Contributed by Spyros Heniadis
Winter is here, the snow has fallen, and now it's time to capture the wonderland of Wisconsin Winters.
A common question with winter photography is, "Can I take my cameras out into the cold of winter?"
The answer is absolutely yes!
Your camera is well equipped to handle cold weather, however there are a couple of precautions to take for optimal performance.
Keep moisture out of your camera
Moisture can get on and in your camera when you take it from warm temperatures out into cold temperatures, and vice versa. See, it's not the cold that's dangerous to your camera, it's the transition in temperature.
To prevent moisture from condensing on or in your camera during these temperature transfers, put your camera in a ziplock bag. After the camera has transitioned to the new temperature you can take it out and use it. Just make sure you give yourself an extra 10 to 15 minutes for the transition.
Prolong your battery life
Cold weather quickly zaps your batteries, so make sure you have an extra battery (or two!) with you, and keep those batteries in a pocket close to your skin. Your body heat will help keep the batteries warm, extending the battery life.
Also, don't forget to bundle yourself up!
We certainly want to take care of our gear, but we need to take care of ourselves as well. Most important is a good pair of gloves that will keep your hands warm while allowing you to handle your camera and adjust settings, and speaking of settings, when you're shooting in the winter, you can't always trust your camera!
In fact, snow scenes are guaranteed to confound your camera and give you mediocre photos unless you follow my number one winter photography tip!
If you've ever photographed snow scenes you've probably noticed how the snow comes out looking all gray and dull instead of brilliant and white.
To fix this and make your snow scenes as brilliant in your images as they are in real life, you need to overexpose your shots.
To access the ability to overexpose you'll need to be shooting in Program Auto, or one of the other manual modes on your camera.
To do this you'll be adjusting the Exposure Compensation. To find the Exposure Compensation setting on your camera, consult your users manual. Many cameras have a dedicated button for it. Look for the "+/-" button on your camera.
To make your snow scenes white, set the exposure compensation somewhere between +1 and +2. There is no concrete rule, in fact, you'll want to take a test shot and make sure you're not too high. If you take a test shot and the resulting photo has large blinking areas, bring the exposure compensation down a little bit. For example, if you have large blinking areas, and you are set at +2, move it back to +1, and take another test shot to see how it looks.
So why can't your camera expose snow properly?
It happens because the camera meter, which is the brain of the camera, is fooled by snow. When your camera meter reads a scene to calculate the exposure, it takes all of the brightness values in the scene, from pure white to pure black, and it mixes them all together. The resulting mixture is essentially an average of the brightness of the image.
The camera then sets the exposure to make that mixture middle gray, the idea being that if the average of brightness from light to dark is exactly in the middle (middle gray), then the exposure will be correct and white will look white, black will look black and your photo will be properly exposed.
The problem with a snow scene is that it's almost entirely white, and when the camera mixes all the brightness up, it gets white, or nearly white as the average. By exposing that average for middle gray, all the snow in the image is turned gray, because it's underexposed.
By adjusting the exposure compensation, you're telling the camera that instead of making that mixture middle gray, you want to make it brighter, and the brighter it is, the whiter the snow will look in the resulting photo.
The same principle applies when photographing anything that is largely uniform in color or brightness/tone. If it were something that was very dark, an image with large areas of black in it for instance, you would adjust the exposure compensation to somewhere between -1 and -2.
You can test this by photographing a plain piece of paper or a white wall. First take a photo on Auto with no exposure compensation, and then over expose by +1, then do another shot at +2. Compare the three photos. You'll notice a dramatic difference.
One last thing. Exposure compensation stays wherever you set it, so when you're done shooting in the snow, make sure to set it back to zero, or the next time you grab the camera, you'll be overexposing all of your photos!
Spyros Heniadis teaches photography, photographs personal projects and contributes to SCENE magazine. You can find information about his classes at his website, (The Self Help Photographer: http://selfhelpphotographer.com).