Sunday, January 22, 2012

Shooting Scenes in a Snow Storm

untitled-2 January 21, 2012-158It’s rather nasty out today, so I’ve got some time to share some tips.

Through-the-lens metering is a wonderful thing. Camera meters have the difficult job of taking what we see and trying to figure out how we would like to see it…which is fool-hardy. We all have different senses of aesthetics so in order to help us get what we want, our cameras have the ability to override and modify what the camera is going to do with the with the light to produce an image.

But first, you have to understand that the camera is going to try to figure out what the white balance and the proper exposure should be based on shutter speed, aperture, sensitivity (ISO) setting and the amount of light available.

The camera is going to try to average out the light values based on the meter mode and spit back an image that is a compromise between the highlight and shadow values that the meter registered.  With a little luck, the highlights will not be blown out, the shadows will have detail and the mid tones will be in the middle somewhere.

If you want to be precise, camera exposures should be set by taking a Gray Card exposure in the light conditions of your subject. A Gray Card is a card that reflects 18% of the light evenly across the visible spectrum. You point your camera at the Gray Card and adjust the exposure accordingly. After you lock down the ISO, aperture, shutter speed and white balance, you can shoot anything in that lighting condition and get a technically correct exposure.

What this all means is that if you point your camera at a snow bank, it spits back an image of a gray snow bank because your meter, as sophisticated as it is, is calibrated to spit back an image based on an exposure set to an 18% Gray Card. So it sees the snow bank and does its job. It gives you an 18% gray snow bank.

Okeydokey, now that we got that concept, your camera's meter is going to tell your camera how set the exposure based as if it were looking at an 18% gray card. What are ya going to do?

You’re going to out-think your camera. You are going to lengthen your exposure. “Steve, you want us to increase the exposure time when shooting white on rice in sunlight?” Yes. Take a look at this example.

Shot with center weighted metering, this photo is under exposed. Look at how gray it is. Snow is not gray, it is white. And I’m telling you, if you think that lengthening an exposure for snow is wack, then you need to take a leap of faith and give it a go.

Here I have ISO at 320, the aperture is set at f5.6, the camera sets  the exposure to 1/1000th of a second. My exposure compensation was set to 0.0EV.

©2012 Steve Borichevsky

Not too bad, the dark boats in the center help balance out the photo, but we can do better.

In the next photo, I’ve increased the exposure by 1 EV and the camera fired the shot at 1/500th of a second. (Did you notice that it halved the shutter speed? It let twice as much light hit the sensor.)

©2012 Steve Borichevsky

So that’s not too bad, just for safety, I increased the exposure value to 1-2/3 EV. This increased the shutter speed to 1/320 second. And now we see that the white snow is white.

©2012 Steve Borichevsky

Now somewhere between 1 and 2 EVs should be something that you will like. And it is going to depend on the final mood you want to set. For example, in the first photo, I could write a piece about how dark and stormy it was out and it would pass. The final is pretty darn close to what I saw, how my eyes adjusted to the scene.

Now just for giggles, back in the dark room, I took the first photo and increased the exposure by 1.6 stops. How did I get away with that? I shoot in RAW format which gives me more latitude to make corrections in the dark room.

©2012 Steve Borichevsky

So tip #1, when shooting snow, increase your exposure by 1 to 3 stops.

Tip #2, shooting in RAW gives you more latitude for exposure adjustment in the dark room. There is a bit more tweaking that this photo needs, but today I just wanted to pass off a tip to help you get whiter whites and darker darks. (Kinda’ sounds like a soap add.)

Darker darks? Yes, if you are shooting something black with a black background, your meter is going to try to make it gray. So what are you going to do? You are going to decrease your exposure. Give it a go!


Sinbad and I on the Loose said...

That was very interesting and informative. Of course I will have to read it a couple more times. I was going to comment that in doing my research on night photography a couple of photographers said to underexpose up to a full stop. This seemed odd (just as does over exposing for white snow) for shooting in the dark illuminated only by street lights, yet I followed their advice and yes, those shots looked better. Well at the end of your piece here, you said that very same thing. What a strange world cameraland is. Good post Steve.

Roy said...

Good info Steve.

Shenandoah Bed and Breakfast said...

Steve, you share some good tips and real experiences you've faced. This blog post gives guidelines when shooting the beauty in snow storm.

Ginny said...

Great Blog! So glad I found it. Great pics too!

Judy said...

I was wondering how to make the snow more white on a cloudy day...
I love the first capture with the falling snow hiding the ship and the lighthouse!

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