Even the most mundane of scenes can be transformed into a place of beauty and wonder with snow!
It's true! After a nice snow, I find myself getting out my camera to photograph vistas that I wouldn't even think twice about without the white stuff. There's just something about snow that makes everything pretty and exciting.
But as beautiful as snow is to look at, it's actually a bit tricky to photograph. Let's look at some things to consider when photographing the white stuff.
The biggest problem that you'll run into when photographing a snow-covered scene is getting the exposure right. All that white stuff has a tendency to wreck havoc with your camera's light meter. The large area of whiteness fools your meter into thinking that the scene is brighter than it actually is and the result is that, left to it's own devices, a snowy scene will often be underexposed when you photograph it, rendering all that beautiful white snow an icky gray.
To get the exposure right, try playing with your camera's exposure compensation settings to increase the exposure. Increasing the exposure by 1-1.5 stops will usually do the trick.
You can see the effect here by looking at these pictures of a snowy scene. The top picture is taken with the exposure recommended by the camera's light meter and the bottom one is taken with exposure compensation increasing the exposure by 1.25 stops. Big difference.
You will often notice that pictures of snow scenes show a bluish tint, especially those taken in the shade. That's due to the scene being illuminated with the light reflected from a blue sky. And that's where your camera's white balance setting comes in. The right white balance setting can correct for this blue tint and make the scene look the way that your eye sees it – white and fluffy.
If you are shooting in the RAW format, your camera's white balance setting really doesn't matter since you can change the image color when the photo is processed in your photo editing software. But if you are shooting Jpeg, you definitely want to make sure that the white balance is right if you want to avoid ending up with lots of blue snow shots.
To get the white balance right, set your white balance setting to 'Cloudy' or 'Shade' or use a custom white balance setting.
You can see the effect of the white balance setting in the photos below. The top picture was taken using the camera's Daylight white balance setting and the second was taken using the Cloudy setting:
The extreme lighting of snow scenes caused by the bright whiteness of the snow and the dark shadows in areas of shade can make it difficult to get the exposure right throughout the image.
This is exactly the type of scene made for HDR. HDR stand for High Dynamic Range. In HDR photography, multiple images of the scene are taken, each at different exposure settings. The photos are then combined to make one well-exposed image, either within the camera using a built-in HDR feature or using software such as Photoshop or Photoshop Elements.
For more about working with multiple exposure in Photoshop Elements, see Blending Exposures in Photoshop Elements 12.
Cold weather can drain your camera's batteries fast!
For that reason, it's important to keep a spare, fully charged battery on hand, especially if you are planning on being outside for a while. And, be sure to keep the spare in an inside pocket rather than in your camera bag, to keep it warm and cozy and away from the cold elements.
Camera gear is sensitive equipment and it's important to learn how to work with that equipment and protect it when shooting out in the harsh, cold elements of a snowy winter day.
Watch out for condensation. When you first take your camera outside where it's cold from the warmth of the indoors, chances are that you're going to see some mist and condensation on the camera's lens and that can ruin your photos. So instead of shooting as soon as you walk outdoors, wait a few minutes to let the camera and lens acclimate to the colder temperatures.
Protect your gear with quality camera bag or carrying case and keep your camera in that case whenever it's not being used. If it's snowing, keep your equipment dry with a rain sleeve or cover or tuck it inside your coat or under a hat. Avoid changing lenses while outside in the cold.
Mike Browne, of Photography Exposed, has done a series of videos on snow photography that I think you'll find helpful:
By the way, Mike does a lot of really helpful photography videos. To see more of his stuff, check out his channel on Youtube.com.
And for more on snow photography, see Shooting in the Snow.
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We've seen how managing the ISO setting allows you to control the amount of grain that shows in your photos. But it does more than that. Understanding and working with the ISO setting gives us added flexibility in terms of setting the other two exposure settings–aperture and shutter speed.
The bottom line is that ISO is an important and useful tool, and one that you will want to be comfortable with if you are looking to take creative control of your exposure.