HOW TO: Back To Basics Snow

Capturing the pure white of snow or ice can be tricky depending on the available light, your camera settings, and how much snow or ice is in your composition.

Cameras don’t necessarily know what your intentions are. They record the image as an average based on the meter reading.

Camera meters are generally set to take a reading of the scene and convert it to an average of about 18% gray, or what is known as a medium tone. Snow and ice is not typically 18% gray, so the camera meter sees all this light and instructs the camera, or suggests to the user, to close down the aperture. Whoa…it’s bright…way to much light coming in here. If the photo is taken at this metered setting, typically the shot is under-exposed and the snow or ice turns blueish, especially if you have a lot of snow or ice in your composition.

But, it can be easier to capture what you are seeing through the viewfinder, and avoid underexposing your photos of snow and ice, with a few simple solutions.

If you are shooting in manual mode, and have the aperture set for the depth of field you want, you can adjust the shutter speed to overexpose from what the meter recommends by a stop or two. It may take some experimentation to get the results you want without overexposing so much that the snow or ice become blown out and there is no texture left.

You may also want to adjust your white balance to sunny, cloudy or even a custom setting, depending on the type of light available that day.

Another method, is to use exposure compensation which can be used in auto or manual mode. You can dial in as much or as little overexposure as you want, just be sure to set it back to zero when you are finished, otherwise all your subsequent photos will be overexposed.

If you want to evoke a cold feeling to the scene by letting the camera show the snow or ice with a blueish cast, and not add extra exposure, that’s ok too…you are the photographer, after all….and you get to choose.


  1. February 17, 2012 at 5:24 pm

    Deep thoughts there, dude! 🙂 Great tips though but I’m pulling for not needing to be concerned about this anymore until December.

    • February 19, 2012 at 10:54 am

      Like wow man…spring is just around the corner!!!

  2. February 17, 2012 at 5:39 pm

    I find that for those a little more advanced it’s easier shooting in manual mode and keeping a close eye on the histogram. The metering can vary so much in a given scene when it has snowed you can end up changing the amount of exposure compensation from shot to shot.

    • February 19, 2012 at 11:00 am

      Thanks for stopping by Heyesphoto, I agree…the metering can and usually does change from scene to scene and that exposure compensation isn’t always the best option. I just wanted to illustrate another way of doing things for folks that don’t often shoot in manual mode.

  3. February 17, 2012 at 5:45 pm

    Thank you dear David, white is the difficult one to take pictures, especially snow and ice… To be honest, I haven’t any experience for this, yes with these last snow I took some pictures, but they were easy because there wasn’t so much snow… Have a nice weekend, with my love, nia

    • February 19, 2012 at 11:02 am

      Yes sometimes when a scene is really bright or very dark, camera meters may not give the results one is looking for. That is what is nice about digital camera, you can review the photo instantly to see the results.

  4. February 17, 2012 at 10:20 pm

    Helpful information. Thank you.

    • February 19, 2012 at 11:04 am

      You’re welcome Fergie, just wanted to put a little tid-bit of info out there for folks that may be in the snow covered areas.

  5. Nandini
    February 18, 2012 at 7:30 am

    Great information, David. And I loved the photo. 🙂

    • February 19, 2012 at 11:05 am

      Thanks Nandini, just trying to help with those difficult shots!

  6. February 18, 2012 at 8:53 am

    I love your snow pictures. We’ve had no snow yet in Cornwall, UK and it’s almost too late for this winter. Thanks for the advice. I’ll hope to be able to use it later.

    • February 19, 2012 at 11:07 am

      Thanks Mybeautiful, we haven’t had much this year either…in fact I’ve noticed a lot of spring bulbs are starting to show themselves!

  7. February 18, 2012 at 10:57 pm

    That shot is very nicely done!

    • February 19, 2012 at 11:10 am

      Thanks Montucky, This was right out of the can. I wanted to show a shot that had white snow and some hints of blue to illustrate the various tones. Had I exposed the shot to eliminate the blue shadows the areas that are white and the trees would have been blown out..

  8. February 19, 2012 at 10:35 am

    Many thanks for the tips. I love the image!

    • February 19, 2012 at 11:12 am

      You’re welcome Meanderer, I was hoping that folks would find them helpful.

  9. February 19, 2012 at 12:05 pm

    Great work here. Snow is definitely hard to capture! 🙂

    • February 20, 2012 at 8:50 am

      Thanks Katie, it sure can be…and at other times everything seems to work with out much work or thought!!! Go figure. This was a tough shot to try to get everything to work.

  10. February 20, 2012 at 5:02 am

    Thanks for the tips! We got our (last?) snowfall this weekend and it’s raining away today… Now I’m waiting for the first signs of spring 🙂

    • February 20, 2012 at 8:51 am

      You’re welcome, and I think the snow is finished in this area too. But you never know…it has been known to snow big time in March around here!

  11. February 20, 2012 at 7:19 am

    This brings back memories! The last (and only) time I was shooting in snow, it was semi-dark with lots of lamps… I was trying to overexpose the snow but stop the lights from blowing out… in the middle of a snow storm. Fun times!

    • February 20, 2012 at 8:55 am

      Jeez!!! What an experience! You created a great visual…I imagine the snow swirling and lights going pop pop and you running around frantically trying to protect them! Fun times for sure!

  12. February 20, 2012 at 12:39 pm

    Good lesson on how dumb our gear can be under certain conditions and how easy it is to take back control to get the image you want.

    • February 20, 2012 at 4:40 pm

      Wow is that a great way to put it or what!!! That’s why I occasionally put out the little hints for folks that aren’t in the know. By the way…that was a super guest post you did for 1001 scribbles. Well done indeed!!!

  13. February 21, 2012 at 11:07 am

    David, I always enjoy and learn from your how-to articles, and this was no exception. Thank you!

  14. February 21, 2012 at 11:44 am

    Thanks Lee, glad you enjoy them…just trying to help is all…

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