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Thread: Photographing snowy scenes

  1. #1

    Default Photographing snowy scenes

    Hello. We're going on a trip to Alaska in late July and want to make sure I understand how to take photos in those conditions. Visiting Kenai Penninsula, Prince William Sound, driving Glenn and Richardson Highways, seeing Wrangell-Elias National Park, Hatcher Pass and Valdez. We'll be kayaking, glacier hiking, fishing, hiking and flightseeing. Likely taking photos on many cloudy, rainy days, of glaciers, snow, sometimes glaciers or mountains against water. I have a Panasonic FZ35 and also a Panasonic ZS3. I use both cameras on the program modes which means I have some control but generally do not use the manual controls, though I play with them from time to time. Here are my questions:
    1) In photographing snowy scenes, such as a hike on a glacier, my understanding is that I should overexpose the snow, which I can do using exposure compensation. So I go up to +2/3 or +1, correct? This will keep the snow white and prevent a general gray look? What if there is a person in the shot? Do I still overexpose?
    2) How about just using the snow scene mode? Does this do the overexposure for me or do I still need to overexpose even using the snow mode, and if so, by the same amount? What does the snow scene mode do to the photo, what is it changing?
    3) Is a circular polarizing filter useful for snow scenes? Does it make a difference if it's sunny or cloudy? What about gray or rainy days in general, use the filter or no? Ditto for using a lens hood?
    Thanks very much for your answers. I'm really looking forward to this trip and want to take the best photos I can.

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    You'd wanna UNDER expose the snowy scenes, as the light that's reflected off the snow will increase the amount of light that's hitting your film or sensor...so with that, a higher apapture, more in the 11-15 range with a faster shutter speed will help in your quest for more sharp & vibrant pictures...as well, with the amount of light that you'll be gettin' on any snow, a filter, in particular an ND filter will be a great asset, as well as a faster speed of film...

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    1) Yes, over expose snow dominated scenes by about 1 stop. But this is for when the scene is dominated by a large percentage of snow and your camera's meter is fooled by so much white in the scene. I doubt you will find enough snow for this to happen unless you are standing on a glacier and taking a picture of it at the same time. But if so, you still overexpose if you have people in the scene, unless they start to dominate the scene more than the snow.

    2) The snow scene mode does this for you, so you don't have to manually use exposure compensation with it, but I think exposure comp is easier to change than switching to snow mode on the cameras I use. Besides exposure comp is adjustable for when the snow only partly dominates the scene. Besides, sometimes you want to do just the opposite when taking pictures of really darkly colored objects. Snow scene mode is only for when the white stuff is the vast majority of the scene. Not likely to happen in July.

    Also Panasonic's metering systems are often smart enough to figure a scene out in spite of the snow. So I would take a picture to see how it looks and adjust from there. You might want to turn on the histogram and figure out how to use it. It goes a long way towards helping one nail exposures, and is far more accurate than just eyeballing the LCD.

    3) Polarizers reduces glare and non-metallic reflections, and are most effective in bright sunshine and when pointing the camera 90 degrees to the Sun/light source. That said, they can reduce glare on tree leaves and grass, making them appear greener than in real life evenin cloudy weather. They also reduce reflections from water surfaces, so you can see the fish & rocks underneath. ---- I don't use one very often, but others do.

    I use a lens hood just about all the time though. A lens hood reduces flare, especially in contra light. The kind of flare is actually made worse by adding a filter, even a polarizer. Some lenses are more prone to flare from this back lighting than others. Usually lenses with many glass/plastic surfaces are more susceptible to this kind of flare. Especially lenses like the one on your FZ35. When I've owned FZ superzoom cameras in the past I always left the lens hood on. Always. Also, the hood protects the front of the lens from getting banged around and from greasy fingers -- usually mine.

    Hope you have a great time.

