Winter is my favourite season for photography. For the camera, there is something uniquely special about the quality of light. For me… well, I simply love photographing in snow and cold climates. Give me the Arctic over Africa anytime.
Of course, the challenges in such wintry conditions are many. First of all, the gear has to be up to the job, which is the reason I’m so enamoured with the Weather Resistant lens technology that Fujifilm has put into the three lenses I mainly use: the XF16-55mmF2.8, XF50-140mmF2.8 and the XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 zooms. Yes, yes! I know… it sounds like the folks at Fujifilm asked me to say that but, honestly, they didn’t. My work takes me into some of the world’s harshest environments and, I can honestly say, the tech truly works – every time.
After the gear, there’s you – the photographer. Working in any cold climate, whether the high Arctic or just during a cold snap on the North Yorkshire moors, you have to be prepared. Staying warm not only keeps you alive, it makes the photographic experience so much more pleasant.
And finally, there’s technique. Now, generally speaking, nothing much changes. Lens aperture and shutter speed are still the two most important controls on your camera, because they are the ones that change the aesthetics of your images. What I find does change, is how I meter light in snowy conditions.
Exposing for snow has always been portrayed as one of the dark arts of photography. It needn’t be, because it’s really quite simple and it all comes down to understanding what the light meter is actually telling you. Because camera light meters are unable to distinguish tone, they are calibrated to see everything in the world as a medium-tone grey. Black coals from Newcastle, swan’s feathers… snow. The meter thinks they’re all medium-tone grey and gives you a meter reading that will make your subjects grey. To get from white to medium grey the camera under exposes the image. Which means that you have to do the opposite and adjust the exposure to compensate.
In bright light, snow is white, which is two stops lighter than medium grey. So simply dial in +2 stops exposure compensation (or add 2-stops if you’re shooting in manual exposure mode) and you’ll get white snow. In overcast conditions, snow is light grey, which is one stop brighter than the medium grey the camera thinks it is, so you apply +1 stop exposure compensation. In dark shadow, snow is medium grey, so the camera is going to get it right.
It really is that simple and, once you’ve got to grips with the concept, it means you can spend your time thinking about the composition. One of the things I love most about snow is how I can use it to really simplify my visual story. A snowy background is great for minimalist compositions where light and tone are free to do the talking.
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