Fabulous Snow Photos

by Candice Stringham

You wake up to beautiful, white, snowcapped mountains and trees outside your window that look as if they’ve been frosted like a cake. Icicles hang from the roof. The world looks like a winter wonderland, and you can’t wait to get some beautiful photos of the landscapes around you all dressed in white.

But . . . when you get home to look at your photographs, you discover a problem. The snow in your winter landscapes doesn’t really look white! We talked a bit about metering in Through the Lens in the January 2009 issue, but I’d like to go into more detail here. Getting the correct exposure will result in winter photos with brilliant white snow.

Photo by Marcia Bettich

Learning to Meter in Snow
The real problem with photographing snow is that there is so much white. Your camera always meters for a photograph by measuring the brightness overall and making it middle gray. So when there’s a lot of white in the photo, your camera ends up underexposing the image, making the snow gray and anything darker than white black. Not so pretty. Here’s how to  overcome that problem:

1. Meter your camera up close on something middle gray. By “meter,” I simply mean to press your shutter button down halfway so you can see the number settings your camera wants you to use. If there’s a person in the photograph, step up close and meter on the face. If you’re just taking a nature photograph, meter on your own hand or something middle gray, such as a rock or something of that tonality.

2. Set your camera on manual mode, then set the exposure for what the camera told you when you metered. Don’t worry if you don’t understand the numbers at this point—just plug them in.

3. Frame the photograph and take the picture. Your camera will be blinking like crazy, telling you that you are overexposing the image. Ignore that. It’s wrong and you’re right—trust me!

Photo by Marla Kress

If You Don’t Want to Use the Manual Mode
While learning how to meter is the best way to expose for a snowy photograph, if working in manual mode is too intimidating, meter just like you would normally and use the exposure compensation feature on your camera. Look it up in your camera manual to find where it’s located on your specific brand of camera. The feature looks a lot like the light meter inside your viewfinder.

You will see a “-2..-1..0..1..2” series. If you set the camera to the 1 or 2, it means you will be overexposing each image you take by 1 stop or 2 stops. This setting lets more light onto your sensor, so that the snow is whiter and brighter. Be sure to look at your histogram and your images so that you aren’t making the snow so white that you lose detail.

Auto Mode


Metered with White Balance Adjusted
Photos by Candice Stringham

White Balance
Another way to really help your winter landscapes is to change the white balance on your camera. Most often, snow mornings are cloudy and gray, too, so the image will have a blue cast. By changing the white balance from auto to cloudy, I added a lot of warmth to the image you see here.

I took these two photographs out my bedroom window after waking one morning to see what a winter storm had left for us! The scene was beautiful, but as you can see my camera just didn’t do it justice when set on auto. By simply changing the way I metered and my white balance, I changed the whole feel of the photograph!

Use these steps to meter or to change your exposure compensation settings and your winter wonderland photographs will be bright, beautiful pictures with no gloomy gray in sight!

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