Subject in Snow, An Exposure Thought
With the new snows of the season, I thought I’d answer a common question that floods in this time of year. “How do you (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 (4 legged) or dog has passed by, it’s white, right? The common belief that if there is snow in the scene, automatically dial in +1 exposure compensation. A recommendation that comes from the meters of the 1960s. We’re not in the ’60s. I honestly don’t think there are viewers of your snow photograph who wouldn’t recognize the white stuff on the ground as snow. With that being true, then seeing detail in every crystal of the snow (what +1 might do for you) is not mission critical to tell the viewer the white stuff they are looking at is indeed, snow. With that storytelling in place then, how do I expose for snow? 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.
The key to exposure for both images is the SUBJECT and the RANGE of light in the entire scene 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 Z6/Z7, D5, D850, D500 or D7500 meter will do the rest. When it’s outside the 5 stop range, to deal with the greater range of light I shoot with the Z6/Z7, D5 or D850 and overexpose. This is totally ass-backwards from what I did for thirty years but it brings into play the 6 stop range of those cameras. 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 with shadows filled in by reflected light 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. The wolves, I overexposed the scene and the Bobcat, underexposed. Exposure is way too powerful a tool to just dial in some value of exposure compensation automatically. The world doesn’t need another technically perfect photograph. The world needs another photograph with the passion to move the viewer!