Snow Day

By Roger (13 Feb 2014)

Snow is ideal for high contrast photos.

Snow is ideal for high contrast photos.

Well, today was a snow day in northern Virginia. The government is closed, and the doomsdayers are in control of the grocery stores. We got about 12 inches, and the stuff is still falling. I guess I should have bought that snowblower, afterall.

I have a few hours of shoveling to get to, so this one will be real short.

Night time in Old Town Manassas, Va.

Night time in Old Town Manassas, Va.

Three tips we've given in the past to keep in mind:

Your camera's meter will be trying to turn all that bright beautiful snow into an 18% gray. Add 1.5-2 stops of extra exposure compensation to keep it looking pretty.

Don't forget your macro lens when you're out in the snow. (Ft. Wainwright, AK)

Don't forget your macro lens when you're out in the snow. (Ft. Wainwright, AK)

Protect your gear. Even if you have a weather-proofed camera, you should cover your lenses and camera with some kind of protection. The price range for this stuff is wide and worth every penny, no matter what you use. You can use a plastic bag from your pantry or the custom fit Gortex. Don't forget to put your camera in a sealed bag before you leave the cold and re-enter the nice, cozy house. Condensation can cause problems with your camera or grow mold inside your lens, rendering it a total loss.

Snow doesn't have to be your subject when you are in a snow-covered location. (Smithfield, Va)

Snow doesn't have to be your subject when you are in a snow-covered location. (Smithfield, Va)

And, as I said just a couple of weeks ago – you need to get out there. Yes, it's cold and wet (snow always has been), but every place you've shot has changed because of the snowfall. It looks different. It looks “purty.” Go shoot. Have fun.

Try an abstract while you're in the snow.

Try an abstract while you're in the snow.

Snow Day

By Roger (12 Dec 2013)

The cold weather is here in Northern Virginia – finally. I enjoy the variety and distinctness of the seasons here, but winter has been my favorite for a long time, especially if there is snow involved. Apparently, not everyone up here feels the same as me since, on Tuesday, the Feds shut down government offices over a measly 2-3 inches of the white stuff.

As photographers, however, we can put the snow to much better use than shutting down the government. Snow can be a positive element for your photographs. Snow can help you simplify your composition; it covers distractions under a blanket of white. Most people love to see nice photos of a snowy landscape. If kids are on your preferred subject list, a snowy day is perfect for fun photos. You can be assured of naturally smiling faces. Snow and ice can add an interesting element in your macro photos. In other words, snow is another opportunity.

My favorite castle, Neu Schwanstein, Germany.

My favorite castle, Neu Schwanstein, Germany.

However, when you go out in the snow to make some photographs, there are a few extra things to consider. Battery life is seriously reduced in very cold weather, so make sure they are fully charged before you go out. Keep your spare batteries inside your coat, so they stay warm until you need them. Your camera may be weather-resistant, but it probably isn't waterproof. I cover my gear with the Op-Tech Rainsleeve (link), but there are many camera protection alternatives out there, varying widely in price. I use the Rainsleeves because they are so inexpensive and take up very little room in my camera bag.

Clear, cold days are hard on your camera's battery.

Clear, cold days are hard on your camera's battery.

You will need to pay attention to your exposure. This can be confusing because you need to add some exposure compensation (+1to 2 stops) if you are using anything other than manual mode. Why would you add exposure when the scene is already so bright? The camera's meter is trying to average out the light on the sensor. You have to override the camera's solution to keep your snow bright in the resulting photo. Pay attention to your white balance as well. The snow will tend to a bluish tint, especially in the shade. You can set your white balance to 6,000-6500K for manual shooters, and point-and-shooters should use the “Shade” setting.

As always, set the shutter speed and aperture for the effect you want. Use faster shutter speeds for snowflakes frozen in the air and slower speeds for snow streaks across the image. Set your aperture wide (lower numbers) for a soft, dreamy feel, but be careful to keep your subject in sharp focus. Use smaller apertures for a crisp, detailed look.

