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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Colors Of Snow


Antarctica And Other Snowy Venues • Lost Pixels • Taking The Long Road • Presentation Programs • Photos On The Level

Labels: How-ToColumnTech Tips

Snow, ice and a cold stream are all rendered with detail as evidenced by the histogram where there's a slight gap between the right edge and the data graph. Any data touching the right edge has no detail.

Antarctica And Other Snowy Venues
Q What setting would you recommend to shoot in Antarctica? Should I set my camera to program or aperture priority? What ISO and white balance should I use? Do I need to use a polarizer or neutral-density filter?
A. Escalona
Via email


A Winter is upon us, and whether you're in Antarctica, Yellowstone or any other place with snow, it's important to recognize that vast areas of bright, reflective white pose predictable exposure issues. Your camera's automatic metering and exposure settings will attempt to neutralize the brightness, giving you gray snow and ice when what you really want is white with detail. Here's where histograms come to your aid.

Take one image with the camera set to aperture priority. Look at the histogram for the image that displays on the LCD screen on the back of the camera. If there's image data stacked up against the right edge of the histogram, there's no detail in the whites within the image. If the image data is registering toward the middle, your snow is gray. Adjust the exposure manually until the "snow" data in the histogram is close to the right edge, but not touching it. Lock this exposure in and continue to check it as the light changes.

Today's DSLRs offer expanded ISO settings that are extremely useful when photographing in low-light situations or to speed up action capture. The trade-off for fast capture is noise, similar to grain, which is especially noticeable in broad swaths of uniform color, such as the sky or a snowfield. Usually when working around snow and ice in the daytime, there's plenty of light, so the ISO can be set to the optimum number for your camera, typically around 100; if you want to increase your shutter speed and/or depth of field, you can increase the ISO a notch or two to 200 or 400. I'd use a RAW capture mode so that white balance can be set later at the computer, but if you were to set a generic white balance, it would usually be daylight. A lot of blue tones will come off the ice and in the snowy shadows, so auto white balance isn't a good idea.

Polarizers can give a rich look by darkening the sky and minimizing reflections off the shiny surfaces. You'll need a neutral-density filter to slow down your exposure if you're going to photograph moving water amidst your snowfall. A new consideration for shooting video with your DSLR is that you'll want a shutter speed that runs around 1⁄60 sec. for a natural look. A neutral-density filter will help you to achieve that speed in the overbright conditions of Antarctica.

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