Does your snow turn gray?
Do you have problems getting your snow scenes to look white in photos? I see a lot of those gray snow photos, especially this week, since there is so much of North America covered in snow right now.
Why this happens
Grey snow happens because your camera meter sees a lot of light in the scene. The goal of your camera light meter is to turn everything middle gray. When the meter sees a lot of light, it automatically thinks, “Whoa, overload. Time to turn down the lights in here.” When that happens, it reduces the amount of light entering the lens, turning white snow into middle gray.
The light meter is just doing its job. Camera meters do a great job about 80% of the time. But it’s good to know when you have to override what it thinks is the right exposure.
Check out the histogram too. I’ve included it with the photo. Notice how it doesn’t go all the way to the right? The right side is where the highlights are. If you check your histogram on the back of your camera, right after you take your photo, you can see that there is a problem. You have white in your scene, but your histogram is telling you that it’s not going to look white in your picture. The light areas of your photo are on the right side of the histogram.
How to fix gray snow
There is an easy fix to get your snow white again, and it doesn’t even involve Photoshop! Most cameras (even the really basic ones) have an exposure compensation feature. It is usually indicated by a little +/- button on your camera. If you don’t have a button, look up exposure compensation in your owner’s manual. Usually a scale comes up that gives you a range of -2 all the way to +2 and it looks something like this:
-2 . . -1 . . 0 . . +1 . . +2
If your histogram doesn’t go all the way across to the right side, it means you need to add light. Move your exposure compensation into the plus numbers to brighten a histogram that is under-exposed. In the case of the photo above, I moved it to +1 on my camera.
Notice the histogram in the fixed photo. It goes all the way across now from shadows (left side) to highlights (right side), and we now have white snow.
This video shows you how to work the exposure compensation feature of your camera.
How to avoid this problem altogether
If you have dark and white areas in your photo, mixed about 50/50, or a deep blue sky and snow together, you can usually avoid this problem. The meter sees both bright and dark areas and averages them out to a nice middle of the road meter reading which will probably be good.
Figure out how to use your exposure compensation feature, and get perfect exposure every time, no matter what the light meter thinks!
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