Cameras, Meters, Lenses Meet Snow

Elliot Paul Stern – – February 6, 2013

When your sophisticated camera’s metering system comes across the white of a winter storm and you are on the ready to capture the beauty that snow brings with it.

There is a really good chance that you are going to be disappointed.  All that beautiful white snow mixed together with a blue sky, and weighted down pine trees is going to look gray.

The reason for that is because your camera meter is based on approximately 12 percent gray so when it sees white it wants to make it gray.  While not pertinent to photographing snow, the same meter, if it sees a bunch of black creates an exposure that gives you 12 percent gray.

In order to increase the accuracy and in our case come up with white snow the solution can be pretty easy if you have a camera that allows you to set an over exposure via a dial or through the menus..

To get the snow white and you are in aperture or shutter priority you want to over expose (+) by 1.5 to 2 stops on the dial.

 As long as we are talking about the dial or menu, then I know you have already figured out how to get black, black.  That’s right.  Underexpose  (-) by about .33 to 1.5 stops.

If you are shooting in the manual mode of the camera for those cameras that have a manual mode, you can modify your lighting by adjusting either shutter speed or aperture.  I prefer to adjust using the shutter speed which means I have a constant aperture.

 You could also  deal with this in software like Adobe Lightroom, but getting to white snow may cause burn out in the image.  If you were trying to get to black then you may wind up increasing the noise/grain levels.  Neither of those is a good idea.  That’s why it is always important to get that exposure correct in the camera.  If your camera provides a histogram, remember to always expose to the right.

 Of course if your camera allows bracketing it is not such a bad idea to use that as well.  That way you will give yourself several choices.  You can use bracketing with exposure modification as well.

I usually use 200 Iso.  While today’s modern cameras can shoot at much higher iso, the best quality is still going to be at the base iso of about 200.  I also like to have a tripod with me which I can use for steadier images if shutter speeds get to slow with that low iso.

If you have a point and shoot camera that does not have these adjustments (some do) then you probably have a scene mode in your camera that is called beach or snow or both.  Try that and you will get better results than you would shooting the camera on regular automatic.

Of course all we need in Virginia is some real snow to work with.


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