Why is my snow gray?

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.


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!

Have a question or comment? Feel free to comment below. I’ll do my best to answer them in the comments below or through any of my social media avenues below. Take Care My Friends!

Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB)


Yesterday we talked about the Fill Flash Technique, as a useful tool in tricky lighting conditions. Today well talk about another technique called Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB). So what exactly is Auto Exposure Bracketing? Autobracketing is a feature found on more advanced cameras, mostly, DSLR cameras, but I have seen Autobracketing starting to show up even in some of the high-end point and shoots.

Simply put, AEB is where the camera will automatically take several successive shots (usually a series of three) with slightly different exposure settings. Depending on your cameras AEB settings, the difference between each of the autobracketed shots could be anywhere up to two stops in each direction, in half-stop or one-third stop increments.


The reason you do this is because the camera might have been deceived by the light (too much or too little) available and your main subject may be over- or under-exposed. By taking three differently exposed shots, you are making sure that if this were ever the case, then you would have properly compensated for it.

As an example, say you are taking a scene where there is an abundance of light around your main subject (for example, at the beach on a sunny day, or surrounded by snow). In this case, using Weighted-Average metering, your camera might be 'deceived' by the abundance of light and expose for it by closing down the aperture and/or using a faster shuter speed, with the result that the main subject might be under-exposed. By taking an extra shot at a slight over-exposure, you would in fact be over-exposing the surroundings, but properly exposing the main subject.

Anytime your photographing a subject with tricky lighting or lots of variation between bright and darker areas. Anytime you feel the scene is a challenging one (too much highlights or shadows).  For example, sunrise/sunsets are usually better taken slightly under-exposed so using Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB) here is a great idea.

To sum things up, be sure and use AEB whenever you want to be sure you don't improperly expose a fabulous shot that you may not get the chance to go back and take again. Use AEB whenever you want to be absolutely sure you have the best exposure possible.