Winter is an amazing time to be making images. The atmosphere of snow and temperature can be very beautiful and magical. Whether you are shooting film or digital, there are a couple of things you should know about shooting in winter conditions.
Technology has allowed camera manufacturers to make amazing cameras with many tools yielding great photographs. One of these features is the cameras built-in light meter. Although very accurate in most situations, snow can fool the meter. Light meters are designed to measure light and give an exposure value for 18% gray. This is a problem with snow because we want our snow to be white, not gray. The below image was made by metering directly on the snow in the foreground.
The meter reading rendered the snow this medium gray tone. Too dark! The blacks are lost with no detail, and the image is flat. Overall, a poor exposure. To compensate in these conditions we need to expose 1.0-2.0 stops over the meter reading. The amount of overexposure depends on your preference, film being used, and the way you work your digital images with software such as Photoshop. The next image was manually exposed 1.5 stops over the meter reading. Take some time and test out what works for you and your way of shooting. I prefer to expose as not to loose hight lights.
Now that we have a good exposure, our Photoshop or printing time will decrease. It is always better to expose properly rather than to try to "save" an image with software after the fact. The next image is the above picture after a quick levels adjustment for color, and a curves adjustment for contrast. This was done using Photoshop. I like to think of a digital file like a negative. It's just a guide. You can bring the potential out of an image with just a couple of small adjustments, whether it be in an enlarger or in a computer.
For those of you shooting digital point-and-shoot cameras, there is a shooting mode that is called Sand & Snow. This tells the camera that you are shooting in these conditions and it will make the exposure compensation for you. Now that you have the information for shooting in winter conditions, get out there and make some images!
All Images © Shawn Gust 2007