We’ve been talking about a snow photos post for a while now but just one problem: save for 20 minutes up a Scottish mountain last month we’ve not seen snow for a couple of years.
We could be here for years waiting for the weather to do what we want. Instead, let’s look at some of the problems shooting in snow can cause and how you can get around them.
Before you head out there are a few basic good practices and principles which will help you get the picture right in camera:
- All that white is going to mess with your camera’s mind. It will ‘see’ the reflective white scene as overexposed and will compensate by underexposing your pictures. If you’ve come home with dark pictures before this could be why. How to fix: If your camera has exposure compensation (google or check your manual) set it from +1 to +2 so the camera knows what’s going on. If it doesn’t have exposure compensation check for a snow scene setting which will take care of this issue. If you have neither read on to find out how to combat.
- Even with exposure compensation your camera will have a wobble about which object to use to meter the picture. How to fix: Place the most important part of the picture in the centre of the picture – the majority of cameras will have centre-weighted metering so use this to your advantage. If you are using a DSLR switch to spot metering – check your manual to discover how this works in your camera.
- Snow is white, we see white snow in front of us, in the shade of a hill or looking into the sun but your camera sees a whole range of different shades of grey and blue. How to fix: If your camera has a snow scene setting this should be included in the programmed details to some extent. If your camera allows you to, go into your white balance settings and adjust for the conditions. If it’s sunny choose the daylight setting; if it’s cloudy choose the shade or overcast setting. Want to take it a step further? You can set a custom white balance (check you manual) or some cameras will allow you to adjust white balance by Kelvins so you can get a near match. However you do it – take some test shots and see what colour you are getting on the LCD.
- Footprints in the snow could wreck your photos. How to fix: Get out there early! Not only will you get the beautiful blanket of smooth snow but you’ll have the benefit of golden early morning light.
- Baby it’s cold out there. You need to wrap up warm but you may want to consider fingerless gloves to use while you’re shooting. It’s not just you that will be affected by the cold – your camera is going to find the cold tough too. How to fix: Let your camera get used to being out in the cold before you start taking photos. If you take it out warm it will fog up and with fog comes moisture (and DOOM) so slow yourself down and wait a few minutes. Batteries aren’t the biggest fans of low temperatures so make sure they are fully charged and carry spares (in warm places).
- Snow is frozen water. Just like rain, falling snow is going to dump a whole heap of water onto your camera. How to fix: Take your camera out in a waterproof bag. To protect it while you’re shooting either buy a waterproof cover or fashion one out of a bin-liner -yes, really.
Knowing your stuff will stand you in good stead but your camera could still do the dirty on you so let’s look at both how you can change what you’re doing in the moment or fix a photo after the fact.
All of the following examples were taken with a Canon Powershot SX110 in 2009/10 (my – haven’t they grown?). All shots in non-flash auto modes. Edits made in Picmonkey a free online editing tool.
Underexposed Snow Photo
This first example is a classic; a picture taken in overcast daylight which has underexposed due to the large amount of white in the frame. Gah!
Fear not! A quick trip over to Picmonkey will sort you out. Thankfully recovering a slightly underexposed photo isn’t tricky at all. Don’t be tempted to use ‘auto-fix‘ a couple of manual adjustments and you’re finished.
- First stop is the exposure tab: raise the exposure by moving the slider to the right until it looks natural.
- Next adjust the highlights and shadows, again, using your eye to tell you when it looks right.
- The last action in this tab is to adjust the contrast up or down depending on the style of photo you’re going for.
- If you feel the colour tones are off use the colors tab to make gentle adjustments in saturation and temperature (blue = cold, red = hot). I haven’t used it for this photo.
- Finally use the sharpen tab to sharpen and add clarity.
- Then just save back to your computer.
Another cause of an underexposed photo could be your positioning. If in doubt: find out where the sun is and point your bum at it. Getting the light behind you will have it all on your subject (although watch our for your shadow in the low sun!).
In the two photos below my only change was to move to a position with the sun (well, clouds in front of the sun) behind me.
That’s not to say that you can’t use the light in different way. Shadow and backlighting are great ways to add interest and texture to snow scenes. In the two pictures below changing our position by 180° means that the falling snow has been picked up by the light and darker backgrounds and that lovely golden light is giving a nice glow around the subjects.
I mentioned that your camera gets confused about what colour it’s looking at and you can end up with photos that are blue, grey or frankly anything depending on the colour of the ambient light. The photo below is both blue-toned and underexposed but thankfully it’s easily corrected.
- Firstly open up the colors tab to correct the blue cast.
- Click the neutral picker and move your mouse over the photo. A dropper icon will appear and use this to click a neutral area of the photo – in this case I chose a piece of snow on the left of the frame.
- This will adjust the temperature of the photo. It might not get it 100% right first try but you can adjust the slider to get it how you imagined it.
- Next correct the exposure using the steps above and save to your computer.
Sometimes a colour cast can add to the mood of your picture. The photo below isn’t fixable with Picmonkey but that’s ok because it reminds me of the point when the sun went down and despite the twilight we ran up the hill for one last slide.
The snow is a great opportunity to experiment with your photos both technically and creatively.
Look for things that you wouldn’t notice without the white blanket of snow to draw your eye to it. Find areas of contrast between dark and light and see it in a different way.
Snow is so much fun and a great time capture fleeting family moments. After all, how often is the UK turned white?