Insider’s View – Snow is white, isn’t it?

Now the winter has also announced its presence in the southern parts of Sweden. Yesterday we were hit by a heavy snowstorm, and as usual the traffic was blocked for hours and even more predictable the train was not in time or did not work at all. “We were not expecting any snow for the moment” …. kind of strange since this has happened every year as long as I can remember. Never the less this gives great opportunities for outdoors landscape photography. Irrespectively if you prefer the big views or the more intimate landscape there is a lot fun out there for the moment. Here are a few tips I can pass along concerning snow photography:

 

Snow is white, isn’t it?

Exposure

Of course snow is white at least this is what we assume. Often snow turns out grey or blue on our photos. Why is it like this? Basically there are two things to be aware of. In the first place it is the cameras inability to get the exposure right. In a picture with a lot of white snow the camera still “assume” the mid-tone in your picture is GREAY, which means it will of course adjust the exposure by decreasing the light by either shortening the exposure time or decreasing the aperture (depends on which priority you have chosen on your camera). This is easily fixed. Most digital cameras have the possibility for exposure compensation. So what you actually do is to focus on your motive with let’s say aperture priority and fire. Now you have an idea about the aperture/time range you are working in; then turn the camera to manual and set the same values and set exposure compensation on something between +1 to +2 (normally that works but of course it depends on the brightness of the motive). You also realize that after switching to manual you could also just “overexpose” the picture to the same magnitude meanwhile looking at the reading on your display. Another lazy way is just to use your Automatic Exposure Bracketing function (AEB), which you adjust in about the same way, meaning increments +1 or +1½. In this mode the camera takes three pictures with an average exposure, one over and one under exposure and then you can use the most appropriate one.

A slightly different way to tackle the problem is to see if you have anything neutrally gray within your sight (and with approximately the same lightening conditions) and take a point reading which you then use for your photo – this is of course to “give” the camera it neutral grey and it is happy (and it will make you happy).

If you feel familiar with the histograms this will also give you a clear indication in which way to compensate. An underexposed picture is normally shifted to the left, meaning you have to shift the histogram to the right=compensate with more light. Take some pictures and compare before and after and it will be it obvious. It is sometimes valuable to take a short look at your histogram, since you might misjudge your LCD display, which often is light compensated.

PS: Remember this will also apply on the beach or in other brightly light environments!

 

White balance

Secondly, the snow sometimes gets more blue then you expected. Here we are dealing with the cameras inability to get the color or white balance right. If you are using the white balance on automatic it tends to deliver snowy landscapes with a bluish tint (particularly in the shadows). One way to not avoid but to control for this is to put your camera on a fix setting. I almost always have my camera on daylight (meaning 5200K) which normally does the trick, at least in the sense that I have control over what I get. This means if there is blue light I also get blue light in my picture, but on the other hand it is easy to change afterwards. Some photographers like to use the camera setting Cloudy in these situations. In fact it just means we are using different set points, since cloudy is defined as 6500K, and therefor by definition means warmer colors and less blue. As you realize it is not easy to avoid this problem, but my strategy is – better to control it then let the camera decide for you. This has one import consequence, if you are photographing late in the afternoon and actually want to catch the BLUE light do not let the cameras automatic white balance destroy it by compensating in the other direction (which it does).

 

As the camera see it

After exposure adjustment


If you don’t get it right in the first place

If you don’t get it exactly right in the first place there is no need for panic, but to do it easy and with good results there is one prerequisite – use the RAW format if you can. If you do that you have very good possibilities to fine tune your pictures in your digital darkroom.

Whatever software you are using there are always different easy ways to adjust the white balance. Either you have presets which you can start with like in Lightroom or you can use “sliders” to fine tune the pictures to you preferred white balance meanwhile looking at the picture.

Another approach is to us a “pipet” to sample the white point in the picture. You apply the pipet to the area you would like to be white and the white balance will be adjusted accordingly. Very simple but not always give the result you desire. One way to increase the likelihood for a good result is to magnify the picture before the sampling. This will make it easier to hit the right spot.

If you are photographing during sunrise or sunset you might get some wonderful orange-yellow colors on the sky or elsewhere which you like to preserve. If you adjust for the blue light you will likely exaggerate your warm colors. This is normally very nice to make a contrast between the bluish and the orange colors, so in this case it might be worth apply a selective adjustment of the blue and orange-yellow colors (e.g. by applying layer masks before adjusting the color balance).

 

Tips on what to do taking snowy landscapes

  • Use exposure compensation in the way you prefer
  • Use neutral grey objects if available
  • Use manual mode
  • Take before and after picture
  • Check the histogram (this is better since most LCD displays compensate for the light environment)
  • Preselect white balance (either daylight or cloudy)
  • Better to control the white balance then let the camera decide
  • Use the RAW format
  • Fine tune the white balance (selectively if you like)

 

I hope this will help you to make some amassing snow landscape or ice photos, but as always the most import – EXPERIMENT and have FUN!


 

What’s coming next?

Now when the Christmas sale is almost over I have a new upcoming Corporate Image Art Package collections planned for early 2013. First on the field will be a corporate campaign starting up in January and a little bit later I will launch a new Spring collection. On top of that there will be a new secret collection, which I will tell you more about in 2013.

 

Wishing you a Great Day

Thorsten

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