Quick Tip for Aspiring Shooters: How to Take Better Pictures in the Snow

Since I’ve just read a whole pile of news about the blizzard in Denver, it occured to me that I often field questions about shooting in a snowy environment. I usually don’t give straight up photo tips on this blog, however, ’tis the season and this might make somebody’s holiday snaps a little better. Therefore, a quick tip: how to get that snow so nice and white, instead of that nasty-ass grey.

Simple answer:
Over-expose the picture. Fool your camera. Preferrably using the manual mode and the light meter built into your camera (or by shooting test pics and looking at your histogram), you should overexpose the image by 1 to 2 full F STOPS beyond what your in-camera meter says when you’re exposing directly from the snow. That’s right, point your camera at the snow, see what it says, then tweak your exposure by at least one stop, often more, to get desireable results on subjects in that environment. Generally, if you’re shooting a wider, enviromental shot, you should be on the lower end of that overexposure range. If there are some people subjects in your shot and you want to get nice detail in them, you might want to push the further end of the 2 stop range. Push it till your exposure really starts clipping the snowy highlights.

Why?: The meter in your camera wants to make everything (in this case the snow) 18% grey. So, in metering off the snow and overexposing, you’re compensating for this. Without adjusting for this, the camera will put your nice winter wonderland in a sea of grey soup, so remember, little tweak of the exposure–using manual settings or exposure compensation–and you’ll be taking better pictures in the snow right away.

Happy Holidays.

37 Responses to Quick Tip for Aspiring Shooters: How to Take Better Pictures in the Snow

  1. Buffy January 4, 2007 at 11:31 am #

    Great tip, and just when I needed it most. Thank you!

  2. gomattolson January 5, 2007 at 8:13 pm #

    I just stumbled across your site from Your Name on Toast. Amazing work — I’m definitely a novice and trying to decide how much energy I want to invest into photography. I appreciate your tips.

  3. Chase Jarvis January 14, 2007 at 10:28 pm #

    Right on Matt O. Glad to help out. BTW, check out the “Back Up Your PHotos: Basics” post for some really important info.

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    What a great juxtaposition of objects.

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