Taking Pictures in the Snow

Often times when you take pictures in the snow with your camera on “auto”, the result is an underexposed photo (too dark). All the white in the snow fools your camera, the meter guesses wrong, and your shots appear muddy and gray. NOTE: Some cameras do better than others. My advice would be if your pictures aren’t turning out dull and gray, then don’t worry about it. Also, auto white balance is sometimes fooled which can also trick the camera and the colors don't come out right. So how do you fix it? Read on…

To avoid dull, drab photos taken in the snow there are a couple simple things you can do to get bright well exposed photos.

  • If your camera has a scene setting, set it to “snow” or “beach”. Your camera meter will account for the conditions and your images will be brighter.
  • If your camera doesn’t have a “scene” setting, or if it isn’t enough, use positive exposure compensation to over-ride the camera meter. Typically falls between +1/3 and +2.0
  • You may also want to try setting your white balance for the conditions (try sunny or cloudy). Sometimes choosing cloudy even when it's sunny out can have a nice effect. It will give your photos a warmer cast, which is often more appealing than a blue cast that is common in snow photos.

Reference your camera manual to learn how to set the scene mode or adjust the compensation (be sure and reset back to “0” when you’re done). If you've misplaced your manual, check the manufacturer website, they often have free down-loadable versions. If you have an older model, pick something close, the menu system may be similar which may help you figure it out. For your convenience I posted links to popular camera manufacturers below to get you started.

Scene modes and exposure compensation are often accessed by dedicated buttons, while others have these settings in the on-screen menu. Check your manual.
 

In the following photos (boring scene, I know, I took them for this article just for illustration) shot with a Canon PowerShot A590IS you can see a significant difference. The first image was shot in “Auto” and the second using the “Snow” scene mode.
 


This snowman was shot with positive exposure compensation (+0.7). The amount of compensation will vary from scene to scene depending on how much snow is in the picture and where the camera meter is metering based on your point of focus.
 

The image of the sledders was +1.0 and the image of the girl in pink +0.7. Sometimes, the main subject will impact how much compensation you need to use. This will also mean that on occassion some of the detail in the snow gets lost from the image being too bright. For snapshots of people a little bit of detail lost in the snow is not that big of deal, and there are things you can do in editing to help bring that detail back if you want.

 The time of day can also have an impact on your images. Some final thoughts to keep in mind.
  • Early morning the sun is less harsh and generally the colors more pleasing. The colors are more true. If it snowed the night before, the snow will have a “fresher” look to it.
  • Mid day, the colors turn out cooler and take on a blue tint.
  • Late in the day the snow can take on a reddish hue.
     
 

What kind of results are you getting?



 
Manufacturer links
The links below take you directly to the support area of the manufacturer, or navigate to the home page of your manufacturer and look for consumer products, support, downloads or something similar. Then choose your model and look for a link to download your owners manual.
Sony
 
 

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