  4. #4

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    Thanks! We will be taking a guided hike on Root Glacier and taking photos, so yes, I will have some conditions where white really dominates the photo. I'll experiment with the snow scene mode as I hear you saying it will take care of the exposure compensation on it's own. Not hard to use in my camera. Did I understand you to say that if people are in the photo, I should still use snow scene and the people will be well exposed?
    When I'm just taking photos of glaciers such as in Prince William Sound, there will be alot more contrast, water, sky, land, should I or shouldn't I use snow scene in those photos, or is EV compensation better for those shots, (still + 1? Usually the photos come out a bit better in my camera when I go down to - 1/3 or 2/3 on bright landscape shots when I'm not taking snow into account, so I'm getting confused on what to do in a shot with some snow but alot of contrast) or perhaps just treat them as a regular photos and use the histogram?

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    Quote Originally Posted by LEK View Post
    Here are my questions:
    1) In photographing snowy scenes, such as a hike on a glacier, my understanding is that I should overexpose the snow, which I can do using exposure compensation. So I go up to +2/3 or +1, correct? This will keep the snow white and prevent a general gray look? What if there is a person in the shot? Do I still overexpose?
    I'm going to quibble with the terminology used by others in response to this question.

    You do not want to under or over expose snow! You want to have the correct exposure!.

    The problem is that the light meter provides a reading that will under expose because the meter thinks the scene is averaging about 18% grey, but with a lot of snow a scene is probably at least twice that bright. Using the value from the light meter under exposes unless you do something to get correct exposure. To get the correct exposure means increasing exposure (but not over exposing) by something from 3/4 to 1-1/2 fstops. The easiest way on most cameras is to set Exposure Compensation to +1 EV.

    That is not over exposing, that is correctly exposing!

    2) How about just using the snow scene mode? Does this do the overexposure for me or do I still need to overexpose even using the snow mode, and if so, by the same amount? What does the snow scene mode do to the photo, what is it changing?
    Cameras that have a "Snow" mode might work well enough in that mode, but the problem is that if it assumes that 1 fstop is the right correction, sometimes it will be too much and others too little. Cameras aren't too good at making such judgements. People often aren't all that great at it either (!), but most of us can do it better than the camera (after we get a little practice).

    I'm not familiar with your camera, so I can't say how well it might do. Nikon, for example, uses a "matrix" metering system that compares something like 1005 different points in a scene to a database of 50 thousand or so possible image types, and decides what kind of adjustment should be made. Sometimes it doesn't work worth a darn, and other times it's pretty good. The worst examples I've seen were shooting dark objects against a bright background... But I don't personally use Matrix Metering and have very little experience with it. I figure I've got a better chance of making that judgment corrent than the camera does.

    Regardless of what machinations the camera goes through to make a judgment, in the end it basically sets an Exposure Compensation. That is, it changes what the light meter reading is by a correction factor. It just doesn't tell you what the factor is,

  6. #6

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    Thanks for the helpful explanation. From what everyone is saying sounds like I really only use snow scene, if I use it, when hiking on the glacier or perhaps in Prince William sound if the scene has alot of white and glare. Sounds like except for those conditions I'll be shooting as I usually do for landscapes, which is in program mode and using the histogram to judge the need for EV compensation. I'll experiment between snow scene mode and EV compensation on my camera. Is there anything about white balance I need to be concerned when shooting glaciers or snowy conditions? I usually have it on auto white balance. Not sure if snow scene mode handles WB as well or if I need to change something in those conditions?

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    Manual white balance is more accurate in most circumstances than auto white balance, but some cameras are better at this than others. I doubt you will find snow making much of a difference in how the camera controls auto white balancing, so use whatever works for you.

    As far as adjusting EC for people in snow pictures, it would depend on how much snow is being seen by the camera's meter and usually where the snow is placed. If this is a closeup with the people dominating the scene, especially the middle of the scene, and only a modest amount of snow is being seen by the camera's meter, your normal exposure settings should still work. But if it's a scene with large amounts of snow, especially in the middle of the image area, and the people look small in the distance, they are likely to show up as small black silhouettes against in 18% gray snow unless you enter some positive EC.

