Archive: ‘Exposure Compensation’

A Little White Lie

Monday, December 27th, 2010

Have you ever taken a photo of snow that looks gray?

Frustrating isn’t it?


Why does your camera turn this beautiful white snow a gray color?   Many snow photos are taken on overcast days and your camera has no way of knowing if it is  white snow in dim light or a gray subject in brighter light.  The white reflection of the snow makes the camera’s meter think that there is more light on board than there really is so it lowers the exposure and underexposes the shot.

Your exposure meter on your camera is calibrated to a mid grey color level: the color between pure white and pure black. When you point your camera at the subject and your camera takes a meter reading it will consider the intensity of the light being read as middle gray. In other words, the meter treats the white color as gray – – go figure! It will also treat a black color as gray too. It is a little white lie or I guess a little gray lie because it thinks it is gray!

To make the gray look white again you must increase the exposure compensation. Usually a +1 compensation will work.


What is the exposure compensation and how do you adjust it? On most SLR cameras you have a scale in the view finder that looks like this:

When you adjust the compensation you move the dash to the right of zero for a brighter (white) or over exposed photo and to the left for a darker (black) or under exposed shot.

In general, if your your subject is bright or white, you may need to increase the compensation value so that the bright area looks white. On the other hand, if your subject is black, you should decrease the compensation level to make the subject black in stead of gray.

When you are taking photos of people in white clothes the same thing can happen. Your camera is fooled into thinking that there is more light than there really is and the faces will be darker and there will be a bluish/muddy look if you don’t compensate for it. That is why shooting people in white shirts can be tricky. This is before:


this is after compensation is adjusted higher:


1/100 F stop 3.0 ISO 100

Just practice and pay attention to your white backgrounds and adjust  your exposure compensation a few different ways to see what you like. You can also adjust it in post editing but, as I always say (as a busy mom who doesn’t have hours to spend on post editing)…. if my family wants dinner on the table….I better get it pretty close to what I want straight out of the camera!

Another example from today:

before compensation  and after a slight move to the right on the compensation scale:

img_3001  img_3000

Quick Tips for snow:

  1. Practice – Practice – Practice
  2. Early morning or later in the day is the best light, but morning is the most beautiful snow.
  3. ISO between 100-200
  4. Keep your aperture low
  5. Keep shutter speed high try to keep it over 1/250 for sharp action shots, can go lower for still shots
  6. Focus on a darker subject first by clicking down half way on the shutter button then without lifting your finger, re-frame the shot and press down the rest of the way.  The camera will meter off the subject rather than the bright snow. 
  7. Put your kids in a good contrast color (red works nice)
  8. Practice with and without the flash, it will help in the shade shots.
  9. Make sure the sun is to the right or left of the subject in morning and evening and behind you during the middle of the day.
  10. Keep your camera (and yourself!)  warm! Don’t worry so much about the kids, they will be fine running around!

Have fun shooting in the snow!!



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