The snow is still falling and filling the frame with whiteness

The snow is still falling and filling the frame with whiteness

In post-processing, you can refine the photo to get the exact look you want. If you've done most of your work with the camera, these will be minor tweaks. Make sure you didn't lose the highlights in the photo; check the histogram to find any areas you've accidently let go to pure white. Check your horizon line. For some reason, when shooting in the snow, I seem to do poorly at keeping my horizon line level. You can adjust your white balance, if you didn't get it quite right. If you like to use vignettes, snowy shots are some of the best to use a white vignette. I tend to spend most of my time removing any distracting elements, like twigs poking out of the snow, wires on buildings, etc

Before the debris clean up.

Before the debris clean up.

After debris clean up.  Little things can have a big impact.

After debris clean up.  Little things can have a big impact.

Snowy days can be great days for your photography. Don't sit inside and hibernate. Get out there and shoot some photos. It is loads of fun.

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Snowshoes or Snow Shoots? But where is Winter?

I had planned on writing this blog on winter and snow photography, but we haven’t really had any to speak of.  The temperature really plummeted overnight and there are now rumors of winter weather for the upcoming weekend, but I’ve had no chance to go out and look as cute as these kids from a VA winter in 1967.  In order to prepare for taking pictures in winter, there are a few tips you need to consider.

First, camera batteries do not like the cold weather at all.  You need to take extras, and keep them close to your body, so they can be swapped out. You might lose as much as 50% of the normal life.  Watch your battery life indicator on your camera.  Keep the camera inside your coat as well.

Second, just like your eyeglasses, you have to watch out for moisture build up on the lens and fogging as it goes from warm moist air inside a car or building into freezing air.  Allow time for the lens and the camera to adjust.  If snowflakes get on the lens, don’t wipe them off with a cloth, use the brush.  The pressure from the cloth could cause them to melt and then instantly refreeze. 

Most critically, you might have noticed that snow is kind of white.  Many people’s pictures of snow however are gray.  The camera brains are still not as smart as our optical processors.  The camera will underexpose the image, if it is allowed to think for itself.  There are several ways to counteract this.  The best way is to ensure you know how to use your Exposure compensation controls.  Add +1/3 or +2/3 stops to the image.  Test it and see if it is enough.

The other method is to bracket your images.  If you are trying to capture people against the snow, this provides the ability to expand your dynamic range.  Finally, although it might seem counterintuitive, consider using your flash as a fill light for the people.  It will help them stand out against the bright white background.

Well, if you have snow go out and shoot some images and post them with your comments.  If we get a flurry or two, I will be out there as well freezing my lens cap off.

Wine and Snow

I’ve spent the last part of the week at a company offsite, which was quite hard work.  Driving down to Charlottesville last Wednesday was a challenge as the massive snow storm which blanketed the area made the roads a little treacherous (Yes, I know stay close to the candle).  However, snow on the VA countryside can be quite beautiful.  Especially when seen from inside the safety of a warm inn with a roaring fireplace. From inside the Boar's Head Inn I liked the contrast of the northern snow on the southern magnolias as the evening fell.

It even snowed some more on Saturday morning.Quite heavily in fact.  It did look picturesque.

So because C-ville is such a lovely city, Roger brought Cathy down and we went shooting.  On the way back we traveled some back roads to visit a couple of the now more than 100 wineries in the state. Barboursville

The ruins at Barboursville, were designed by Thomas Jefferson. Barboursville ruins,  Why did he design ruins?—of course he designed the building that burned in 1884, but that joke was enough to amuse us for quite a while. One of the ways to get more interesting photos is to change your perspective.  Even a little bit can make a big difference.

 It’s been a busy couple of weeks and I am happy to be back home.  Too bad this week doesn’t look much easier.   It looks like my friends and family in the Midwest are going to get clobbered again by more snow.  Oh well, get out and take some pictures.