It's winter, and with the season come wonderful opportunities to produce
some great snow and ice photos. On the following pages are a few tips to help
you do just that.
The basic idea is to have the brightest areas of snow or ice appear white, but
with a trace of detail. Very small areas can be blank white, but large areas
should have some texture and detail. The keys to getting white snow with detail
are in the exposure and the lighting, which will be discussed in tips 1 and
2. You can also improve your snow shots with filters (tip 3), and by adding
a touch of color (tip 4).
Snow and ice photos generally look nice just because of the nature of the subject,
but you should still use principles of good photography when making them. Don't
forget to compose your photograph! Examine what is in your viewfinder. The time
to critique your photo is before you press the shutter button, not after you
get the finished print. If you see a flaw in the finder, fix it before you shoot.
If you can't fix it, go ahead and shoot anyway, but at least think about
what's in the finder and how you can improve it before each shot.
The lighting can make or break any photograph, snow scenes included.
Shoot early or late in the day, when the low-angle sun produces
exciting lighting. Here, the lit distant peaks and the shaded
foreground snow add interest.
As with just about all photography, good lighting is the key to good snow photos.
And as with most outdoor photography, the lighting is most attractive early
or late in the day, when the low-angle sun casts long shadows, and the light
is directional but not so harsh as midday sunlight. When possible, move around
your subject and shoot with sidelighting, backlighting and front lighting.
If the light is dull, look for interesting action to photograph.
Here, being in the right place at the right time--and alert--netted
the photographer a nice shot of a calving glacier.
Snow scenes generally look best in sunlight, so it's best to shoot them
after a storm clears rather than while it is snowing. Not only will the photos
be prettier, you'll be a lot more comfortable, too. However, it is possible
to get good shots when it's cloudy, and even while the snow is falling,
so if you get the opportunity, go for it. Clearing storms present some of the
best photo ops of all.
If some of the snow is lit by sun (or an overcast sky, as here)
and some is in shade, expose so that the brightest parts are white,
and let the rest do what it will. For this scene, an incident-light
reading would have worked, a reflected-light reading of the ice
just above the cave opening would have worked, a reflected-light
reading of the bright ice with +1.5 exposure compensation would
have worked, or the digital SLR's built-in evaluative metering
could have been used--which was the case here.
Reflected-light exposures meters (which include those built into cameras) measure
the light reflected from the scene. The thing to remember is that these meters
are calibrated to reproduce whatever you point them at as a middle tone. If
you expose based on a reflected-light meter reading of white snow, you'll
get gray snow in your photo. So the standard advice is to open up 1--2
stops from the meter reading when photographing snow. (Of course, this applies
when you are taking the reading from the white snow--if you are taking
a reading from a person wearing a dark ski suit while he or she is standing
in snow, that's a different story.) In a pinch, take a reading of the
clear blue north sky, and expose per that reading.
You can also get good exposures on snow by using an incident-light meter, which
measures the light falling on the scene instead of the light reflected from
it. The incident meter cannot be fooled by non-"average" subject
matter because it doesn't "read" it. The caveat here is that
the light falling on the incident meter's translucent dome must be the
same as the light falling on the subject or scene: If you are in the shade,
and the subject is in the sun, the incident reading will overexpose the subject.
The best way to use an incident meter is to hold it right in front of the subject,
and point the meter's hemisphere at the camera. This is simple when the
subject is nearby, but not so simple when the subject is that mountain range
in the distance.
Be sure to consider the whole scene. Here, the snow had to be
slightly underexposed to keep from blowing-out the background
clouds. Bracketing exposures is always a good idea with tricky