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Photography in the Snow

Original article:  Photograph in the Snow

             You excitedly pull off the highway. Several hours ago, you switched off the car radio - after several hours of static that turned into white noise - and the silence has heightened your sensitivity to the sound of your tires crunching the ice crystals. You think twice about taking the photograph of the snow scene, but you're already off the highway. The shocking cold hits you when you open the door and again you have doubts about how good a scene it really is, but you've already bundled up in your jacket. You want a little distance from the highway and a little altitude in your shot, so you start out across the snow drift. After a few wobbly steps you think this isn't so bad, but then your next step postholes your foot up near you knees. At about this point you're thinking about how smart it is to be wandering in a snow drift and have forgotten your doubts about how good the shot is. But then again you've come this far. You finally get into position and you notice that the altitude has you out of breath. You think your tripod would be good - the tripod that is snug and warm inside the car - but decide against going back to the car. After all catching your breath will give you time to compose the shot and take in the view.

The snow scene shot turns out to be dark and under exposed. The snow looks dirty and grey. Everything else looks dark without detail.

Photography in the snow requires the photographer to understand a few simple things. The camera's metering system assumes that the typical composition will evaluate to a middle grey. In other words, if you were to add up the bright tones with the dark tones and all the middle tones they would average out to a middle grey. So when that meter is presented with a scene that is dominated by white (snow, sand) it gets confused and it exposes so that the white becomes grey. The resulting photography is under exposed. As in the above picture, the photographer can compensate for the bright snow by over exposing (+1 2/3 stops in above picture).

The photographer will have to experiment and bracket a few shots to get the best exposure. A good starting point for brilliant, clean, sunlit snow under a blue sky is to add +3 stops to the meter reading. For snow in cloudy bright conditions add +2. And for snow on an overcast day add +1.

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