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Exposing for Snow

In Tip #1 (You Make Me Feel So Gray), I discussed how camera light meters want to make your subjects look gray. This is particularly troublesome when photographing snow scenes, so I thought I would revisit the procedures for "whitening" your snow photos.

When your camera meter is pointed at a snow scene, the meter "thinks" that it is measuring a very bright scene and recommends an exposure that makes the white snow appear gray (midtone, or darker than white). Since most of us would like our snow to appear white, we need to overexpose from the meter reading (be sure to meter just snow). The amount of overexposure necessary to do this varies, depending upon the lighting conditions, the film that you are using, and just how white you want your snow to look.

For starters, a one stop overexposure is a safe bet to whiten just a bit. A +1 exposure is also likely to be your best bet on overcast days. A 1.5 - 2 stop overexposure is generally where I find that I like my snow scenes. This is generally the range for where the snow will appear bright, but still retain detail. This is also a good start on overcast but bright days. If you like your snow very clean and bright with little detail, use a +2.5 - 3 stop overexposure, especially on very bright, cloudless days. In all cases, bracket your exposures. I sometimes find that my starting exposure is not always the most appealing.

If you are using an automatic (point and shoot camera) and you have an exposure lock button, you can compensate by using the following procedure: Fill the frame of the viewfinder with a DARKER area and depress the exposure lock button. The camera meter will overexpose the scene based upon the dark area that you metered. Caution needs to be exercised so that the metered scene is not too dark. To make sure that you get the shot, shoot at least one metered in this way, and another exposed automatically.

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