Some of the photos in this post are gulls shot in the snow. That is a white bird on a white background. The post on Monday, Winging It – Gulls in Flight Part 2, had many of the birds photographed on a gray, snowy day, November 30. That post gave you some insight into shooting birds in flight, but here we look at tackling the snow.
I don’t claim mastery of snow, but I have learned some helpful techniques to share.
It is tricky getting the snow white with the proper exposure that balances the details of the bird. The snow is so bright and reflects so much light that the camera is fooled into sensoring more light than actually is present, underexposing the image. This can occur over water too. The camera can not compensate to get a good light reading.
So many times you end up with blue or gray snow as a result. Some of these images, I exposed a little darker and the snow went slightly gray. I did this on purpose to accentuate the actual gloominess of the day. Blue gives a sense of the coldness of a day, so having either is not really wrong.
There is no such thing as incorrect exposure technically, as it depends on what you are trying to convey. But… how do you get an exposure without blowing out highlight or shadow detail?
The very bright snow acts as a second light source by reflecting sunlight or cloud cover from the ground. A subject will often be underexposed if the camera picks up on the brighter background to determine the exposure. Spot metering can help, by focusing on what you want properly exposed. It helps in situations where the background is too bright.
To learn about spot metering and if your Nikon DSLR can be set to it, see this site.
Most of the time the preset white balance cannot handle the snow either, resulting in a blue cast in all your snow images. Many point and shoot cameras have a Winter Mode and it is really helpful at getting a better exposure. My D7000 even has a snow/beach mode, but I never use it. I will use modes on my Nikon P510 though since I have more limited manual setting adjustments, like the one listed below. The P510 has a Snow Mode.
On a typical dull day with the D7000, I use exposure compensation of +1 and do a test photo to see if that is enough. Or if your camera does not have the Exposure Compensation feature, just open the lens by a full stop to open up shadows lost in snow scenes. How you know if detail will be lost in highlights and shadow…
I keep my eye on the histogram. The histogram is on professional cameras as well as many consumer models like my P510. Here it is set in Snow Mode shown below and the red arrow points to the histogram. Snow Mode helps the highlights in that graph, but I could focus a bit differently to get the graph more to the right. The shadow detail would suffer a bit.
The histogram when shooting snow should be more to the right, indicating that the image has bright highlights, yet still has texture. If the histogram is in the middle like normally desired, the snow will appear gray. If you expose for midtones, this is when you would dial in for positive exposure compensation. Too far right, the image is clipped and the snow will blow out with no texture at all. This is not as complicated as it sounds, so if you read up on histograms, it will help you improve all your photographs at anytime of year. Here is a professional site where you can read up on histograms and shooting in snow. They give much more detailed information than I have posted.
If you don’t know where to find the histogram in the menu of your camera, you should try to find out. You will be amazed at its usefulness and valuable information.
If you own a polarizing filter, use it. Winter light can be harsh at times.
Do you make any camera adjustments for snow?
I am not an expert by any means, but shooting on snow is one of the more difficult shots to get good exposure. Use the histogram, Exposure Compensation, polarizing filter, or the Snow Mode on your smaller cameras and you will have added success.
And don’t forget about shooting later in the day or early morning. The snow glistens at those times.
Snow or no snow, gulls are a fun bird to photograph.
And since I was saying snow should be white, I edited two of these images for brightness and a tad less messy snow, the first and last photos. Editing takes time and usually I do it very minimally. Both images required a number of steps to get a clean, white background of snow and fine tune the bird. Honestly though, the other photos are fine with me!
Monday, see how I make an easy homemade Christmas wreath using greens from the garden. I show you how wreaths that you buy are made and also, where you get ideas for those to make yourself. Thursday Thoughts, Seasonal Photo Inspiration and what to do to get some.