Snow!!! Let's Go Shooting!

Winter on Kent Island, Maryland © Lauren Peeler Brice, Four Rivers Photo Workshops

Winter on Kent Island, Maryland © Lauren Peeler Brice, Four Rivers Photo Workshops

By Laurie Brice

Next Workshop... Jan. 25, 2014 at Gibson's Lodgings

Two seats remain. Grab them quickly. Folks purchased gift certificates that are as yet unscheduled. We expect the class to be full and would hate to see you miss out. The workshop schedule through August 2014 is posted on the Register page. We will post additional months once the USNA publishes it's final 2014 football schedule.

Yes! The workshop goes on rain, snow, cold, or bright sunshine! Check the front page of our website for any last minute news before each workshop date. The absence of a message mean... It's a GO.

It Snowed!

Did you have your PJs on backwards last night? It worked!

What a New Year's gift. I hope you were able to get outside Thursday night and photograph the remaining holiday lights in the falling snow.  It was a beautiful sight downtown. The wind was still. The wet snow covered branches, fences and wires with a tall coat softening every edge. Alas, I could see but not shoot. Hope you got some great photographs.

The wind is up today, blowing snow showers from the trees. It creates sparkling rainbows in the bright sunlight. Why not bundle up and get outside with your camera? Here are some tips for shooting snowy scenes. Some are repeated from Chris' last post but are well worth sharing again.

Stay warm

If you are cold, you won't have fun. Bundle up in layers. Polar fleece is light and drys quickly  while cotton adsorbs water and dries slowly sapping warmth. Remember your hat and gloves. Use that Christmas gift certificate for mittens that fold back into fingerless gloves. I have a pair and love them. (Try EMS, Hudson Trail and REI. All have websites.) My all time snow gear favorite for a boating town? Foul weather gear pants make super snow pants! You can kneel in the snow, stay warm and dry and still get that great shot with a low PoV.

Feet First

Got waterproof boots? You'll be wandering around in wet stuff. Get waterproof boots! Just as for hiking, one pair of non-cotton thin socks topped with one pair of heavy wool or other winter fabric socks. If your feet are too tight in your boots, you will be cold. Time for an equipment check. Can you beat LLBean's boots? Let us know!

No Fog

My trick for keeping my camera and lenses from fogging up? I put them in my camera bag and put the bag in the car for a while. The car is cold and dry. It doesn't take long for the camera to cool down. See GLOVES, above. Of course if you are not secure about leaving things in your car you can clear a shelf in your freezer and do the same thing. It's probably colder outside than inside your freezer. When chilled, move the camera and bag outside quickly.

Got the Power

Make sure your batteries are charged and that you have spares. Cold saps battery life quickly. Keep spares in inside pockets next to your body. Protect the terminals from other pocket items and perspiration. Putting spare batteries in a baggie works well. Don't forget to remove the batteries from the pocket BEFORE your next trip to the washing machine. Don't laugh. It happens all the time.

The Usual Made Unusual

Even places you trudge daily are made magical when it snows. Keep an open mind and eye to view common objects and scenes in a new way. Slow down. Take time to see.

It's All About Light

Early morning and late afternoon light reflected from a snowy blanket are wonderful. Harsh midday light can yield iconic shots but must be managed to avoid overexposure. Check out this image to see how the photographer controlled difficult snowy light.

Think about adding a circular polarizing filter to your lens. These work to best advantage when you aim you camera 90 degrees away from the sun (perpendicular to the sun's arc in the sky). Rotate the filter while viewing your subject and watch unwanted glare and reflections disappear. Remember, these filters take away (block) two full stops of light. (Example: if the correct exposure without the filter is f/8 at 1/500, with the filter your exposure might be f/4 at 1/500 or f/8 at 1/125.) A polarizing filter can be a huge help on a very bright, snowy day but it can force you to increase your ISO and therefore image noise if you require a quick shutter speed and light levels are less bright. Underexposed images taken with a polarizer can yield very noisy blue skies. Experiment!

You Are Smarter Than Your Camera's Light Meter

Oh, yes you are, but... Did you ever photograph on a snowy day only to return home with a batch of dull gray photographs? What happened? Your camera was fooled by the bright, white snow and it underexposed your images. Here's why. Your camera's meter expects the world to have an average reflectance of about 18%. Snowy scenes reflect much more light than 18%. I know, you might be thinking what the heck is she talking about?! Well, let us return once again to our art and science classes of yesteryear. (Sorry, just discovered Lone Ranger reruns on TV.)

