This winter much of the US has received a lot of Snow. It is hard to resist the urge to run outside and photograph the newly fallen snow before the plows and shoveler's create dirty mounds of the not-so-white stuff everywhere. Those who do venture out with their cameras in hand are usually rewarded with a winter wonderland of shots from the trees wearing their winter white coats to the the fresh, pure and clean ground cover. But have you ever come back inside, thawed out with a nice hot cup of tea or hot chocolate then sat down at your computer anxious to see your new spoils only to be let down by images of grey dull-looking snow? What happened to the white crisp snow? There is an easy answer to this and it lives inside your camera. Don't worry your camera is not defective. It is doing what it is supposed to do. But there are a few tricks to bringing the white back. Of course there is photoshop, but who wants to spend hours cleaning up something you could have fixed while shooting.
Digital cameras shoot in grey values and for most situations this is great. But when you are shooting at the extreme tonal ranges such as white snow your camera meters that whiteness as neutral 18% grey to compensate for the lack of contrast. There are a couple ways to get around this. The first one is simple for some, many camera manufactures have a snow setting in the automatic dial that makes the necessary compensations. But not everyone has this option.
The next step and most effective solution is to shoot manual. By doing so you can move your settings to slightly overexpose the image. A half to a full stop over for cloud cover, and one to two stops for sun will bring that scene back to white. Be careful not to go too far. You don't want areas that are completely washed out.
If your are in doubt about how bright your photo is, you can always look at the histogram. What is that you ask? When viewing your photo on the LCD screen most cameras have an info or display button. This brings up a graph that often looks like a mountain. When you are shooting snow the graph information will be mostly over to the right. What you want to avoid is that information going completely off the right side. This means your photo is severely overexposed and there is no way to fix it later. If the majority of the information is to the right but not going off the edge chances are you will have white snow, but histograms that show all the information in the middle, in this situation, will render that grey snow that you are trying to avoid.
Snow is fun to shoot but to get the results that you are seeking you must trick your camera meter in order to get that 'white as snow' appearance. Happy shooting while the snow last, spring is just around the corner.