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Dash of Inspiration: Photographing Snow

December 9, 2013

A Dash of Inspiration, A Cup of Creativity by Doreen

Photographing Snow

Here at my home in the Sierra Foothills of California, it’s 23 degrees outside with about a foot of snow on the ground this morning, thus my inspiration for sharing some tips on getting great photographs of snow this year. Though snow scenes are beautiful, getting truly marketable photographs is not as easy as it may seem.

Understand Metering for White Subjects

That bright, dramatic snow scene may not be as bright and lovely when you look at the image your camera captured. Understanding how the camera sees brightly lit white subjects, and adjusting for these bright white scenes by making manual adjustments, will be the difference between capturing a marketable greeting card image and a grayish snow scene suited only for the family album.

If you have trained or studied photography, then you’ve heard the term 18% gray. This is what exposure meters in cameras have used as a universal point of reference long before the digital era. White objects reflect nearly 100% of light, black objects reflect almost 0% of light, so in the middle of white and black we have mid-gray. Subjects whose tones ‘average’ what the meter considers mid-gray reflect about 18% of light.

Snow photographs are often muddy or underexposed because the camera, based on what the meter reads, will underexpose the scene by about two stops in an attempt to correct a scene it sees as too bright. The bottom line is, learn how each of your camera’s metering modes see a bright white subject like snow, then test to create a setup formula for you and your equipment so that you can quickly make adjustments to your camera’s settings when the first snow begins to fall.

Light Temperature / Color Casts

Understanding White Balance is another critical step in photography and a must for photographing snow scenes. This is where your  camera’s settings adjust for color temperature, therefore the color of light you are shooting in so that the camera can compensate to capture proper color for any given scene.

Auto-presets in cameras are common. You may see Auto, Daylight, Shade, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, and Flash choices on your camera. Each of these settings represent a different color of light and the camera adjusts the white balance automatically based on these settings. However; if you set your camera to Daylight how does it know what time of day or what time of year you are shooting at? Both change the color of light. Professional photographers get beautiful true color in their snow scenes by adjusting the white balance in their camera settings. If you shoot in RAW images like I do, white balance editing can be done after the fact, regardless of the camera’s settings when the images were captured.  The key is that you need to  be aware of how your camera is seeing the light temperature.  If your snow scenes have a bluish tint, you need to correct your white balance.

Here is a good reference for The Color of Light

Don’t Overexpose Those Highlights!

Once a scene has been captured with overexposed highlights, there is no magic software trick to bring that detail back. If the detail in your highlights was not captured when the image was taken, your blown highlights can not be fixed and therefore your photograph is not marketable. That’s yet another challenge with snow scenes lit by the sun. Snow scenes are the perfect subject to use Exposure Bracketing. By taking several varying exposures to get the best detail in your whites and shadows, you can just about guarantee that you’ll get a perfect exposure out of those choices.

Capture Falling Snow!

As with any moving subject, you will need to use a shutter speed which is fast enough to freeze the motion of the falling snow.  If your shutter speed is too slow, your flakes will appear as streaks in your image and that is not attractive, nor are those images marketable.

So, until next week … Learn … Create … Inspire!

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