Living in Western New York, winter is both a gift and a curse. Yes, it can be difficult living with lake effect snow that can bury you with 3 feet of snow overnight. On the other hand, winter can be both fun and beautiful. This also makes it photogenic.
Shooting snow scenes does take a little more effort. Not only do you have to have a good eye for the photo you are trying to take, there are some technical concerns that you need to know. You also have to take the effort to protect yourself and your equipment from Old Man Winter.
Let's talk about protection first. Cold itself will not damage your camera equipment, as long as it isn't too cold. Of course you do not want to drop your gear into the snow so camera straps are important. Be careful shooting in sub-zero temperatures. Dressing yourself properly will allow you to enjoy a winter wonderland, while still able to operate your camera.
We all know how to layer up when going out into the cold. But when you are trying to shoot pictures you will need the use of your fingers. There are several glove options you can choose. Hunting shops will have gloves that are a combination of mittens and fingerless gloves. The mitten part usually folds back, some have Velcro, to reveal the fingerless glove part. This allows you full access to knobs, buttons, and touch screens, but then cover up your fingers between shots.
Another important tip is when you come in from the cold. Going from one extreme to another will cause condensation to form on your precious equipment. The easiest thing to do is place your camera and other cold electronics in separate heavy-duty plastic zipper bags. Try to get as much air out before zipping shut. The idea here is that the condensation would happen on the outside of the plastic bag and not on, or worse yet inside, your gear.
Now that we've covered you and your gear, it's time for some shooting tips. A very modern DSLR, along with some high-end point-and-shoot models have sophisticated metering systems. This system measures the scene you are about to shoot and calculates the proper exposure - the combination of shutter speed and aperture. While some cameras can tell when you are out in the snow, most cannot.
What all this really means is that you have to manually compensate for the camera misreading a mostly white scene. This can be done in two ways - manual exposure mode, or setting the exposure compensation. Since some cameras don't have a full manual mode, where you set both the aperture and shutter speed, let's work with the exposure compensation mode. If you don't know what this is or how to set it on your camera, it's time to get out the manual. There should be a section there that deals with it. It sometimes is called EV adjustment.
On most digital cameras it will be a scale that had a zero in the middle with -1 and 2 to the left and +1 and +2 to the right. A minus value takes away light from a scene, thus making it darker. A plus value adds more light to a scene making it lighter. For snow you will want to add light so try shooting some at +1 and some at +2. This is one of the great things about digital photography. You can see what your shot will look like right then and there. Preview the shot on the LCD and if it's still too dark just go to +2. Just don't forget to set the exposure compensation back to zero when you are done shooting. Leaving it there while shooting in normal conditions will result in very washed out photos.
Here are a few more quick tips. Set your white balance to manual. It can also be fooled. Set it for Sunny on clear days and Cloudy for overcast days. Remember, snow tends to reflect the blue sky. Use fill-flash. On a bright day, the snow can cause very harsh lighting conditions. Shoot the action. Winter is full of winter sports. Look for bright colors. While crisp white snow is beautiful to some, injecting some nice bright warm tones will make for a more vibrant image. Don't forget to get in close too. Try shooting ice crystals on frozen windows or sunlight through icicles.