Photographing in the snow

Are you disappointed when you photograph snow scenes?  Do they all look dark and under exposed?
When you shoot photos in the snow you need to worry about your camera’s exposure.  Modern cameras’ metering systems are designed to expose for 18% gray, i.e., they automatically adjust the exposure so the image’s overall light value is a medium gray.  This is a problem with bright snow or bright white sand!  The camera adjusts a snow scene to look medium gray as in the first image.
The image straight from my camera looks medium gray.  [This is a Canon Raw CR3 image.]
The snow scene is under exposed.
A good solution to this exposure problem is to increase the camera’s exposure compensation setting by +1 before you shoot the snow scene.  If you don’t know how to adjust the exposure compensation setting, it’s a good time to learn.  It is easy.  Get your camera’s manual and read about it.  Study slides 16 and 17 in the PDF file of my April 23, 2021 Workshop slides. The slides discuss how to adjust exposure compensation on smartphones as well as “big” cameras.
Here’s the shot with the exposure compensation set at +1.  It definitely helps!
I took this early in the morning before the Sun was out.
This is the same image with exposure compensation set at +1 and
I adjusted in Adobe Lightroom the HighlightsShadowsWhites, and Blacks settings.
You can see why I use Lightroom.  It can really improve the look of your photos.
The next image brings up other issues with a scene’s exposure.  Your camera tries to make a sunrise or sunset look 18% gray.  This usually results in over exposure of the color in the sunrise or sunset.  A good rule for sunrises and sunsets is to set the exposure compensation to -1 or even -2.
The image straight from my camera has blown out the color in the sunrise.
The color I saw was a nice orange glow.
I adjusted the exposure compensation to +1 to meter for the snow.
However, it made the sunrise’s color even more blown out!  Wrong way!
I adjusted the exposure compensation to -1 to meter for the sunrise.
Now the color is close to what I saw in the sky.
This is the same image with exposure compensation set at -1 and
I adjusted in Adobe Lightroom the HighlightsShadowsWhites, and Blacks settings.
The second example brings up another issue. Do I expose for the snow or expose for the sunrise?  Sometimes the photographer has to decide what part of the scene is more important.  In this case, I choose the color of the sunrise as important and underexposed the snow.  An alternative is to shoot the sunrise at one exposure and the snow at a different exposure.  Then blend the two images in Adobe Photoshop.  This is an advanced technique that many of us may not want to attempt.
   I hope this has helped.

Posted by Dan Hyde

Dan is the Chair of the Lewisburg Photography Club.