My sister has recently returned from a winter break in a location where there is enough snow to actually build a snowman without having to resort to scraping the (dirty and muddy snow) from benches, roofs, the side of the pavement and the underside of the car. As I am sure you can tell we don’t come from a place where there is an abundance of snow and since my nephew had never had the opportunity to build a “clean” snowman she thought she would surprise him with a nice (but very cold) winter trip to do so.
My sister took several photos, with her digital pint and shoot camera, of various snowy scenes and of course, the snowman but when she loaded them to the computer she was annoyed that in most of the photos the snow was grey, rather than white and also all of the photos had a slight blue tinge to them.
The grey snow occurred because of the way the camera’s light meter works, and the only work around this is intentionally over expose the photo, either using exposure compensation if you are shooting in aperture priority or shutter priority modes or adjusting the shutter speed or aperture value until the exposure needle shows 2 stops over exposure if you are shooting in manual.
For further reading on this please take a look at one of my previous posts “For whiter then white snow”.
The blue tinge occurred because the camera’s white balance was left in auto, and the camera didn’t quite get it right.
The camera will generally do quite a good job getting the colour right in auto white balance, however there are times when it will struggle to get the correct colours, and taking photographs in snow is often one of these times.
If you set the white balance manually you will not get a blue tinge, and this is something you should consider doing. Setting a manual white balance isn’t difficult and all you need to do is take a picture if a white card so it fills the entire frame and then, from you camera’s menu use the image from which to set the custom white balance.
An alternative to the white card, and the way I set the custom white balance, is to use a white balance filter. The white balance filter is a round filter that screws in to the end of your lens, which acts as the white card. You simply take a shot with the filter in place and then use that photo to set the custom white balance. Simples.
White balance filters are cheap (you can pick one up for less than the cost of a white card) and they are quick and easy to use. Now I have discovered the white balance filter I will never go back to the traditional white cards.
But I didn’t over expose the shot and I used auto white balance
If you shoot in raw you may be able to sort out both of the issues above in the digital darkroom.
When it comes to the grey snow you can increase the exposure to make it white again, but you do need to be mindful that objects of other colours in the scene will start to wash out. You may also find you will blow the highlights doing this.
One work-around is to merge two exposures together however this is not always an easy task and the time it takes may not justify the outcome.
The white balance is very easy to change if you shoot in raw and by simply moving a white balance slider in a raw editor you can remove the blue tinge and warm the image to get the colours the way they should be.
Unfortunately, my sister did not shoot in raw, and this was because, firstly her camera does not allow her to shoot in raw and is jpeg only, and secondly because she is not a “photographer” and likes to take snap shots rather than photographs.
So what can we learn from my sister’s failure?
Firstly, when shooting scenes that are predominantly white your camera, if left to its own devices, will typically under expose the photo, resulting in dirty whites. This doesn’t just happen with snow, oh no, it happens with everything. From white birds to wedding dresses to white backgrounds……… your camera will under expose these so you need to intentionally over expose using exposure compensation.
Secondly, shoot in raw. By all means try and set the white balance manually to make sure of accurate colours but if you mess it up there’s no harm done if you shoot in raw.
Keen photographer addicted to cameras, lenses and everything photography related. Feel free to follow me in my photography ramblings, and if you have any thoughts, comments, queries or anything else to add I would love to hear from you.