You only need to take a few photos in the snow to see it. There are all sorts of problems with shooting photos with all that snow! Have you been to the top of a mountain on a sunny day and been less than impressed with your camera’s results? Snow and sunshine are a tough combination. But even on a bright overcast day the same problems persist. People turn out really dark and the snow can seem gray or flat. So, what’s the deal? Cameras are supposed to be smart and figure that out for you, right?

Shooting in the Snow
Top: light meter set normal Bottom: Light meter set to over expose 1 stop – Photo by Erika Klimecky

First I’ll explain what’s happening (for all you techies out there) then I’ll show you how to fix it.

Your camera has a light meter and its job is to assess the average light for the scene you are shooting. It tells the camera to expose so that the average shade going into the camera is middle gray. (Middle gray is exactly half black and half white). When the majority of your photo is snow (white, exacerbated by bright mid-summer sun) it sees all the brightness and attempts to make it middle gray. This makes the average exposure for the photo much darker than it should normally be. The result is a photo that is too dark. Incidentally, the same thing happens if you shoot completely white wall. The photo will come out gray.

There are 2 ways to fix this. The first one is simply to get close to the subjects and fill your camera frame with more people (or darker objects) than snow. This gives the light meter a chance to average dark and white and come up with middle gray. Fill more of your frame with people or add a stand of trees or rocks so the camera can average all the shades together.

Shooting in the Snow
Fill the frame with people – Photo by Erika Klimecky

Snow in July with EV (exposure compensation value) of +1 stop. This is closer to the correct exposure

The other way to do this, on cameras that have an “exposure compensation” button is to adjust the camera to overexpose by about 1 full stop. Exposure compensation is also called EV or exposure value. The day I shot these it was closer to 2 full stops over exposed. Overexposing will make a photo lighter than the meter normally wants to. In effect it overrides the meter and tells the camera to let in more light. Then you can compose the photo with your people in the distance and it will still expose correctly. Don’t forget to turn your EV back to normal when you are done with your snowy scenes, or the rest of your shots will be underexposed.

Good luck and happy shooting!

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