Snow : exposure compensation

Snow_covered_boots_in_treeLondon grinds to a halt when it snows. Waking one morning I found that six inches had fallen overnight. The only way to travel was on foot, so I dressed warmly, put on boots and headed out with a camera.

I love taking snowscapes, but getting your exposure right can be tricky. To understand exposure, you need to know how the meter in your camera works. Point the camera at a subject and the meter will measure the light that’s reflected back. Your meter assumes that it’s looking at a scene of medium (18%) grey tones. So if you follow the meter reading, the main subject in your photo will come out mid-grey. Usually the result will be acceptable, because most subjects have a range of tones around mid-grey. That’s why meters were designed that way.

But what about snow? You want it to come out white, with some detail, so more exposure is needed than the meter says. Try two extra stops (for example f/5.6 instead of f/11) or expose for longer (say 1/60th of a second instead of 1/250th). With a digital camera you have instant feedback, so check your results.

Alternatively, use a separate hand-held incident light meter if you have one. The meter has a translucent round ball that measures the light falling on it. Place the ball in the same light as your subject and the meter reading will be spot on, whether the subject is a snowscape or a black cat.

For this picture I needed to separate the snow from the bleached out sky, so I tried three different exposures : 2.0 extra stops, then 1.5 and finally 2.5 extra stops. Here 2.0 stops of compensation gave the best result.

Leave a comment if you’d like to share your experience of shooting in the snow.

6 Responses to “Snow : exposure compensation”
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