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on Jan 6, 2009 in Landscape Photography

How Do YOU Expose for Snow?

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A great question of late from readers has been, “How do you (as in Moose) expose for snow?” Of course living in snow, I have a number of off the cuff answers, but I’ll move past those and get to the heart of the question as I look at it. What color is snow? Unless a Moose or dog has passed by, it’s white, right? I honestly don’t think there are few viewers of your photography who wouldn’t recognize the white stuff on the ground as snow. If that is true, then seeing detail in every crystal of the snow is not mission critical to tell the viewer the white stuff they are looking at is indeed, snow. With that assumption in place, why would one automatically dial in +1 exposure comp just because you’re shooting in snow? That is the common wisdom and common thread in the emails that are coming in. Exposure is YOUR greatest tool to express the feeling, mood and life in your photograph. Just because you see something white, don’t automatically do anything.

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We have two photos here, both of snow. The feel of both is totally different. The top photo has a bluish-gray cast, the bottom photo the snow is your basic snow white. The top image makes me feel cold, that’s why I underexposed it in camera and did not remove the color cast in post. The bottom image, I exposed normally (no comp) and did remove the color cast in post. The key to both images is the RANGE of light in the entire sceneĀ  and not the fact there is snow in the scene. I exposed for the subject and not the white stuff. Like with most of my photography, I try to keep the light range within 3 stops. When that’s the case, then I just have to click, the D3’s meter will do the rest. When it’s outside that 3-5 stop range, well then you have to resort to something like this to deal with the greater range of light. Look at the light between the photos in that post and this. Can YOU see the difference in the light falling on the scene? It is exacerbated by the snow, but not determined in whole by the presence of snow.

SO how does Moose expose for snow? Just like any other scene, it depends on the subject, the light on the subject, the light on the rest of the stage and then the story I want to tell within the confines of my viewfinder. Exposure is way too powerful a tool to just dial in some value of exposure compensation. The world doesn’t need another technically perfect photograph. The world needs another photograph with passion to move the viewer!

Photos captured by D3, 200-400VR / 14-24AFS on Lexar UDMA digital film