Overexpose Your Snow - No, Seriously

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You wake up to a winter wonderland. The kids have their sleds ready. You grab your camera, excited about the wonderful snowy landscapes you are going to be capturing today. After a day on the hill and hundreds of photos, you excitedly download your day’s photo memories into your Forever account. In the first photo, you notice the snow looks gray. Same thing for the second photo. And the third. Disappointment washes over you. You have a whole collection of gray, gray, and more gray snow photos.
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There’s a reason the snow in many of your sledding pictures is gray. Ironically, it’s because snow is white therefore it’s gray.

Sorry if I’m talking in riddles here but the reason many of you have snow pictures that are too dark is because the snow is bright white. It has fooled you and your light meter. Light meters want to make everything medium bright—including snow. Therefore, if you center that light meter needle in your viewfinder on zero when you’re looking at an overall white scene—like our snow example—you’re going to get a picture that’s too dark. (It’s so counterintuitive that to this day I have to reread my own descriptions of this problem to make sure I haven’t got it backwards, so you’re not the only one who has trouble wrapping your brain around this. Snow should be overexposed! I know! I know! It’s nutty.)

So I hear many of you saying something like this:

"Well, why don’t I just use auto-exposure and everything will be just fine?"

Auto-exposure is as easily fooled in this situation as you, the manual photographer. Whether you’re in auto-exposure or manual exposure, snow needs to be compensated for.
When you’re shooting manually you need to realize that the snow is going to be too dark and therefore you need to brighten the exposure by about 2 f-stops. (There are lots of variables here. There are all kinds of different shades of snow, but 2  f-stops is a good place to start.)
When you’re in auto-exposure, you need to use something that’s called your Exposure Compensation button. Using that button, you can tell the camera to overexpose the next picture by how ever many f-stops you want to. (Don’t forget to turn it back to zero when you get back to a normal scene. Remember, the Exposure Compensation button is only used when you are in one of the auto exposure modes. This button has no effect on your exposure when you are in complete manual mode.)
Snow can be tricky so don’t feel bad. You just need to know that it’s tricky and deal with it. Say this ten times:

Overexpose for snow.

Overexpose for snow.

Overexpose for snow.

Overexpose for snow.

Overexpose for snow.

Overexpose for snow.

Snow-picOverexpose for snow.

Overexpose for snow.

Overexpose for snow.

Overexpose for snow.

Counterintuitive but true.

Nick Kelsh, Cathi Nelson & Organizing Your Photos At Forever

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