I had a white Christmas this year so I went out and took a few photos in the snow. Below are some of the photos from that day. I get a lot of questions about how to properly photograph in the snow so I have included some basic tips below that should be very helpful and produce good results for you.
Exposure Tips for Snow
All of your basic photography skills and knowledge still apply when taking photos in the snow, however because the way a light meter functions you will need to make an exposure adjustment in order to properly expose the snow. Keep in mind that photography is a combination of art and science. I tend to think of the science part as a guideline and I let the artistic side dominate. I have outlined the guidelines that I use when photographing in the snow.
If your scene is primarily snow then the general rule of thumb is to over expose by 2 stops. Remember the three elements that determine exposure: ISO, aperture, shutter speed. In order to offset the logic of your meter in your camera or of your hand-held light meter you will need to compensate with one or more of the above based on your meter reading. I assume you understand you would be taking photos in manual mode to control the variables. If you were in aperture or shutter priority mode for example and change one of these variables your other variable would automatically adjust based on this modification and you would effectively have the same exposure. Not a good idea…
Keep in mind that in the winter season it is very common to have heavy overcast days. If you are photographing on one of those days then you will need to dial in a little more compensation. In general I would say about an additional 1/2 to maybe 1 stop on a day like this will produce good results. So, on a day like this you could end up at 2 1/2 to 3 stops of exposure compensation possibly.
If you are a film shooter then one option is to adjust your aperture or shutter speed since you film is already loaded and this takes care of the ISO variable. Most people adjust the aperture, but any combination that gets you the correct exposure adjustment will work. Many cameras have the ability to over or under expose by two or three stops. All of my film and digital cameras can easily set to over expose via a very quick and simple adjustment. I simply use my meter to measure the snow and then over expose based off of that reading. Depending on your options or personal choice, you may opt to bracket a few exposures especially if you are shooting film vs. digital. My approach is to get it right in the camera.
If there are details in your snow like grass, footprints, etc then you would probably want to cut back your exposure compensation by 1 stop as a general rule in order to pick up those details.
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