We all know about yellow snow, but what about grey snow. The "Arctic Blast" that's blanketing the United States is certainly making news, and making me want to move to Hawaii. It makes driving treacherous, makes little kids maniacs inside their houses, and ruins many a photograph. I've been noticing it a lot when cruising through Facebook and watching the local news, where people are encouraged to send in their snow photos.
One common element is that the snow is not the puffy white confection we see with our eyes, but a drab, dark grey. Why, you ask. Ahhh, this one you can blame on the camera...to a degree.
When you set your camera to auto or if you're using your phone, the camera's sensor is taking it's reading based on an 18% grey middle tone. This is an old bit of math that applied to print photography, but has become so ingrained in the photographic world that it's the standard "neutral" for most camera sensors. I personally hate neutral. I'm not really neutral on anything, including photography.
So here's your camera, trying to read light in a "neutral" way so that it can make it's "neutral" exposure. However, snow is a highly reflective surface and it fools your camera into thinking that you've got tons and tons of light pouring into the camera. The camera underexposes the images and your snow looks...grey! The people, dogs, buildings in your images get underexposed too so your snow photos aren't just grey, they're dark. It's personal opinion on my part, but I think grey and dark equals a pretty ugly photo.
Here's an example of an underexposed snow photo and it's nice white counterpart. I'm probably not winning any awards for this one, but it's meant to demonstrate a point. There are a couple of ways to get your snow to look snowy white. You can shoot a raw file if you have a DSLR and fix it in post production. If you don't have a dslr or you shoot jpeg then you've got to take control of your camera and tell the camera's meter to take a seat, you've got this one. You've got to deliberately OVEREXPOSE your image. If you've got a higher end camera, you need to shoot in manual and aim to overexpose your image by up to a stop, or use your exposure compensation and nudge your exposure to that brighter end.
Here's the rub, you can never take control of your camera's exposure value if you shoot automatic or in a scene mode. When you choose these automatic settings, you're basically telling your camera that you don't know what you're doing so you'd like it to take over. Never forget that you are the one taking the photo, not your camera. If you're using an iPhone or camera phone primarily, find a camera app that lets you control your exposure value. If you're shooting with a dedicated camera, find the exposure compensation and use it. If you have to fix your picture in post processing, it's always an option. I'm all for doing whatever it takes to eliminate grey snow photos.