flashlight - This thing is a beast. Extremely reliable and bright. I use it all the time for all sorts of reasons. Definitely worth the investment. The X21 is a continuous lighting solution, not a short burst of light like flashes are. Continuous lighting lengthens motion, flashes freeze motion. Updated versions of the flashlight are available here.
  • Nikon D300s DSLR  -  Pay no attention to this, as any DSLR can produce the results you see in the video.
  • Sigma 17-50mm f2.8 Lens - Generally the best lens to have for a Nikon crop-frame DSLR and I've created many many images with it.
  • Manfrotto 055 Tripod - Mounting your camera to a tripod is absolutely essential in order to eliminate camera-shake.
  • Optional: You can mount the X21 to a tripod by using an X21 tripod mount. When I was outside, I didn't want to lug around two big tripods for both my flashlight and camera, so I conveniently mounted the X21 to a Gorillapod.

LED Lenser X21 Flashlight mounted on the Gorillapod tripod


Long Exposure showing motion of snow falling at night time

On-camera flash freezing motion of snow falling at night

Long exposure showing motion of snow falling lit by flashlight AND on-camera flash freezing motion of snow falling at night

Steel wool long exposure light painting with on-camera flash freezing snow flakes falling

Long Exposure of Steel Wool Sparks at Night in the Snow

If you are wondering how the photographs of those flying sparks were created, take a look at my Steel Wool Photography Tutorial and I'll show you how to do it!

Camera Settings

As far as what camera settings were used, I mostly used Manual Mode set to a shutter speed of 5" with an aperture of f2.8 at ISO800 but these settings can change to get different results.

Depending on what you are setting the focus point on and how much light is available, you may need a focusing aid if the area inside the focus point is not bright enough. To do this, I like to set the camera to AUTO focus, shine the flashlight on the auto-focus point seen when looking through the viewfinder, take a picture to make sure the image is sharp and not out-of-focus, then turn off auto-focus to freely take pictures after that point.

Another Idea

Another idea I got only after it was done snowing would be to take a ~1 second exposure of the on-camera flash in burst mode, where it flashes rapidly multiple times. I'd love to try it at different speeds and show the results. I'm definitely thinking the faster speeds would look best. If you have a camera that has a burst flash mode feature - give it a shot!

Have fun!

Check This Out Next

Are you tired of taking boring photos of the same mundane subject matter? Wouldn't you rather take your photography to the next level and photograph things that catch people's attention? If you would like to get the complete scoop and learn how to take more creative and unique shots with your DSLR, pick up my Trick Photography and Special Effects e-book and video course today!


How to Take Long Exposures for Night and Day

That is the moon, not the sun! Make: NIKON CORPORATION Model: NIKON D50 Shutter Speed: 300/10 second Aperture: F/3.5 Focal Length: 18 mm Date Taken: Sep 7, 2009, 12:32:58 AM

That is the moon, not the sun! Make: NIKON CORPORATION Model: NIKON D50 Shutter Speed: 300/10 second Aperture: F/3.5 Focal Length: 18 mm Date Taken: Sep 7, 2009, 12:32:58 AM

Taking Long Exposures At Night:

Taking photographs at night doesn't mean they have to look like they WERE taken at night. The moon is exactly like the sun in terms of lighting, only a lot dimmer. Which means you can take a picture at night when the moon is out, and if you use the right settings, the moon will look just like the sun. I had my camera over exposed 2 stops for this picture. The shadows (and their angles) seem to be more intense at night than day.

Why you would want to take a long exposure when using the moon:

  • To get lighting at a different angle than the sun regularly provides
  • The decrease your depth of field, so you can use smaller apertures, like f/1.4
  • to take longer exposures, so you can see cloud motion blur

If you want to take a long exposure at night time, have your ISO set to the lowest setting (like ISO 200), and then put your camera on Shutter Speed mode. On my camera, the camera can go up to a maximum of 30 seconds, so I used that. If you need even longer exposures, keep taking 30 second exposures one after the other, and then blend them together in photoshop using the Lighten blend mode. Or, if you wanted to go more extreme, put an ND filter on your lens, and take a 1 hour exposure 😉

If you simply want to take short exposures at night time, use a higher ISO, like 1600, and the time will be much shorter to take the picture. You will still need a tripod, and the exposure time will still be longer than if you were to take the picture during the day.

Taking Long Exposures During Day:

In order to take long exposures during the daytime, you need to have very dark filters for your lens. The two filters that I recommend using are the ND400 and the Hoya R72. The ND400 is a filter that basically blocks A LOT of light, enabling the photographer to take long exposures (30 seconds+) in daylight. The Hoya R72 is an infrared filter that also blocks a lot of light. The r72 will not give your picture original colors though, since it is in infrared. Here are some examples of what infrared pictures look like:

As you can see, they are quiet different than normal colored photographs. Not all cameras sensors are compatible with infrared filters though, so google your camera name and model along with the term "with IR" beside it. The older Nikon cameras, like D50 and D70 are compatible with the IR filters.

If you want to take regular SHORT exposures with infrared, you can get your camera modified by LifePixel. Your camera will permanently take infrared pictures at regular shutter speeds.

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