How To Take Great Photos Of Snowblowing and Shovelling

Snow. It’s a fact of life in Canada. Each winter, Canadians are subjected to hundreds of inches of white stuff that needs to be moved out of the way. And with each snowstorm, we get all bundled up, trudge out into the winter wasteland, and fire up the snowblower/pick up our trusty shovel.
And as a newspaper photographer, with each storm I documented these winter warriors…why don’t you? Here are some tips for getting the best photos!


This will depend on the conditions.
If the storm has passed and it’s a nice sunny day or if it’s slightly overcat, ISO 400 should be fine.
If it’s during the storm and the light is lower, ISO 800 or higher will be needed

As always, I recommend using the white balance setting that matches the light the subject is under. So if it’s sunny, put it on SUN/DAYLIGHT. If it’s overcast, OVERCAST/CLOUDY. Or you can shoot in RAW and then adjust later.

If you are planning on shooting action/freezing, I would use the continuous shooting mode.


The shutter speed you choose will depend on what you want to do and how fast the subject is moving or how much you want to freeze the flying snow!

Unless they need maintenance, most snowblowers chuck that snow pretty fast. So if you really want to freeze the snow, you need faster speeds like 1/1000th or higher. (This will be difficult under lower light, so as I mentioned you might need to bump up your ISO)

1/1000th of a second freezes the globs of snow as it flies out the blower

But you can also get some interesting shots using a bit slower speeds, like 1/250th, which can create some interesting blur with the thrown snow. But it will still be fast enough to freeze the person walking the blower.

1/250th freeze the man running the snow blower (and a bit of the snow) but also creates a nice wall of scattering snow.


All that lovely snow sure looks nice and bright…which will totally fool the meter and result in underexposure if you meter with it in the frame!
If you are in manual mode (M), you need to select the shutter speed you want to use, and then either fill the frame with a mid-tone subject or use the spot meter on a mid-tone subject, then adjust the aperture to get the meter zeroed.  When you recompose the photo, the meter will most likely move to the plus side. This is correct, ignore it, and just take the photo.
If you are in shutter priority mode (TV/S), you will need to use the exposure compensation to adjust the meter into the PLUS.


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As always, it’s great to try different angles and points of view when shooting.

Getting down low made this pile of snow appear larger and more daunting for this young shoveller

Try different angles on the subject. Frontal, side, behind, at an angle to see which ones work the best.

A side-on view gives a good opportunity to fill the background with trees or other interesting elements.
A front view can provide a nice spray of snow, and be able to see the person’s face

Try horizontal and vertical compositions, and don’t forget to use your different lenses! Wide angles can show more of the snowy landscape, or you can zoom in on ice/snow covered faces.

Bob Burnett was out for the third time shoveling out his driveway on Duke Street. He was still able to keep a smile on his face through it all. Photo: Cindy Wilson/Telegraph-Journal
A telephoto lens was used to get in close on this snowblower’s ice covered face
Noel Chenier/Telegraph-Journal Keving Langford tosses a shovel load of snow from the driveway of his North End home on Tuesday as Saint John residents continued to dig out from Monday's snowfall.
Pulling back shows the amount of snow that surrounds this man cleaning out the end of his driveway
Noel Chenier/Telegraph-Journal Bjorn Lisik diggs out his car on Carmarthen Street in Uptown Saint John on Friday morning after it was buried overnight by a winter storm and city plow crews.
A horizontal composition of a man cleaning out his plowed in car….
Noel Chenier/Telegraph-Journal Bjorn Lisik diggs out his car on Carmarthen Street in Uptown Saint John on Friday morning after it was buried overnight by a winter storm and city plow crews.
And a vertical version!

Don’t forget to look for interesting backgrounds, colors, or other elements to use in the frame to make a more interesting image.

A man shovels behind the Hooper clock statue at Market Square, providing an interesting element with the sculptures being buried by the falling snow.
The red doors of this old church provide an excellent contrast for the lone shoveller
The steps of this school provide an excellent vertical opportunity as workers clear from the top
The man in the blue coat stands out from the storm as he walks down a snow covered road with his red shovel


And of course if it’s kids or animals out in the storm, document all that cuteness as well!

A boy helps his dad clean the snow off the car
A young boy follows behind his grandfather as he snowblows the driveway
A man gives his dog a snoutfull of snow as it tries to grab onto his shovel

And depending on the kind of winter you’ve had…sometimes you just need to document the futility of it all…

Noel Chenier/Telegraph-Journal Ron Daigle tries to free his plowed in vehicle on St James Street in Uptown Saint John on Monday afternoon after heavy snowfall.
A man tries to free his plowed in vehicle after a series of heavy snowfall.
Noel Chenier/Telegraph-Journal Bjorn Lisik diggs out his car on Carmarthen Street in Uptown Saint John on Friday morning after it was buried overnight by a winter storm and city plow crews.
A man digs out his car after it was buried overnight by a winter storm and city plow crews.
A man trudges back to his driveway after dumping a load of snow across the street from his home
A man drags his shovel behind him as he goes door-to-door offering to shovel driveways

Once all the hard work is done, you can then have some fun in the snow and go sliding! Here’s some tips on photographing that.

Happy shovelling!


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Noel Chenier
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