When it comes to photography of the great outdoors, winter is never out of season! Of course, when things get bright and brisk ... or downright dramatic ... photographing snow subjects can get challenging. Here are some tips and techniques:
Time to Ski!
© Dr. Tom LoPresti
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Photographing in Snow - Exposure Challenge
Your camera's exposure meter sees the world in middle or neutral gray tones. And if you are pointing your camera at white snow? Then your camera will try to make it a dingy gray!
This "rule" applies whether you're shooting digital or film, auto-exposure or manual, or whether you're shooting Big Bear Lake Skiing, Aspen Snowboarding, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, or just plain winter landscapes. And yes, it applies even if your camera is the most expensive, most sophisticated digital model. Exposure solutions:
- Substitute Reading: Take an alternate meter reading off a middle tone - blue sky, gray card (sold in camera stores), or any medium-colored object. Simply point your camera at, say, the blue sky, fill up your viewfinder with that tone. Then keep those settings (via exposure lock or manual mode), re-compose your photo, and fire away. Note: If you are taking an alternate reading off the gray card or another average-colored object, be sure that the light falling on that substitute object is EXACTLY the same as that falling on your main subject.
- Exposure Compensation: This depends on the brightness of the scene. Add, say, +1.5 to +2 for sunny midday conditions when a big expanse of snow is influencing your meter. If the lighting is more subdued - i.e., early morning or late day, or heavy overcast - then go with +1/2 to +1.
Photographing in Snow - Protecting Your Camera
Falling snow can add a fresh look to your picture, but care must be taken with all cameras. Some "pro" models handle minimal wetness better than others, but care should be taken with all cameras. Tips and tricks:
- Attach a lens hood (or shade) to each of your lenses ... besides preventing sun flare, the lens hood also helps ward off snow and mist. Note: The hood must be designed specifically for your lens.
- An absorbent cloth - i.e., a chamois (chammy) - is ideal for soaking up snow and waterdrops on the camera body and lens body (but NOT the glass).
- Lens cloth - i.e., microfiber - or lens tissue can be used on the lens front (glass).
- Do-it-yourself rain covers: Here's a thought from BetterPhoto founder/photographer Jim Miotke: You can use everyday objects, such as showercaps, which can be easily stretched over many camera systems to keep them relatively dry. With a plastic bag, simply rig a hole in the bottom of the bag, just large enough to fit your lens through; then slip this bag over your lens and camera. When shooting with a big telephoto, go with a large garbage bag instead.
- Commercial rain covers: These are sold online and in many camera stores, and are made by Laird, Tenba, and other manufacturers.
Photographing Big Bear Lake Skiing, Aspen Snowboarding, Etc.
Be sure to check out the outstanding work of BetterPhoto's members and instructors in the splendid gallery:
Pictures of snow landscapes, skiing, snowboarding, and other winter sports
Note the fantastic variety of light and compositions, and subjects too: images of snowscapes, and such winter sports as skiing and snowboarding. Note, too, that many (most?) of the images were not shot in bright midday sunlight, but, rather, in early morning or late afternoon, just before or after a storm, and at sunset or sunrise.
In addition, there have been some terrific Q&A's on the subject of snow photography. For instance, type in "snow exposure" in BetterPhoto's Search Site (located at the top of any BP page).
About Author / Instructor / Photographer, Kerry Drager
The content manager and course advisor for BetterPhoto.com, Kerry Drager is also the co-author (with Jim Miotke) of two books: The BetterPhoto Guide to Creative Digital Photography (2011) and The BetterPhoto Guide to Photographing Light (2012). In addition, he teaches this online photography course at BetterPhoto: Creative Light & Composition.
Be sure to check out Kerry's Pro BetterPholio website - www.kerrydrager.com - and his instructor bio page.
Also, he is the author of Scenic Photography 101, the photographer of the photo-essay books The Golden Dream: California from Gold Rush to Statehood and California Desert , a contributor to the books BetterPhoto Basics and Daybreak 2000, and a co-photographer of Portrait of California. In addition, Kerry was profiled in the April 1994 issue of Outdoor Photographer magazine and in Vik Orenstein's 2010 book The Photographer's Market Guide to Building Your Photography Business, and his website was showcased in the January 2003 issue of Shutterbug magazine. Plus, his work has appeared in magazines, Hallmark cards and Sierra Club calendars, and in advertising campaigns for American Express and Sinar Bron Imaging.
Also see his Visual Creativity photography blog, and follow Kerry on Facebook.
Kerry lives with his wife, Mary, in the country near Sacramento, California, with their six Newfoundland dogs, four cats, two horses, and a mixed terrier.