Does your snow turn blue?

Do you have problems getting your snow scenes to look white in photos? I see a lot of blue snow photos. I guess blue snow is better than yellow snow, though. 😉

The WB was set on Auto for this photo, and it turned the snow blue

Why this happens

Blue snow happens because your white balance is incorrect. In the case above, the auto white balance didn’t do a decent job, even though there was a lot of white in the photo. Not to mention, the sun was shining so there was mixed colour temperatures here: shade and daylight. That’s really hard for the camera to interpret and decide how to set the camera.

A custom WB was set for this version of the photo, and now the snow is white

Light has colour

In the shade, snow will often turn blue, especially on a bright and sunny day. The example photo is mostly in the shade, so you could try using your Shade white balance setting to see what happens. What I found was, the shade setting did not “warm up” the photo quite enough.

Photographic colour wheel

The colour wheel above shows the colours of photography. Red, Green, Blue, and Cyan, Magenta, Yellow. Opposite colours on the wheel neutralize, or balance each other out. That’s where the term colour balance comes from.

The wheel is also divided into Warm and Cool colours. Warm colours are what you see in sunsets and skin tones. Cool colours are in trees, oceans and blue skies.

How to fix blue snow in your photos

The colour of shade is blue. In order to balance all that blue, you need to add yellow to make your photo neutral.

Since I shot this file in camera raw format, I was able to easily do a custom white balance using the snow as my target neutral area. Black, white, and gray are considered neutral. i.e. They have no colour. The snow was fresh and still very white. Using the custom white balance colour picker in Adobe Camera Raw, I saw that the white balance needed to be well over 10,000 degrees Kelvin to get it looking white. That’s a lot of yellow!

How to avoid this problem

There are a few things you can do to help you with blue snow:

  • Try to recognize and avoid possible areas where the colour of the light might be cool, especially if photographing people.
  • Place your subject in the sun, or wait until the sun is coming from a different direction if you can’t move your subject.
  • Try different white balance settings and see what looks best.
  • Try custom white balance in your camera using an Expo Disc.
  • Use a digital gray card to get perfect white balance, every time.

Your photos will look much better if they aren’t unusually blue, especially if there are people in them!

Learn more about adjusting the colour (white balance) in your photos in my free e-course.

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