How to Get a Perfect Exposure in Snow

Ever snap the *perfect* snow scene, just to find it came out gray and dreary? As you probably know, snow can be pretty tricky to work with, especially when it comes to exposure and external lighting. With that in mind and with winter upon us, the folks at The Slanted Lens shot this video to give us a few quick tips for getting the perfect snow exposure:

Most of us have taken a photo on auto mode when shooting in the snow, more than likely producing an image like the one you see below on the left. Snow confuses our in-camera meter, which wants to make everything 18 percent gray. This works about 90 percent of the time, but for certain situations (like overwhelmingly white scenes) our camera’s “correct” settings will be substantially off. Of course, we can always correct for exposure in post-processing, but doesn’t it feel oh-so-good (and more professional!) to get it right in-camera?

If you don’t have a hand-held meter (I rarely do when I’m in the snow), the simple trick shown here is to over-expose your image by 1 1/3 to 2 stops to compensate for your camera‚Äôs setting. You can see the results below:

Getting the Right Exposure In the Snow

Using artificial light can also be tricky in the snow, since reflections comeback at you when you use a flash. Though they don’t say much about it, this shoot used both a key light (Dynalight 400 Watt Pack and Head) and background light (Dynalight travel head) to great effect. The key light was used mostly as a side light. The background light was used mainly to light up the fog, which created a sort of separation between the background and subject.

This shot was taken at f/4.5 with a Tamron SP lens 24-70 MM:

How To Light A Snow Scene

In addition to adjusting for correct metering and exposure, the crew up in Midway, Utah also had a few other snow challenges, the most pressing of which was keeping their cameras dry (they used plastic bags over the housing).

Other Tips for Snow Photography

Other issues that frequently arise when shooting in cold and/or very wet weather include the following;

  • Having your batteries go dead prematurely. Cold and batteries aren’t a great mix. Always come with at least two battery packs, keeping one in a warm space at all times (e.g., in a warm pocket and/or close to your body.)
  • Condensation getting into the camera once you go back inside. Make sure to put your cameras and lenses into a plastic bag and seal them up before you bring them indoors. Once inside, put them in the coldest area you can find so they’ll slowly warm up to the new indoor temperature.
  • Flare from the snow making your photos look hazy. Use a lens hood.

What are your tips for brave souls willing to dare the winter weather?

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