How to Take Great Pictures of 2017’s Biggest Snow Storm (And Send Them to Us)
It finally arrived -- the biggest snowstorm of the season so far. Don't let it start to melt without capturing some images of winter's beauty. Plus, we would love to see your pictures too, and find out how much snow fell in your town. The easiest way to send them is through our mobile app, which you can get here.
Did you know there are ways to make your pictures really stand out from everyone else's? Our friend, Louis C. Hochman, who works at our sister station in New Jersey, loves photography and has put together some tips on how to take great pictures in the snow. Thanks, Lou!
How to Take Great Pictures in the Snow:
A huge portion of the time, the auto setting on your camera will work wonderfully. But a giant sheet of snow is one of those subjects that just confuses the heck out of the camera.
If my camera is confused, what hope do I have? The camera figures nothing in the picture should be so bright you can’t see it. It also figures nothing should be so dark that you can’t see it. So it takes a look at a scene, notices what’s bright, notices what’s dark, notices what’s about normal and tries to average things out. It also tries to make a best guess about the intensity and color of the light (which, even outside, varies depending on the time of day, cloud cover, the position of the sun, how much haze is in the air and a million other things).
It’s looking for normal, average tones, and we’ve just gone and thrown a big, blinding sheet of bright white snow in front of the camera. If it had hands, it would throw them up in frustration. “Way too bright! Way too white!” our anthropomorphised camera says. “I must need to make this darker! And blue-er! Everyone loves blue!”
We don’t love blue. So what do we do?
Don’t be afraid to get into your advanced settings: Whether you’re using an iPhone, a point-and-shoot, a DSLR or anything else, you’ve got more control than “auto” is giving you. Don’t be afraid! What’s the worst that can happen — it won’t look right? Your picture is already dark and blue. What else can go wrong?
Find the white balance option: We wish we could give you a one-size-fits-all setting here, but life’s not that simple (there are reasons photographers get paid the medium-sized bucks). White balance is measured in Kelvin, or “K.” The lower the number on your white balance setting, the blue-er the picture will be. The higher, the more yellow-ish. 5200-6500K is a pretty good starting point for mid-day with moderate sun. You might also see settings for “Daylight” or “Cloudy” — give those a shot.
Feeling a little … exposed? Actually, if your camera is in full-auto, you’re probably feeling a little under-exposed. If your shots are coming out a little dark, look for an option called “exposure compensation.” This should work whenever shooting in auto, or a semi-automatic mode (like a “program” mode). It’ll also work if you’re advanced enough that you’re comfortable shooting in one of the “priority” modes on your camera (if you don’t know what that is, don’t worry about it).
This is usually measured in “EV.” Notch it up to somewhere between +.3 and +.7EV — maybe even 1EV or more, if you’re feeling brave (note — results will vary per camera, because no two cameras make the same assumptions about how bright things should be to start off). Don’t go too far. You can lose detail making your bright colors the absolute brightest they can be.
Can’t I just adjust this all on my computer or phone? Yes and no. You can make adjustments, and they may help — but edits to a JPEG file are “destructive,” which means entire cities will be leveled when you try. No! Not really. But it does mean that with each edit, you lose some detail — and the more severe the edit, the greater the chance of ruining the image.
ADVANCED CLASS — Shoot in RAW: OK look, if you already know how to work with a RAW file (or what to do with one), you probably don’t need this guide. You probably shoot in manual mode all the time and spend your spare time on Internet forums talking about polarizing filters and rear-sync flash bursts and chromatic aberration and blah blah blah (like some digital editors we know).
But if you’re on your way to photo-nerdom and not quite there yet, still turn on the “RAW” option (or the RAW+JPEG option, which will give you two files instead of one). It’s a crazy-detailed dump of nearly all the data that hit your camera’s sensor. If you don’t get the white balance or exposure quite right, using software like Photoshop or Lightroom, you can tweak most of those things after-the-fact without losing much, if any, quality — unlike editing a JPEG, which is, as we’ve discussed, like crossing the streams in Ghostbusters (sometimes necessary, but best avoided).
What about at night? Look, this isn’t photography school, OK? We’ve got to leave some fancy things for another time. Oh, OK, fine. Do most of the same things, but use a tripod, and if your camera has an option to snap the picture a few seconds after hitting the button (or you can use a remote), even better — you’ll avoid shaking it while touching the camera. If you’ve got the option, take down the ISO to something between 100-400 and let the camera do the rest. Why all of this for the dark? At a low ISO, the camera’s shutter needs more time to let in light in the dark, so you want to keep it still to avoid blurring your picture.
OR: Jack up the ISO (so the camera doesn’t need a long shutter speed) and don’t worry about the tripod. This may be your only option if you don’t have a tripod handy, but high ISO will make the picture grainy, too. Everything’s a tradeoff.
You may need to fiddle with the white balance a little more.
Practice, practice, practice: This snow is coming on fast. There’s no shortage. So keep practicing, and you’ll either wind up a great photographer, or a musician at Carnegie Hall. Either way, good for you.
Now that you've been schooled, you'll probably start taking some of the best snow pictures ever. Don't forget to send them to us! The easiest way to send them is through our mobile app, which you can get here, or you can post them on our Facebook page.
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