Digital Photography - Creating Digital Photographs in a Winter Wonderland

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

One question I get asked a lot is "Why do my winter photos come out with gray snow instead of white?" And the follow-on question "How can I prevent it from happening again?" These are two questions many winter photographers ponder. Not only is gray snow a problem, so are creating winter compositions.
Gray snow happens because of the way cameras look at the color white. Camera manufacturers make cameras to read every scene as middle tone. In other words, a camera reads a scene as one that reflects back to the camera 18% of the light hitting the subject.
For most scenes, this poses no problem. But, when encountering an extremely bright or dark scene, the camera still wants to set the exposure for middle tone gray. Because white objects reflect up to 90% of the light hitting them, white overpowers the scene and it ends up underexposed and therefore gray snow.
Metering Snow - To get white snow, use one of three ways described below:
1. Using the TTL (Through-The-Lens) meter in your camera, take a meter reading off a gray card, a pair of jeans, rock outcropping or tree trunk. The intent is to meter off something approximately middle tone or 18% reflective. The subject you take your reading from be in the same light as the object you are shooting. Because the camera is programmed to make every scene middle tone, if you take your exposure reading off something middle tone, the exposure will be right including whites. While metering off of your middle tone object, note the shutter speed and aperture readings. Set your camera to Manual mode and set your shutter speed or aperture to these readings, recompose and shoot the scene.
2. Meter off the snow. When metering off snow, have only snow in the viewfinder. Meter the snow using your TTL metering and then add one stop of light to the reading you receive. In manual mode, do this by slowing the shutter speed one stop or opening the aperture one stop. In Program mode, do this by dialing in +1 stop of exposure by using the exposure compensation dial. Opening up one stop is only a starting point. Shoot the scene and view the results. If your snow is still gray, open up an additional half or two-thirds stop and shoot again.
3. The TTL meter in your DSLR is a reflective meter. You can also use an incident meter to obtain a reading by pointing the hemisphere dome of the meter toward the camera, take the reading and set your shutter speed or aperture to those readings.
Winter Scene Composition - Because you most likely will only have the colors white and various shades of gray to black, look for strong graphic shapes and startling contrast when creating a composition. Bare tree branches against white snow or a weathered split-rail fence protruding from a snow drift make good winter subjects.
Barns, fences, country roads, winding rivers, evergreen and deciduous tree stands, and landscapes are all good winter scene candidates.
If you are shooting while the snow is falling, use a slow shutter speed with your camera mounted on a tripod to create white streaks on your image. These white streaks of snow caught falling create the winter mood for the scene. If you use a faster shutter speed while snow is falling, the snow will create a muted background thereby highlighting your subject.
Look for the early morning and/or late afternoon light. The light at these two times of day emits a golden color that dramatizes winter landscape scenes. Also, at this time of day shadows are at their longest thereby offering graphic elements for a photo. The snowflakes from freshly fallen snow add sparkle to a scene by catching light and reflecting it.
The direction of light, in relation to where you are with the camera, directly effects how a scene will record in your camera. The three common directions of light are front-lighting, back-lighting and side-lighting.
Front-lighting is light striking the front of a scene or in other words, the light comes from behind you. When a subject is shot from the front, depth is not shown, so it ends up being a two-dimensional form.
Back-lighting is light striking the scene from behind. The light is shining directly into your face. Metering for a back-lit scene can be tricky. If you want to create a silhouette, meter off the blue sky just to the left or right of the sun. Note the shutter speed and aperture readings. Set your DSLR to those readings recompose making sure the sun is not showing in your viewfinder and shoot. The result will be a strong graphic silhouette. If you don't want a silhouette, open up two stops from your blue sky reading and use your fill flash.
Side-lighting is where the light is coming from either side of the camera. Side-lighting creates strong three-dimensional shapes, textures and shadows making for interesting images.
Winter is a great time to get out and shoot snow scenes. With the absence of vivid color, it is a good time to experiment with graphical shapes and black and white.


Post a Comment