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 Post subject: Exposing properly for snow
PostPosted: January 5th, 2011, 12:32 pm 
From Away

Joined: January 31st, 2010, 3:10 am
Posts: 51
I had originally posted this elsewhere last winter, but maybe some here can make use of it as well since we're coated in white stuff:

I originally wrote this up for a local community photo forum, but realized that there are probably a lot of folks that haven't dealt with shooting snow/are just getting a camera around Christmas time, etc and it might be beneficial to share with the group. Please forgive any grammar/phrasing mistakes-I'm definitely not a writer by trade, but I hope someone out there finds it useful.

This is aimed at the noobs, but it's also a good refresher for some hobbyists and great for folks that have never encountered snowy situations before-I should also mention that similar technique can be applied to scenes where a lot of sand is present.

You are excited at all the lovely possibilities this recent snowfall has presented you with, and might be planning doing a little shooting tomorrow now that you have shoveled yourself out. AWESOME! Photographing winter landscapes or even animals/children playing in the snow all make for great images. In your excitement etc you might not notice something up with your images while you are shooting. Your snow is all gray and gross and things are generally underexposed in all of your pictures! NOOOOOO!

It's ok though, because since you're reading this that isn't going to happen.

Snow is a huuuuuge bright mass of white. It wreaks HAVOC on your cameras metering. Your camera is obsessive. It wants to make the bright white highlights in your images 18% grey because that is what it's programmed to do. Some are more aggressive than others, and you will have to figure that out for your own gear. Thing is, the solution is painfully simple. All you have to do is set your cameras exposure compensation(if you aren't in manual mode) to 1/1.5/2 stops over, not under. Basically you want to tell the camera ok, you think this is the correct exposure, but I think it's this PLUS some more. You're over-exposing because snow is white(well...not totally but that's another post) and probably lit relatively brightly if you're shooting during the day. It's confusing to the metering in your camera and it doesn't know what it's 'seeing' so you have to help it out a little. For those of you using smaller point and shoots might have a snow/beach mode on your dial if you're using the scene modes(sand can confuse the metering similarly to snow).

Now...I wish i could tell you that you have to add exactly x.xx+ exposure compensation, but like most things photo related, it's not exact and will vary based on a million variables. For some scenes as little as +1 could be required, while others will be more than +2. +1.5-2 is usually a good starting point and will help you when getting your exposure set up. Make sure (as you always should be) that you're checking your histogram as you go. If you have a feature in your camera that will make blown out areas on your lcd blink....turn that on and get your exposure to where you're JUUUUUST starting to see tiny little blinkies. You don't want any big chunks or anything of course but if you go too far under you will end up with grey snow and it rarely looks right fixed in post.

Also...getting white balance is crucial with images with lots and lots of snow, many people over correct and make things tooooo white etc in post...just get the white balance on location and save yourself the trouble whenever possible!!!

Now...go out and enjoy shooting in the snow! It's a lot of fun and presents a lot of opportunities that aren't around every day. Remember that if it's really cold keeping a spare battery in an inside pocket will help. Also remember to pop the compact flash/sd whatever card out and put it in your pocket before packing the camera up when you get back inside/to the car because you'll want to leave your camera in the bag and let it slowly adjust to the warmth again to avoid condensation issues. If you remember to pocket the media, you won't have to resist the temptation of opening the bag up before it's good to go.

Best Regards,

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