Whiter Snow Photos (Tutorial)

I have really enjoyed looking at all of the “snow” pictures that many of my friends have posted on Facebook. Some of my favorites are ones of kiddos frolicking and dancing – freezing, red-nosed and joyous. But I’ve noticed another trend – gray snow. Have you ever wondered why this happens? It’s your light meter inside your camera saying, “Whoa! I see lots of bright, white light! That can’t be right! I must correct this problem by letting less light in.” (I’m pretty sure that’s an actual quote; your camera’s a poet and now you know it.)

But there is an easy trick you can do to get whiter snow!

I know lots of you peeps have cameras that can be used in “Manual” mode. Wait! Don’t run away. This is easy; I promise. For this example, I’m going to use a Canon Rebel. I know only some of you have a Rebel, but any camera that you can use manually will work. The model I’m using in the pictures below is an Xsi, however you likely have a newer model as Canon keeps cranking them out. (Did you know my first Rebel was a film camera? Yeah, I know…I shot dinosaurs with it.)

Here’s what you do:

1.) With your camera set on AUTOMATIC, click the shutter button down halfway and take a look at the numbers on your display screen. In this example mine said 1/320 and F8.0. That’s the shutter speed and aperture, and no, you don’t really need to know what that means. Write down the setting if your memory is like mine. Go ahead press your shutter down all the way and take a picture if you want, so you can compare your before/after shot.


shutter and aperture display
(Please note the picture above has the “wrong” shutter speed on it. I forgot to take a picture of the 1/320, but I still want to show you where to look for the numbers.)

2.) Now turn your camera dial to the M (or Manual). (Isn’t this exciting?!)


3.) Duplicate the settings you had in AUTOMATIC mode. See this dial? That’s how you change your shutter speed. So turn the little wheel until it displays the number that you wrote down. (1/320 in my case, but yours will likely be different.)

shutter dial

4.) Now press the button that says AV near your display screen (and hold it down) and turn the same dial you used before, to change your aperture to match the other number your wrote down. (F8 for me, but your number may be different.) If you were to take a picture now, it would look the same as the one you just took in auto mode (unless the sun just came out or you took 2 hours to change your settings.) (If you can’t figure out how to change your shutter and aperture consult your camera manual.)

aperture button shutter dial

5. Now we are going to turn that special little shutter dial again to let in some more light and make our snow brighter! Turn it counter-clockwise a couple times. Your number should be getting smaller each time.

shutter dial shutter and aperture display

6. Take your picture.

And that’s it! You can play around with how many clicks away from your original setting looks best for you. Congrats! You just took your first YOU-CONTROLLED manual photo! Take that, light meter!

Here’s a image I took at the original automatic settings (1/320, F8, ISO 100):

f8 320

Here (below), I’ve slowed down my shutter (letting more light in) by changing my settings to MANUAL and turning the dial counterclockwise from my original setting. THis is taken at 1/250 of a second at F8:

f8 250

Looks a little less gray!

And here I’ve turned that dial a little too much, and let too much light in with that shutter dial:

f8 125

You can see that while the snow is nice and bright, the sky is too, and that’s not a good thing here. But if I were taking a picture of my kids in the snow without much of the sky in the background, I would err on “overexposing,” or letting in too much light, because I love that pretty white snow!

All of this is assuming your flash is off, though it won’t fire in the snow on automatic because that meter is saying, “It’s too.much.light!” And it won’t fire on manual unless you make it. By the way, if you’ve ever wondered what HDR or High Dynamic Range was all about, it’s basically getting that snow light and that sky dark(er) all at the same time!

Let me know how it goes!

About catherineamiss

Catherine Amiss Photography specializes in childhood lifestyle photography. Catherine shoots on location and serves the Roanoke, VA area.
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