Photographing snow brings a new challenge for many photographers, who struggle to take control of their camera’s metering system amid the winter landscape’s extreme contrast and reflective surfaces. Follow the camera tips below and you’ll soon feel confident exposing your winter landscape photography in any weather.
Modern digital cameras are equipped with very accurate exposure meters, but they still have to be used properly to get well-exposed pictures.
Your camera’s meter works by measuring reflected light and then calculating what the best exposure should be. The problem when photographing snow is that the light reflected from a light subject is very different from that reflected from a dark subject, and this can cause the camera’s meter to get the exposure wrong.
If there’s a high proportion of light tones in the scene you’re shooting, such as a wide expanse of sky, bright water or photographing snow, your camera will under-expose and your image will be too dark.
How to fix metering woes when photographing snow
Meter from a midtone
Look for a midtone within the scene that you are photographing and use Partial or Spot metering to take the reading using Manual exposure mode. Set the aperture to f/16 when shooting landscapes and then adjust the shutter speed until the indicator is lined up at 0 on the Exposure Level Indicator.
Use Exposure Lock
In Aperture Priority mode you can still retain control by locking the meter readings using the AE Lock button. Use Partial or Spot metering to take a reading from a midtone as before, then press and hold down AE Lock while recomposing and taking the shot.
Exposing for snow
When there is no midtone to meter from, use the Exposure Compensation button to avoid under-exposure. For white or highly reflective scenes – pictures of snow, for example – dial in around +2 on the compensation scale. Check the histogram and adjust the amount of compensation if necessary.
Winter photography: professional ways of working with seasonal light and textures
53 essential photo ideas for winter
10 quick landscape photography tips
Low-light photography tips for winter seascape pictures