Shooting In The Snow
There’s nothing like a snowy day to inspire the inner photographer in all of us, but shooting for snow can be a real challenge. Chances are if you’re reading this article, it’s because you have tried taking photos of snow and have wound up with a batch of depressingly gray, under exposed, shots. In all likelihood, this is because you let the camera make all the decisions for you. Unfortunately, as good as today’s cameras are, they still have trouble properly exposing for snow.
How Your In-Camera Metering Works
When your camera is left to calculate the exposure by itself, it tries to read all the tones and colors in the scene and integrate to neutral gray or commonly referred to as 18% grey. In photography, middle gray is a tone that is perceptually about halfway between black and white on a lightness scale; in photography, it is typically defined as 18% reflectance in visible light. This gray reflects exactly 1/5th the number of photons per square unit as compared to a reference white of 90% reflectance. What integrate to gray means, is that if you add up all the values of all the tones and colors in a scene, and average them out, you will arrive at a middle gray tone. Believe it or not, this system works extremely well for over 90% of all scenes. A typical scene with some blue sky, a few trees, and bit of ground and throw in some people, add up all the tones, and you will come out to, middle gray almost every time.
Because your camera's meter is designed and calibrated for a scene of average brightness, photographing a snowy landscape can often lead to underexposure, by seeing the white snow as a mid-tone. Invariably this will leave the snow either a dull grey, or, under certain other conditions, you'll end up with a blue cast on your snow.
Fixing The Problem
Since we now know how our cameras meter for exposure. A snowy scene will be under exposure. Brightly lit snow is about 1.5 - 2 stops brighter than 18% gray. Here’s where you take control of the camera and tell it how to properly expose the scene.. How you say? Exposure compensation of course!
Use your cameras exposure compensation feature to override the camera and tell it to increase the exposure. For snow, this generally means to increase the exposure about 1 to 2 stops. Most camera manufacturers make exposure compensation as easy as turning a dial, but since each camera manufacturer is different, please refer to your cameras user manual for exact instructions on using exposure compensation.
ADDED INSURANCE, SHOOT IN RAW
Granted, some older cameras, or some of the lower-end DSLR’s , lack the ability to shoot in RAW. However, if at all possible, and your camera is capable of recording in RAW format, I highly recommend it. This will give you the greatest flexibility in post-production and will allow you to easily fix problems that would be harder (if not impossible) to correct if shooting in JPEG. Just in case you don’t get the exposure right in the camera.. :-)
So, that’s it for shooting in snow. I told you it was easy.
Now get out shooting!
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