Why Is My Snow Gray?…Or How To Set Your Meter For Correct Exposure of Snow, Part Two.

Last week we discussed the ways to set your meter for snow when you are taking a close up image of an animal where you don’t want much depth of field.

That scenario is much easier than taking a snow scenic where you want to show the snow scenery as well as the animals.

With a snow close up, you can fill the viewfinder with the subject matter so that the meter reads the animal and bases the exposure on the animal without having to take into account the white  snow. (Look at Marsha Hobert’s bird photos in the last blog.)  If it is snowing, and you use a  spot meter, the exposure will be based almost entirely on the animal’s color instead of the white snow.

With a snow scenic, the rules are  different because the meter is going to read all that snow and want to shut down a lot. Remember the rule. Meters are calibrated for middle gray. (Today the digital terminology is “calibrated for white balance,” but it’s the same thing and it is much easier to visualize middle gray than white balance.) White balance, what the heck is that? Ok, I know what it is, but let’s just stick to simple middle gray.

In a nut shell, the meter takes all the light hitting the sensor and tries to average it all together for a middle gray exposure. It’s a computer after all, so it doesn’t know what you want to give emphasis to in your image, and with a computer, it’s all about the math.

So when your meter reads a snow scenic it is going to shut down to make it gray snow.

Sky 030

If you want it to be white snow, you have to open up the aperture by one or two stops so the snow will be white. This is assuming you are going to leave the shutter speed alone. Yes! We are animal photographers.  We want to leave the shutter speed alone,  because with animals, we want to stop the movement of the animals even if they are only a small part of the composition. So we don’t have a lot of options. We have to give the exposure more light and we can only do that by opening up the aperture.

Sky 030

If you are an advanced photographer, you know there is another way to control the exposure. We could opt to set the ISO to a higher speed. But that’s another story. Let’s leave that for next week and this week, practice taking some snow photographs by keeping your shutter speed constant (1/250 of a second), and opening up the aperture setting one to two stops.

Good shooting!


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