Shooting Snow & Ice Page 2

There's also the old "Sunny 16" rule: For a front-lit subject in bright sun, set the aperture to f/16 and the shutter speed to the reciprocal of the film speed: with ISO 100 film (or the ISO set to 100 with a digital camera), use a shutter speed of 1/100. Of course, you can use any shutter-speed/aperture combination that results in the same exposure: 1/100 at f/16 = 1/200 at f/11 = 1/400 at f/8, etc.

The trick with snow scenes is to render the brightest portions of the snow white without wiping out all trace of detail. Here the scene was given 1.5 stops more exposure than the built-in camera meter suggested.

But different folks have different tastes, so it's not a bad idea to bracket exposures when shooting snow scenes. Start with the Sunny 16 exposure, or the incident reading, or a stop over the reflected-light reading, and bracket from there.


A polarizing filter can add drama to a partly cloudy sky, while a warming filter can eliminate the blue cast from shadows.

Outdoor shadows are areas lit only by blue light from the sky. This gives them a blue cast. Normally, we don't notice the blue cast, but when the shadows are cast on white snow, we do--and our film certainly does. There are two choices here: Work with the blue (it can add color to an otherwise colorless scene), or eliminate it by placing one of the amber 81-series light-balancing filters over the camera lens. The trick with the filter is to neutralize the blue cast without turning the snow amber. It's best to shoot such scenes using print film, or digitally, so you can make corrections after-the-fact if necessary. With slide film, what you shoot is what you get.

A polarizer can reduce or eliminate reflections from the snow (and other nonmetallic surfaces), and darken the blue sky. Maximum sky darkening occurs when the sun is to one side; if you shoot directly toward or away from the sun, you won't get much darkening. With an SLR camera, just look through the viewfinder and rotate the polarizer until you see the effect you want. The polarizer reduces the amount of light reaching the film by 11/3 stops regardless of its orientation, so you must increase exposure by 11/3 stops when using a polarizer. The metering systems in most SLR cameras will automatically compensate for the polarizer, but some require special circular polarizers to function properly--see the instruction manual for your camera.

4. Add Some Color!

People can add human interest and color to a snow scene, as well as serving as compositional elements.

An all-white photo isn't very interesting. You can add visual interest to your snow photos by positioning someone in colorful garb in the scene. This also adds human interest, generally a good thing. Try the shot both ways, with and without the person/people, and see which works best for the particular scene.

The touch of color doesn't have to be gaudy. Just a subtle tinge can add interest.