How to shoot great snowbound photos
February 6, 2008 3:19 PM   Subscribe

Photography in snow conditions. Help me not get the blues.

I'm going on a skiiing trip in the French Alps in a few days. I'm planning on bringing my Nikon D50, 17-125mm lens, and 10-20mm lens (w/polarizer).

I am comfortable with my equipment, and using manual exposure, but I live in Ireland. The last time snow lasted for more than an hour that I can remember was 1984. I have no experience or confidence with shooting with overcast skys and a white/grey environment. To make things worse, I am limited on battery power and digital storage. Ideally I'd shoot raw, but I'll only have 4GB worth of memory and two fully powered batteries to play with for the 7 days. Any tips to get well exposed shots without having to judge from the screen would be great. Also any tips on using flash in snowy daylight conditions?

Thanks for your help.
posted by Elmore to Media & Arts (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Also, because this is a skiing holiday (and my first such) I won't have too much time for photography, so I'd like to fuck that up that bit the least. I can handle falling on my ass while skiing, but if someone else does - I want to get the shot right.
posted by Elmore at 3:25 PM on February 6, 2008

Could try shooting black and white; that usually looks really good for winter shots. Otherwise I got nothing.
posted by caution live frogs at 3:27 PM on February 6, 2008

Try shooting with a +0.7 or +1 exposure. Spend a few minutes taking test shots when you get there though.
posted by fleeba at 3:32 PM on February 6, 2008

There're a few ways to correct for color temperature. Photoshop CS3's RAW lets you import non-raw files and use the auto-color setting. You can balance with photo filters in other versions of photoshop, which is more time-consuming. You can also auto-balance in the camera by taking a picture of a white or neutral grey piece of paper (look that option up in the manual and practice it beforehand).
posted by cowbellemoo at 3:36 PM on February 6, 2008

Best answer: If shooting RAW, you can adjust the white-balance later (Photoshop, The GIMP, etc.). Otherwise you have to set the white balance in the camera. Easiest thing to use is the snow itself. Find a good white patch (stay away from the yellow snow!) and use your camera's manual white-balance feature.

For the exposure setting, since you're using a digital camera you have it easy. Start with +1 exposure compensation (i.e. overexpose by 1 stop) and experiment till you find the results pleasing. Then set the camera and forget about it. (I usually find that +2 is what I like for snow shots of people in the foreground; wide landscape shots probably only take +0.5 or +1.)

You shouldn't need to use flash in daytime snow (but fill flash is always useful, especially for backlit shots). Think more about reflectors (white jacket, small sheet, etc.), you'll get a more natural look that way.
posted by phliar at 4:35 PM on February 6, 2008

I'm not sure if this plays the same way in Digital photography, but if I were shooting in a snowy environment, I would carry an ND (Neutral Density) filter in case it was a sunny day and I had too much light coming in. This will also allow you to shoot at a lower f-stop in brighter conditions if you want a shallower depth of field.
posted by soy_renfield at 6:00 PM on February 6, 2008

If all else fails, the blue-ey-ness is really easy to take out in post-processing, even with GIMP, and even if you're not shooting RAW.
posted by craven_morhead at 6:03 PM on February 6, 2008

Also any tips on using flash in snowy daylight conditions?

The only thing you might need a flash for is if you're taking a picture of some friends or something against a snowy background. The camera will expose for the bright background and underexpose your friends unless you either 1) adjust the exposure upward to compensate or 2) use a fill flash. However, since you have only your on-camera flash, they'll have to be pretty close to the camera for it to have any effect at all. Note that if you position your subjects so that there is some snow in front of them as well as behind them, this will help with this problem by reflecting light up to them. A white jacket can also be used in a pinch.

I'm assuming an overcast sky -- if it's clear, you definitely want the sun behind you, or over one shoulder. Then you can use the fill flash to un-harsh some shadows on their faces.

Otherwise, you're outdoors and it's daylight, you shouldn't need to use the flash.
posted by kindall at 6:19 PM on February 6, 2008

Best answer: As far as settings go, adjust your camera's white point balance. You could try around home before your trip. See how your camera reacts to various intensities of light and shadow upon white walls, fabrics, etc. to get an idea of how your camera handles the subtleties before the whites are blown out or turned to grey. philar's advice re: reflectors and fill light is spot-on, in my experience. I've used my car's folding sunlight reflector, at times.

Something else to consider on your excursion: battery life. In cold conditions, batteries drain rapidly. Keep your batteries someplace warm, like close to your body.

[Unsolicited advice: point-and-shoot disposable film cameras are perfect for occasions when your good cameras could be damaged or if you'd rather not carry bulky and/or heavy gear.]

Have fun!
posted by bonobo at 6:26 PM on February 6, 2008

When I shot film, I would always over-expose snow by one full stop (+1 ev) so the snow is the white you see with the naked eye rather than the grey that your light meter will render it as.

With digital, I just shoot RAW and check the histogram. As long at the shadows or highlights aren't blown out, you'll have an image you can work with in GIMP or Photoshop.

Luminous Landscape and Photoxels have some good info on using histograms:
posted by centerweight at 6:58 PM on February 6, 2008

Energizer e2 lithium batteries are supposed to perform better in the cold, if your camera accepts them. I love those things!

I too have trouble with haze and snow. Thanks for the tips!
posted by gjc at 7:04 PM on February 6, 2008

Two batteries for the D50 should last you fine -- assuming you're using official Nikon batteries. My D50 almost never needs charging -- I think I've charged it maybe four times since I got it a year ago. It should at least last you through the 540 exposures you're going to get (in RAW format) out of 4GB of memory. Results may vary if you're using the on-camera flash a lot.
posted by neckro23 at 9:36 PM on February 6, 2008

Response by poster: I know no one is going to come back to view this now, but I just wanted to thank everyone for their help. I heeded your advice and the photos came out great - better than I expected. Thanks all.
posted by Elmore at 5:00 PM on March 18, 2008

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