Photo Ideas # 1 of 10: Photographing Snow
Winter arrived in Ohio this past week. It began with blizzard like conditions and heavy snows, followed by several days of icy conditions caused by 10°F (-12°C) temperatures. Today, the skies have cleared leaving pristine snow covered landscapes set against brilliant blue skies. Weather extremes like these are things many landscape photographers like myself dream about and, this week my dream came true.
In this, and the next two blog posts I’ll feature three photos made during these winter conditions. While this first image “Dressed for Winter” was made using a DSLR camera, it could have also been made with most point-and-shoot cameras and many types of camera phones. There are a few tricks to know, however, that can improve your chance of making better photos in winter. A few of those are described in the Quick Tips below.
While easily viewed with our eyes, snow covered landscapes are among some of the most difficult scenes to photograph. There are several reasons for this. First, while most electronic sensors in cameras do a great job of creating properly exposed images in normal weather conditions, they are easily fooled by the overly bright characteristics of snow. While snow appears white, a color all cameras recognize, it also contains ice crystals which act like millions of tiny mirrors sending beams of reflected sunlight directly into the camera’s sensor making it think the scene is brighter than it really is. This is the reason many photographs of snowy scenes look underexposed or dreary and have gray or blue tints.
Use the Snow Scene Mode: While not popularly known, many digital cameras have a built-in “Snow” mode that can be selected from an on-screen menu or by turning a dial. On Canon’s PowerShot point-and shoot cameras the Snow scene is selected by pointing to a snowman symbol. By choosing that setting, the camera will increase the exposure slightly resulting in a brighter image with more accurate colors. Check your camera’s User Guide to see if has a Snow scene mode and give it a try the next time you’re photographing snow.
Use the Cloudy Setting: On a cloudy Winter day, selecting the Cloudy or Shade scene mode that’s available on a great many digital cameras will usually produce brigher and far more pleasing results than by using your camera’s standard Automatic mode.
Manually Adjusting the Exposure: If you know your way around your camera’s settings, the best way to photograph a snowy scene is to use the Exposure Compensation option (if available on your camera) to increase the brightness of the exposure. Usually increasing the Exposure Compensation by +1 (or +2) overexposes the scene by one full stop (or two), allowing twice as much light into the camera and resulting in a brighter image. This is the technique that was used in the “Dressed for Winter” photo above.