Snow can create some beautiful winter scenes, but it can also be difficult to photograph. In this video from LinkedIn Learning, photographer Justin Reznick shows us best practices for photographing in the frozen tundra.
I want to talk about snow, winter and snow, something you think about pairing together. And what it does for me is it simplifies and cleans an ordinary scene or a messy scene into something so beautiful. Think about a scene that you have full of clutter, weeds and different grasses and just different things on the ground, and it’s just a mess. And all of a sudden, three feet of snow and you just have this simple white surface, maybe one tree, a barn, a fence, something to pair it with and it’s just magic.
So I love to photograph snow. And you know that reminds me of how cold it is when I’m out in winter, and I want to talk about batteries for a minute. Your batteries are gonna drain in the cold, so I like to recommend keeping them close to your body, inside pocket, or in your vehicle. And always carry extra, be aware of that. All right, so now we’re out, we’re photographing the snow and there’s something called 18% grey, and what your camera likes to do is it likes to meter the scene and kind of create this neutral tone. And oftentimes when you’re photographing snow, it comes out grey.
It comes out underexposed. So it’s recommended that you overexpose by 1-1/2 stops. Now for me, this is not a hard and fast rule, and I’ll tell you why. As long as my histogram has plenty of room on the left and plenty of room on the right, I have the information to deal with that in post. So while you’re going to get a little bit closer to where you want to go, just make sure you don’t hit the right wall. That’s my number one recommendation. You do not want to blow out your highlights. So, yes, overexpose it a little bit.
Check your histogram, check your blinkies, and don’t overexpose. Let’s look at some examples. This first image is from Yellowstone. In fact all of these are gonna be from Yellowstone. I love photographing there in the winter. We have a loan tree in the Hayden Valley, beautiful light shadow play, and let’s take a look at my histogram. Wow, it’s really far to the right. And the question is, am I hitting the wall? So if I hit the j key in the Develop module, and I move my Whites back to zero, we’re gonna see a little bit of red right in there, and that’s telling me that there’s no detail there.
So I can fix that by pulling back just a touch. And I like the texture in this, so I’ve got the snow as bright as I can get it without blowing out any of the highlights. Let’s look at another example. And this image, it’s called Windswept, it’s a panorama. And I’ve actually processed it a couple times over the past year or so and what I’ve done is I’ve gone super creative and high key. What I love about the image is the relationship between the lone tree and the little bit of grasses off to the right of the frame.
And if I hit the J key, you see that red? That red is telling me this is pure white. There is no detail. And I’m OK with that. It’s a creative decision that I made. The important thing though is I did not expose for that in the field. I was able to push that later in post. Another example here. This is probably my favorite winter image of all time for me. It’s just the simplicity of it is what I love. This simple tonal contrast in the hill and then that soft grey palette in the sky, it just calms me when I look at this.
I really love it. And again, if I hit the j key, I don’t see anything blown but man is that pretty bright. If I come over to the raw, look how much darker that is. One more time, finished and raw. It’s an amazing difference. But look at my histogram on the raw. There’s nothing wrong with that. I’m off the right wall. I’m plenty far from the left wall. So in essence that’s a pretty good looking histogram. So did I make a mistake in the field? Absolutely not. Could I have overexposed a little bit? Sure, but what I can still do is turn this image into this, and that’s what I want to show you next.
Lead photo by Bryan Esler