How To Set Your Meter For Snow

Well it’s still snowing in most of the country, so we might as well enjoy it and take some fun winter photos. If nothing else, it gives us something to do till spring finally arrives.

Since I live in Florida during the winter months (ok…sorry) I have to turn to my favorite photographer, Marsha Hobert, who lives in one of the most beautiful places in the US, Estes Park, Colorado.

Here are some dynamite images she recently took during a snow storm at her house.

Both (above and below) with a Nikon D810, shutter speed 1/200 of a second, aperture f/3.2.  200mm lens. (Photos by Marsha Hobert © 2015).

So what did she do to really zero in on the birds and make these fabulous images?

How about her depth of field?

We know that if we are shooting a portrait image where we don’t want a lot of the background to be sharp, then we need to choose a wide open aperture. See how the background and foreground in Marsha’s images “goes away,” leaving all the emphasis on the subject matter?  To get an image with this shallow depth of field, set your aperture (which controls depth of field), on a low number on your f-stop scale.

For less depth at each aperture stop, use a long lens. The longer the lens you use, the more compression of  foreground and background.

If you are shooting with a point-and-shoot, put the dial on the portrait icon. The computer in the camera will choose as shallow a depth of field as the light will allow.

Cell phones? Just move in as close as you can and shoot! Moving in close will not change the depth of field, but it will keep the focus on the subject. About the best you can manage with a cell.

In terms of metering for a snow photo, remember that the meter wants to balance the exposure for 18% middle gray. (Meters are calibrated to take all the light in the image and mix it together to produce 18% middle gray.)  So with snow, the meter is thinking, “this photo is way too bright so I need to shut down to achieve  middle gray.” When the meter shuts down the subject gets even less exposure. So we have to either open up our aperture by one or two stops, or slow down the shutter.

Hey wait… we’re animal photographers. We are shooting action. We can’t choose a slower shutter speed unless we want a blurred image. And we don’t. So our choice is to open up the aperture to get the correct exposure with snow.

There’s another way if you are doing a close up portrait (as opposed to a landscape with a lot of snow in it where this technique won’t work).  Set your meter on spot metering, aim your meter on the subject so you are reading just the subject, then adjust the exposure  and shoot.  Tricky with birds who are not posing, but give it some practice and see what you are able to capture.

Good shooting!

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