How I photographed Toronto’s snowstorm at night

How I photographed Toronto’s snowstorm at night

This week, Toronto was hit by the first (and most likely only) real snowstorm of the winter. Given how little snow we’ve had this year, I was eager to go out and shoot the city in the snow. The storm was forecasted to start in the afternoon, but unfortunately, it only got real at night.

I decided to go out anyway, knowing that the conditions would be far from ideal, with the cold, the darkness and the limited visibility.

Kinky or Cold | Royal Alexandra Theatre - Toronto, ON

Kinky or Cold | Royal Alexandra Theatre – Toronto, ON

Shooting handheld in a snowstorm

My first decision was to shoot handheld. You might think this was not very smart in such conditions; you’re right, it definitely added some complexity to my shots. But here are a few reasons to shoot handheld in a snowstorm:

  • I wanted to shoot at (relatively) fast shutter speeds to freeze the falling snowflakes. At long shutter speeds, they tend to disappear.
  • Long exposures on a tripod will make you wait in the cold. Shooting handheld kept me moving, so I stayed warm.
  • I was able to shoot quickly, which was very handy in situations like shooting straight up or in the middle of the road.
Immaculate Future | Pan Am Village - Toronto, ON

Immaculate Future | Pan Am Village – Toronto, ON

Don’t be afraid of high ISO

Today’s cameras are able to handle noise at high ISO pretty well! I was shooting with my Sony a7R II, but despite its  42MP, the shots you see in this article were shot around ISO 3200. There is some noise, but it’s definitely acceptable.

Stoic | Bay Street - Toronto, ON

Stoic | Bay Street – Toronto, ON

Stay warm

I stayed out shooting for over 2 hours, so I had to stay warm. This meant having several layers and ample protection. To stay warm, you need your feet and hands to stay warm, so have appropriate boots and gloves. Protect you face because the wind and the falling snow will not be kind to your skin.

Black Or White | Toronto Dominion Centre - Toronto, ON

Black Or White | Toronto Dominion Centre – Toronto, ON

Also, if you are shooting in the city, do take a few minutes to go inside a lobby to warm up. Transit is also a good solution if you are moving around. It is way easier than to use a car.

If you do go inside, I recommend using a ziplock bag to keep your camera and lens from fogging up. Simply put your camera in the bag and close it tightly before getting into a warm place.

Not So Entertaining | King Street West - Toronto, ON

Not So Entertaining | King Street West – Toronto, ON

Don’t fiddle with your settings

With warm gloves, it’s not easy to use the buttons and dials on your camera. I recommend using a mode like aperture priority so you don’t have to change settings too much. I used auto-ISO with a maximum of 3200, so I would not even have to worry about it.

Savior | King Street - Toronto, ON

Savior | King Street – Toronto, ON

Photograph people too

I loved photographing the quiet, empty city during the snowstorm. Nothing like finding deserted places right downtown Toronto. But there was still some activity, like streetcars and people trying to clear up the snow.

Blowing Snow | Toronto Dominion Centre - Toronto, ON

Blowing Snow | Toronto Dominion Centre – Toronto, ON

Shoot in black and white

Snow just looks good in black and white. Period. I shot the images below in the Distillery District, which has a lot of heritage brick buildings. Black and white gave a timeless look to the photos.

Finally home... | Distillery District - Toronto, ON

Finally home… | Distillery District – Toronto, ON

Cold Cold Love | Distillery District - Toronto, ON

Cold Cold Love | Distillery District – Toronto, ON

Shoot iconic locations

Chances are, you can get a different look at a location that has been photographed 100,000 times. A snowstorm is a relatively rare occurrence, and most people stay home. Get out to get that unique shot!

Dark Presence | Flatiron - Toronto, ON

Dark Presence | Flatiron – Toronto, ON

Have you ever shot in a snowstorm? What was your experience? Any tips?

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