Still Learning To See

What color IS snow anyway?!?


I’ve had lots of practice this winter seeing what color snow is. What? I thought snow was just white! It certainly can be and often is bright white but it can also be blue, gray, golden, or even red. The color depends on the texture of the snow and, more importantly, the color of the sky.

Yesterday, as part of my exploration of snow color, I put on snowshoes and made my way up into the backyard through nearly three feet of snow to prune the tart cherry, plum and pear trees. I also took time to shovel out a path to the nearly buried gas grill anticipating cooking a skirt steak for dinner; it was delicious even if a challenge to cook!

But back to the color of snow. All snow but, in particular new snow, reflects light very efficiently. So if the skies are gray, the snow will typically look gray. Blue skies? The snow will range from white to bluish; this is due, in part, to the differential scattering of the shorter blue wavelengths of light. At sunrise and sunset it is not unusual for the snow to appear a warmer color.

A challenge as a photographer is to note or remember what color the snow was when making the photograph and then make color balance adjustments in software to best show that. Here are four photographs of the same bank of snow, each slightly changed in texture from day to day and each showing four different lighting conditions.

In the next two photographs the snow ranges from bright white to middle gray depending on the angle relative to what is being reflectec—whiter snow faces the sky and darker snow faces the darker, terrestrial surroundings.

Late in the day as the light fades, the same snow simply becomes very dark gray.


At this point in the winter many Vermonters don’t give a damn about snow color. I certainly understand and wish them bon voyage to more southerly climes. Their departures just leave the trails more open to the rest of us to explore the colors of snow.


Add some sunshine and the shadows of a few beech leaves or branches and exactly what color the snow is becomes less important than just enjoying it.

This entry was published on February 25, 2019 at 10:44 am. It’s filed under Snow, Vermont, Winter, and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

5 thoughts on “What color IS snow anyway?!?

  1. That thermography expertise comes in handy. I love your posts.

  2. Sarah Albert on said:

    Hear, hear! May our glorious snow cover stay with us until April! (or even May)

  3. Personally, I love your comment, Sarah, but I suspect many will not. Plus, I need to start planting trees by the end of April! Glad you are enjoying it and these photographs. All the best!

  4. Awesome blog. I paint in watercolors and of course love the colors of snow. Your comparison photos are great but best of all are the last three.

  5. Thanks, Holly. Yes, the shadows this time of year are magical or maybe it is mostly just seeing the bright sun!

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