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How to shoot amazing winter landscapes – Part 2: camera settings

Snow should look white and crisp in a scene, without being totally blown out (Image credit: Future)

With winter images, a common problem is that bright snowy areas often look grey. All that white fools your camera meter into underexposing scenes, so if you take greater creative control over your settings, you'll get a result that’s truer to the scene in front of you. 

In automatic shooting modes, you can add a stop of positive exposure compensation. In Manual mode, tweak the settings so the light meter is about one stop over the given reading. 

When you use the histogram to review images, remember you’re not looking always looking for a uniform distribution of tones. 

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3 steps for setting a Custom white balance

Shooting in raw mode means you can tweak the white balance afterwards in image-editing software – but why not save time and make it accurate in-camera with a manual approach?

(Image credit: Future)

1. Take a calibrated image

You’ll need a grey card or calibrated filter to take a reference shot and set your custom white balance. We used an ExpoDisc here, placing it over the front of the lens. The lens was pointed towards our subject, and we captured a shot with our intended settings. The reference image didn’t need to be sharp, so we used manual focus to stop the lens’ autofocus hunting.

(Image credit: Future)

2. Set custom mode

Setting your camera to Shade or Auto white balance might seem wise for snowy subjects, but this choice can often render scenes overly yellow and ruin an otherwise frosty atmosphere. (See the before and after examples above.) Instead, head to your camera’s shooting menu and set the
white balance to Custom.

(Image credit: Future)

3. Use the reference shot

When you choose the Custom white balance, you’ll need to select your reference image (which should be a blank image). If  you’ve used a grey card, the card should completely fill the frame of the shot. Remember to take another shot every time the light, subject or location changes, which will change your Custom white balance too.

(Image credit: Future)

Using exposure compensation

Add in some positive exposure compensation so that bright, white scenes are captured accurately (Image credit: Future)

Left to its own automatic devices, a camera meter will try to record as much detail as possible in a scene – especially in the highlights. 

Normally, this is what you want, but with a very bright background of snow, this means the meter will generally underexpose, rendering whites as dull greys. 

Dial in a stop or two of positive exposure compensation to ensure your scene is correctly exposed, and then review the histogram of your images to check that whites aren’t being clipped on the right.

Positive exposure compensation means the snow in this scene is white instead of grey (Image credit: Future)

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Lauren Scott

Lauren is the editor of Digital Photographer magazine, a practical-focused publication that inspires hobbyists and seasoned pros alike to take truly phenomenal shots and get the best results from their kit. 


An experienced photography journalist, she has served as technique editor for both PhotoPlus: The Canon Magazine and DCW's sister publication, Digital Camera magazine. When taking photos in her spare time, Lauren can usually be found romping around the countryside or visiting the coast.