We all probably heard at one time or another that black objects do not reflect light. They adsorb nearly all the light that falls on them; none is reflected back to our eyes; therefore we see the object as "black". This is the absence of light -- a reflectance of %0. White objects, on the other hand, reflect back nearly all the light (all the colors of light) that falls on them. We see the blending of those colors as "white". Your camera is not nearly so smart as your eyes and brain. It is just a little computer that's been set to expect the world to reflect an average amount of light, a medium gray or 18% reflectance at all times. Well this just isn't so. Because "white" predominates in snowy images, the camera thinks it should be an average "gray" and it underexposes exactly as it has been programmed to do. You want white snow. What should you do? You need to increase the amount of light your camera captures to make your images look like what your eyes see.

So, out you go into the snow to capture award winning photographs. What will you do about your not-as-smart-as-you camera? Ah, Grasshopper there are many approaches... but try these things first. I'm assuming you had your camera in the Automatic or Program modes when you got the underexposed, gray snow images and that you are taking these shots outside on a snow day. Set your ISO to 200 and leave it there for this exercise.

  • Leave your camera set as it was when you got the underexposed images.
  • Turn the "blinkies" ON from you camera's menu. That's the camera setting that causes your LCD image playback to blink wherever the image is overexposed (has way too much light). This just helps you identify overexposed areas quickly.
  • Take a shot. Make note of the aperture and shutter speed your camera chose.
  • Use your camera's histogram as a guide for your next exposure.
    If the histogram shows your image as underexposed, you need more light.
    If it shows your image as overexposed, you need less light.
    We'll assume your images was underexposed and that you need more light. How do you make that happen?
  • Method One -- Set your camera to Manual mode and set the aperture and shutter speed to those used in your first shot. Manual mode means you control both aperture and shutter speed from here on. Leave the aperture as it is set, but select a shutter speed that causes your camera's meter to think you are overexposing a bit, say +1 stop. For example, if we want to overexpose by one stop and the shutter speed is set to 1/500, we let in an additional stop of light by setting the shutter speed to 1/250. A slower shutter speed means we let in more light.
  • Method Two -- Set your camera to APERTURE PRIORITY mode ("A" for Nikon and "Av" for Cannon). Set the aperture to the original aperture your camera used for the underexposed images. Now dial in +1 stops of exposure compensation.
  • For both methods -- Take a shot with these new settings. Check your histogram. You don't want the histogram bars to pile up to the left or right sides of the histogram. (Don't be concerned about the overall shape of the histogram.) Bars pushed to the far left or right mean you images was under or over exposed. If the histogram shows a pile-up at either side, you will need additional exposure adjustments.
  • Confirm by looking at your image on the LCD screen. Use the Three Bears approach... do you need more light, less light or is the exposure just right.
  • Staying in Manual or Aperture Priority mode as before. Prepare for your next shot. Play with shutter speed (method one) or exposure compensation (method two) so that the next image you take will keep the histogram off the left and right sides.

Exercises like these are always easier if you change only one setting type at a time and consider the result before making changes to an additional setting. In the example above, we set aperture and ISO once. We varied shutter speed to achieve correct exposure. You may need to take many test images before you are satisfied with the result. That's absolutely okay. All accomplished photographers take and evaluate test images. This flexibility is where digital photography shines above film. It doesn't cost a cent to take and delete a test image. Practice makes this much easier and will help the new skills you learn stick around after you go back inside for a hot cocoa and nap.

Additional Reading

Joe Plumridge has a nice snow photography article on Digital Photography. He covers these and additional points in his article about photographing in snowy conditions. I was amazed to see how many suggestions we have in common, right down to the fold-back mittens. DPCA members, I'll bring mine to the next meeting so you can take a look. My mittens stay in my camera bag year round. They pad lenses when they aren't keeping me warm.

January Workshop

DON'T FORGET, our next Four Rivers Photo Workshop is Jan. 25, 2014 at Gibson's Lodgings. We explain and you practice setting aperture, shutter speed and ISO as well as camera and metering modes. We also cover composition and tricks for taking better photographs. Seek your inner artist. Join us!

We'll see you out there shooting!
Chris and Laurie

#LearnPhotography #photoworkshop #Annapolis


Lauren Brice

Laurie grew up in the Annapolis area enjoying all that its rivers, woods, historic setting and strong community provide. After earning undergraduate and graduate degrees in Biology, she returned home to the banks of the Severn River. An early career as a biologist for The Johns Hopkins University soon transitioned to positions in the emerging field of Information Technology. Laurie designed and taught countless computer application courses and developed strong programming, data analysis and management skills. Through it all, Laurie captured her love of nature, landscape and animal portraiture - especially birds in photography. Her photographs are featured in Field Guide on Insects of the Cloud Forest, author Paul Beck, Illustrator Ryan Hobson; the Museum of Nature & Science in Dallas, TX; the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's website All About Birds; and the travel website Her awards include Best in Show and several category prizes in the 2011 Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge, Friends of the 500th Annual Annual Competition; Honorable Mention in the Nature Conservancy's 5th Annual Photography contest and several exhibition awards from the Digital Photography Club of Annapolis.