The snow is falling, the temperature is a balmy 30 degrees, and your children are laughing as they finally get to play in the snow. You get out your camera to capture the memories, but unfortunately, the picture doesn’t look like the beautiful scene in front of you. Sound familiar? Your camera is making its best guess at how bright to make the image, but most likely the snow looks dirty and gray and your children are very underexposed (too dark). Maybe it is so white that you can’t even see any of the details on your snowman.
Luckily, there is an easy fix, regardless of what type of camera you own. All you need to do is find your “exposure compensation” dial. It should look like a number line with a zero in the middle. It usually goes from -2 to 0 and then 2+ (or reversed, depending on what type of camera you own). If you have a dSLR, it is most likely on the top of the camera.
On my point and shoot, I have to be in “P” for Program mode (as opposed to Auto), and then turn a dial on the back of the camera to access it. Even the newer iPhones and other smart phones give you the ability to make the scene lighter or darker.
Your camera assumes that everything it sees will reflect 18% of the light. Basically, it is trying to get to a middle gray. This works well for most situations, but white snow reflects a lot more light, which throws the camera off. The camera will try to make the white snow darker until it appears gray. The solution? Using the dials on your camera, move that “exposure compensation” closer to the + side. This can take some guesswork, but it will pay off.
Here was my first photo today when we went out in the snow. I set my exposure compensation to “0”, right in the middle, and you can see that it is way too dark.
Here I bumped it up to a little more about 1 1/2, and you can see that it was too bright. There is no detail in the snow, it is completely white. If I printed this photo, it would look like my daughter was in front of a completely white background.
Finally, I moved the dial to very close to +1. Here is the result. The snow is no longer gray, my children’s faces are bright enough, and there is still detail in the snow.
I hope this is helpful! Remember, if you are taking pictures with a black background, the opposite is true. You will most likely need to move your dial closer to the negative side, because your camera will want to turn that black background into gray. Enjoy!