Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Tips on Winter Photography

Photo taken near Reno/Lake Tahoe in Nevada.

It is winter again, and you know what that means! Lot's of gift giving, shopping, and an extremely jolly time of the year. In some parts of the world there will be snow and lot's of it! It is the time of year where people go skiing, snowboarding, playing in the snow, and for photographers, snow photography! One issue a lot of photographers get into while taking pictures of snow is the "Greying Effect". See the photo below if you don't know what it is. The "Greying Effect" ruins a lot of photos, even for people who are not photographers! So now your question is probably how do I get my photos to look like the one above instead of the one below? In today's post I will offer you some tips on how to prevent the "Greying Effect" and some other tips on how to protect your camera equipment while you are out in such a cold environment.

The left show the "Greying Effect", the right shows how snow should look like. Big difference right?

So why does the "Greying Effect" happen? To effectively teach you how to get rid of this problem, I will need to educate you on why it happens. So usually when you take a photo, your camera weighs in the different colors and light of the scene you try to take. When you try to do snow photography, most of the light coming into the camera will be white. So the problem actually happens here, when this much white light enters the camera, the camera will think you are trying to take a picture of an extremely over-exposed 18% grey object. So the camera tries to compensate it by lowering the exposure, hence making the snow grey! There are several ways to fix this problem.

Disclaimer: You follow these tips at your own risk! The author of the blog is not responsible for any damages that may result from these instructions. These tips are provided for educational and informative purposes only. 

Exposure Compensation
This might not be available to some of the more low end cameras, but is the most effective in preventing the greying effect. So first of all, you will need to put your camera into a mode where you are allowed to adjust the exposure compensation number. Then you will need to locate the option on your camera, usually marked with an icon that shows a black and white square with a + and - sign in it. Now increase the exposure compensation and take a shot, do this until the image looks satisfactory and the "Greying Effect" has disappeared. Generally you will have to increase the exposure compensation by +1 or +2 to compensate for the camera's under-exposure.

Beginner explanation on why this works: Since the "Greying Effect" is caused by your camera underexposing your image, by putting your exposure compensation at +1, this tells your camera, what ever exposure the sensor tells you to use, add 1 on top of it.

Open the Aperture
Another method, although I would not highly recommend it as this method will definitely put some blur on your image, is to use aperture priority (Av or A) or manual (M) and open up the aperture by 1-2 f-stops and then compensate exposure for +1 to +2 stops. By opening up, you compensate for the prolonged exposure time. This feature might not be available on some low end cameras.

Use a Snow Scene Mode
For a change, this feature may not be available on some of the high-end cameras (LOL). This method is very amateur-ish and not needed by professionals. Also, this method I do not highly recommend as it may overexpose some of your photos. You can do this by setting your camera to a "scene" mode specifically designed for snow. This may fix the "Greying Effect", but may also overexpose your photo, I recommend my first 2 methods.

Fixing Your Old Photos in Photoshop
Those are the methods for preventing the "Greying Effect". So now you are probably wondering, what do I do now with my old ruined photos? Throw them away? No need to fear, Photoshop will come to your rescue. It doesn't matter whether you shot it in RAW or JPEG, just raise the exposure of your shot by around +1 stop and save.
    Protecting Your Camera and Equipment In Cold Climates
    Those are the tips for preventing the problem, now let's move onto how to protect your camera equipment in cold weather. Don't think this is easy, because it is not! One mistake can ruin your camera and lens! These tips are more targeted towards DSLR owners, not so much for you guys with a small point-and-shoot.
    1. First rule, I know it is easy to forget, but don't put your camera under your jacket in a cold climate. When moving your camera from a cold place to a warm place, or vice versa, condensation may gather on your lens (including the inside), and it may damage your equipment! When going from a cold place back to a warm place (like hotel), before you go back, make sure you take out your battery and memory card, then put your camera back in the bag. After you arrived at the hotel, leave your camera in your bag for at least 2 to 3 hours before you open it up. If you don't have a camera bag, use a Zip-lock bag. Make sure you take out your battery and memory card before you go back so you don't get tempted to open up your camera bag before the camera is allowed adequate time to warm up. The 2 to 3 hour rule usually works for people who are going to Alaska or place with similar climate. If you are going to Reno like me, 1 hour tops because it isn't as cold and your camera will warm up or cool down faster. 
    2. Warm up your battery. A warmer battery will work longer than a cold battery due to the chemical reactions (I think). So for professionals, some people will keep and extra battery in their pocket to warm it up, and then they will keep switching the batteries to get more life out of it. Make sure you don't keep change in the same pocket though, I seen a comment on another blog of a guy accidentally shorting out the battery and burning a hole in his pants...
    3. And as for tip number one, try not to use the heater in your car, just wear more clothes. I think I explained it pretty clearly in tip 1 why, so not going to do it again. Another way, put your camera in a cooler, so it stays the same temperature as when you put it in, then when you need to take a photo, you can just take it out of there. 
    4. If you are going to Alaska or a place of similar climate, try not to exhale onto your camera, your breath will instantly become a thin layer of frost!
    Well that's all the tips! I hope you have enjoyed the tips on winter photography. Please don't forget to share this article with your friends and leave a comment! Also please don't forget to "Like" us on Facebook or follow me on Twitter and Google+. You can also do that with the box on the top of the right sidebar. Have fun with snow photography! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!