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Picture Perfect: How to Photograph Snow

Now that it's finally falling, here's how you can take fantastic pictures of snow.

*Originally published December 2011.

Sooner or later, snow will arrive. When it does, you’ll rush out to take photos of snow angels, frolicking kids and puppies and the snowman on the front lawn.

You’ll see bright white flakes. If you aren’t careful, your camera will see — well, look at the first photograph.

Your camera will see gray.

The fix is quick and easy. Go to your exposure compensation screen. It might be accessible with a dial or button on the camera itself, or you might have to go into your advanced menu. When you find it, change the settings to increase the camera's exposure. Try going to +1 or +2 on the exposure scale. Lock in the change, and go retake the photo.

Chances are, it will look like the second picture, which has bright white powder.

If you aren't concerned about the technical aspects of photography, you can stop reading now. Thanks for reading and be sure to share your photos on Patch.

If you want to know why this works, continue reading.

When it comes to setting exposures, photography uses a scale that stretches from the purest black to the purest white. It’s called a grayscale, and it's a holdover from black and white photography.

When the camera takes an exposure, it averages the light reflecting from the subjects and renders it as “middle gray,” or “18 percent gray.”  Then the machine uses that tone to set exposure, shutter speed and ISO, or the sensitivity of the sensor.

But snow reflects much more than 18 percent of the light falling on it. Snow is closer to purest white. If you don’t change the exposure compensation, the snow is underexposed. You get a picture that resembles the first shot.

By shifting the exposure compensation to the right of the scale, you’re tricking the camera into taking more reflective light into account when determining exposure.

Here are a couple of tips for shooting snow:

  • Increase the exposure compensation to make sure the snow is photographed accurately. Use trial and error to determine the best amount of extra exposure, but setting the scale at +1 or +2 is a good guide.
  • Check the camera's white balance to get the correct color temperature. If the day is overcast, use the camera's cloudy setting.
  • Protect the camera to keep it free from moisture.
  • Once you're finished, be sure to return the exposure compensation setting to zero.

We know snow is on the way; we just don't know when it will arrive. Be sure to share your photos on Patch.

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