    I still think you will not find as much white as you think on top of Ruth Glacier. Many of your scenes will have a more dark gray or blue sky in them than snow. And you will probably have a lot of black rock in the backgrounds of many shots. Also glacier ice is often are far less than pure white by late summer. Lots of glacial moraine and pieces of scraped off rock end up on the surface, and in some areas the dust of glacial silt coats the ice. You should be prepared for it, but you may not need as much EC as you think.

    And I think Floyd is right, using EC allows you to tailor the amount of compensation to fit the varying nature of the scene. Using a camera's snow mode gets you what some Japanese lab engineer thought you would need when standing on Ruth Glacier. I doubt he really nailed it.

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    I'm sorry, I'm just not understanding correctly, but why would you want to "over expose" a snow scene? Over exposing allows more light into the film or sensor, causin' "burnouts" on the photo, where as, under exposing, can & will reduce that burnout, & allow more detail. Or am I wrong in assuming this?

  9. #9

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    Jim, thanks for that helpful explanation on white balance and EC, and also for the clarification in what I may actually be encountering on the glacier. It is Root Glacier at Wrangell-Elias NP by the way, not Ruth Glacier, but I assume the description you gave is comparable and it was helpful, I was envisioning fields of white and you are right, there's likely to be lots of variety in the terrain and color. Thanks.
    Gogoalie, I'm just going with what I've been advised several times, there may be other ways to do it and I did read one article that said as you do that doing negative EC rather than positive brings out more detail, but I think Floyd gave a really good explanation(thanks Floyd) of why to do the positive exposure compensation. I'm quoting what he said below: "The problem is that the light meter provides a reading that will under expose because the meter thinks the scene is averaging about 18% grey, but with a lot of snow a scene is probably at least twice that bright. Using the value from the light meter under exposes unless you do something to get correct exposure. To get the correct exposure means increasing exposure (but not over exposing) by something from 3/4 to 1-1/2 fstops. The easiest way on most cameras is to set Exposure Compensation to +1 EV. That is not over exposing, that is correctly exposing!"
    I'm driving to the snow to practice in a few weeks and I'll try a little of both plus try snow scene and see what happens.
    Thanks to all, the information has been very helpful. I think I'm getting it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by gogoalie View Post
    I'm sorry, I'm just not understanding correctly, but why would you want to "over expose" a snow scene? Over exposing allows more light into the film or sensor, causin' "burnouts" on the photo, where as, under exposing, can & will reduce that burnout, & allow more detail. Or am I wrong in assuming this?
    Most of the "problem" is one of ambiguous or conflicting use of terminology. You are essentially correct in your thinking! Others are commonly meaning to say the same thing, but it comes out in a way that is totally confused.

    The assumption often is that more exposure than the camera would give in Programmed Mode is "over exposing". So they say you have to "over expose a snow scene". It ain't really so, but that is a very common vernacular to describe what they do.

    Since the camera's meter will in fact under expose a snow scene, the "correction" is indeed to allow more light through the lens than the camera would have done by itself. It's just that that does not cause over exposure, it causes correct exposure.

    Your description of what happens when something is over exposed is very true. And we certainly want to avoid that when shooting something with snow, because if a large part of a scene is snow and the image is over exposed that means a large part of the image will be washed out with clipped highlights. In fact, a touch of underexposure is commonly a good idea simply because it locates the bright snow areas a little lower on the brightness curve and (depending on how the image is processed and displayed) it often results in better definition of detail in the snow. It's a judgment call though, because bright snow means high contrast, and that usually means a total dynamic range that is more than the eventual print can possibly display. You have to pick which tonal range is well defined in the final print. One way puts a lot of detail in the snow, and makes faces that are in shadows too dark, for example. The other way lightens up the faces, and loses all the fine detail in the snow!

