For those of you who love snow (me!) and really enjoy shooting great pictures in the snow, you might appreciate this small list of helpful tips for achieving proper exposure while shooting in the snow.
For starters, it's important to know a little bit about metering. As the amateur digital photography market continues to absolutely explode, more and more folks are buying awesome DSLR's with very spiffy TTL (Through-The-Lens) metering capabilities, but are totally unaware how to use them. Metering is key when working in the snow, especially if the sun is shining brightly. Most TTL meters register @ 18% gray, so your whites are typically going to be underexposed if you trust the meter. You are going to have to adjust your camera settings by a 1/3 of a stop, (so you are absolutely going to have to shoot in manual mode in order to perfect shooting in the snow.) Opening up the f/stop is going to allow that snow to be a brighter white, as it should be.
If at all possible I would suggest using a spot meter when trying to gain the proper balance between your highlights and shadows in such challenging "white out" conditions. I learned to "bracket" my exposures back when shooting film and I continue to do so while shooting digital. Find your reading and shoot one f/stop above and below the suggested exposure. (There's lot's more to say about metering in general, so we'll have to touch on that in a separate post later.)
Another useful tip is to pay attention to your light source(s) and where your subject is in relation to the key light and reflective light. Depending on your subject (dark, light, midtones), you'll probably have to blow out the snowy background to obtain proper exposure. Just be careful, because it's easy to underexpose your subject while shooting in the snow. The trick is to find that proper balance by adjusting shutter speed, ISO and f/stop. (This is another topic that we'll have to come back too, because "proper exposure" is such a subjective notion these days.)
One more thing to mention is your color temperature. If it's off, it's going to show up for sure while shooting white snow. Most digital shooters adjust their color temperature during the editing phase after they have already captured their images. This is very achievable if you are a RAW shooter. RAW files make these types of adjustments possible, especially if you are using the proper editing software. If you don't have RAW shooting capabilities, then pay attention to what your white balance setting is on in your camera. This is yet another beast to post about!
While some of you may have found this post totally boring, I hope it was helpful to those of you who are curious about the technical side of photography! Take the time to learn about your equipment and don't rely solely on "P" mode!
Until next time...happy shooting! (hopefully in the snow!) :)