Tips And Tricks

Shooting in the Winter Part 1

One of the major challenges when shooting outdoors in the winter is the snow. The snow presents some interesting challenges that make it one of the toughest scenes to shoot. Typically, when you shoot in the winter with snow on the ground, pictures tend to come out very dull and underexposed if you shoot in automatic or semi automatic modes. But why?

snow scene

Simply put, even the most expensive cameras will get confused when presented with a scene where white is very predominant. The reason is that a camera doesn't see colour; it only sees grey tones and bases its measurements of the light on the grey tones, not white or black. Since you are photographing snow which is white, your camera will try to make the snow a light grey and in doing so it will underexpose your photo.

The great thing is that every camera, whether it is a compact or a digital SLR, has all of the overrides you will need to remedy this situation. Your camera will have a button on the exterior or in the menu of your camera called exposure compensation. This mode allows the photographer to override what the camera thinks is the right exposure by forcing the camera to overexpose or underexpose relative to what it thinks is the correct exposure.

Correct exposure

If you are taking pictures in the snow, have a look at the image on your screen and if it appears to be a little dull or dark, try adjusting your exposure compensation. When you start adjusting the exposure compensation on your camera, you will see a scale that goes from -2 to +2. There are two examples of how exposure compensation may be displayed by your camera. One example is for a compact camera and one for a digital SLR. Keep in mind that every camera is a little bit different with how exposure compensation is displayed.

The general rule of thumb for a winter scene with snow is to set your exposure compensation to +1.5. This effectively tells your camera to brighten the scene and this prevents your snow from coming out grey and your scene will have much better colour.

Good snow scene result

Please note that sometimes your camera has to be in a certain mode to allow you access to exposure compensation. If you are looking for a more detailed and hands-on look at exposure compensation and other features of your camera, take one of Henry's School of Imaging Workshops such as Digital Basics, DSLR Basics or any of our Part 1 user courses which cover this feature in more detail.

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