    This business of being a "photographer" sounds good to start with, but look at all the messy technical crap you gotta soak up to be one! Maybe just taking pictures of kids is more fun than being a real photographer, eh? :-)

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    Quote Originally Posted by LEK View Post
    Hello. We're going on a trip to Alaska in late July and want to make sure I understand how to take photos in those conditions. Visiting Kenai Penninsula, Prince William Sound, driving Glenn and Richardson Highways, seeing Wrangell-Elias National Park, Hatcher Pass and Valdez. We'll be kayaking, glacier hiking, fishing, hiking and flightseeing. Likely taking photos on many cloudy, rainy days, of glaciers, snow, sometimes glaciers or mountains against water. I have a Panasonic FZ35 and also a Panasonic ZS3. I use both cameras on the program modes which means I have some control but generally do not use the manual controls, though I play with them from time to time. Here are my questions:
    1) In photographing snowy scenes, such as a hike on a glacier, my understanding is that I should overexpose the snow, which I can do using exposure compensation. So I go up to +2/3 or +1, correct? This will keep the snow white and prevent a general gray look? What if there is a person in the shot? Do I still overexpose?
    2) How about just using the snow scene mode? Does this do the overexposure for me or do I still need to overexpose even using the snow mode, and if so, by the same amount? What does the snow scene mode do to the photo, what is it changing?
    3) Is a circular polarizing filter useful for snow scenes? Does it make a difference if it's sunny or cloudy? What about gray or rainy days in general, use the filter or no? Ditto for using a lens hood?
    Thanks very much for your answers. I'm really looking forward to this trip and want to take the best photos I can.
    On snowy scenes, just take the photo as usual. You don't have to over/under expose since you will be using your camera on fully automatic mode. It means that the camera will choose the best settings it's capable of. Now, if you use a semi-automatic mode, then you may be able to do such things.

    Lets say you want to take a photo of a person that's standing in front of a snowy or bright scene. In this case if you want to show more of the person you will have to use a fill light (a flash, the camera's flash, a reflector, etc.). But if you camera is on fully automatic mode, more than likely it's not going to fire the built-in flash. However, I imagine that your camera has semi-automatic modes. If that's the case, then you can pop the flash UP with the press of a button. Otherwise, use the afternoon or morning sun to your advantage, and move the person (subject) so that the golden light of the sun illuminates the subject. The sun is behind you, and the light is on the person's face. Always use the lights angle to your advantage, and the best angle is one where the light is always at your back, not in front of the camera.

    A CPL is always useful when taking photos of landscapes on sunny days with blue skies and white clouds on the background. It's the most useful when light is being reflected toward the camera. For example, you are taking a photo of a pond (still and bright water like a mirror), with a blue and bright sky reflecting light toward the camera. Another example: a person is sitting in a car and the light reflected on the windshield sort of blinds you a little (it makes it difficult to see the person inside). In this case, a CPL blocks some of the light being reflected toward the camera, much like when you wear a set of polarized glasses to see the fish swimming in the pond.

  12. #12

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    Thanks for the info on using light to my advantage. I do use the camera on program mode which is semi-automatic so I can make those changes in exposure compensation, white balance, forced flash, etc. Good to know when the CPL is used to it's best advantage.

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    Thank you Floyd...thought i was goin' "crazy" there fer a sec...

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    What did I do wrong here? Why's it so blue?

    http://www.picturetrail.com/sfx/album/view/23660330

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    Brad, Your camera used the wrong color balance. I assume you have it set on auto color balance. If the Sun was shining directly on the scene it would probably looked a warmer shade (more yellow), but since it's in the shade (cloud probably), the scene is being lit by a whole lot of blue and cool colored clouds in the sky. This is the typical result in a shady or cloudy scene. In theory a good camera should be able to detect the color of the light and adjust accordingly, but no camera does this perfectly. That's why they make digital cameras with color balance controls.

    It's easy to correct after the fact though. I copied it into Photoshop and hit the auto color button, and it looks much better. You could use just about any image editor made to do the same manually. Plenty of free choices out there.

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    You can adjust the WB with CS5 (Camera Raw now can open JPEG and TIFF images).

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