Snow is a great part of the winter landscape. It has a huge effect on the environment. It essentially "stores" water so that it enters the ground more slowly and it insulates the ground so that plants and little critters can live in much more comfortable conditions. Down at ground level, there is no wind, and temperatures are typically near 30 degrees regardless of the outside air temperatures. This is true in most areas with snow unless the ground is deeply frozen before it snows.
I love to get out and photograph the snow. This shot is from a couple of weeks ago up in the San Gabriel Mountains on the north side of the Los Angeles basin.
Photographically, there are several things important to note about this shot:
- First, it was taken nearly 20 minutes after sunset. I find that there are often wonderful colors after sunset. The first 5-10 minutes can be dull, but then the sky often gets a glow that is reflected on the snow. This light is less harsh than the light that comes directly from a sunset, although that light can reflect off of the snow quite nicely, too.
- Second, exposure has been adjusted to take into account the brightness of the scene from the snow and sky. Camera meters will want to make scenes like this too dark. They don't know the difference between brightness from light or when a subject is light in tone. They just want everything to be middle gray, which then makes snow look dingy and dirty. Typically, you will need to increase exposure by 1-2 f-stops. You can always bracket a bit if you are not sure.
The right exposure does make a difference. Though you can easily make dark snow look white in the digital darkroom, an underexposed photo will never have the complete range of tonalities and color that a properly exposed shot will have. The "corrected" underexposed photo will usually be more contrasty and have less detail and color in the dark areas.
- Outdoor Photographer editor at large and author Rob Sheppard teaches many excellent online photography classes at BetterPhoto.com, including The Magic of F-stops: Choosing the Right Aperture, Creating Storytelling Photos, and Impact in Your Photographs: The Wow Factor.
- For another take on snow exposures, check out BetterPhoto instructor Jim Zuckerman's photography article: Snow Photography: How to Get a Perfect Digital Exposure!