Travel Photography: Mountains and Snow Landscapes
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Adjusting exposure and white balance for accurate snow


Travel Photography: Mountains and Snow Landscapes

with Ben Long

Video: Adjusting exposure and white balance for accurate snow

I finally gotten the chance to sit down, and adjust some Here's an image that I shot the other day on the, on the Nowadays metering is so sophisticated it can very often recognize So that's helped.

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Watch the Online Video Course Travel Photography: Mountains and Snow Landscapes
2h 27m Intermediate May 09, 2014

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Snow-covered landscapes introduce a variety of photographic opportunities and challenges. A blanket of brilliant white can do beautiful things with light, but it also complicates exposure. Crystal-blue winter skies are dramatic, but shooting in the cold can be cumbersome and hard on your gear.

In this course, photographer, author, and educator Ben Long takes a trip to Lake Tahoe to explore winter shooting at various times of the day. He also shows techniques for post-processing winter scenes to make them look their best.

Ben Long

Adjusting exposure and white balance for accurate snow

I finally gotten the chance to sit down, and adjust some images, and go over some things, and see kind of how I'm doing. Normally, well not normally, a lot of times I don't do a lot of image editing in the field. I, I'm too busy shooting and, I also find that I tend to not like to look at my images for three or four months after I've shot them because I don't feel like I can have a fair eye. I'm going to look to hard on the if I look at them right away. On this trip, I want to look at them right away, because I am shooting in an environment that is so different for me.

I want to make sure everything is going okay. Especially because I know that shooting in snow can really flummox your camera's light meter. So I want to make sure that my metering is going okay. I want to be sure that some of the compositional ideas that I'm playing with that are in an environment that's very different that I'm used to shooting in. I want to be sure that those ideas are working out, so i have been going through. And before I show you some of the images that I think are working, I want to show you some things that I've been reminded of about editing snow, and metering snow. Here's an image that I shot the other day on the, on the really difficult, miserable day when we were kind of walking into a blizzard.

My camera did a pretty good job of metering but nonetheless, this is a mostly white image and look at my histogram. It's, there's no actual white. So, my meter has done a pretty good job of getting the snow almost white, but it's not quite there. Here's the deal with a light meter. It assumes that everything that it is pointed at is middle grey because most of the things in the world are middle grey. Look at my shirt for example. Okay, this is actually a gray shirt, but anyway, most scenes in the world. Meter out to reflect about 18% of the light that hits them which is middle gray.

So, since your light meter assumes that things are gray, it comes up with exposure parameters to render your scene as middle gray, and most of the time that's correct. When you're pointed at snow though. You're looking at a scene that's white. Your camera is trying to meter it as grey, and so very often you get grey snow. Now, this used to be an across the board always a problem, you've always gotta over expose snow in the camera to get it to look right. Nowadays metering is so sophisticated it can very often recognize that it's pointed at snow, and so adjust itself accordingly.

My camera was getting doused with snow, you'd think it would've known. It got pretty close here, but it's not quite right so. This image is going to need some adjustment. Let me show you a more extreme example. I, I was actually impressed to come back, and look at these images and see, wow, mostly the snow is, is in good shape. Other images, it didn't do that well at all. This image, if I didn't know better, I would say I intentionally underexposed it. The snow is not white, it is gray. Now you maybe be thinking well, I don't know, it looks like white snow to me. But remember, your eye is constantly correcting things, and convincing you that there's no color caster, that it's white or so on and so forth.

A quick look at the histogram shows that there's no white. In fact, there's barely anything above middle gray. The meter got it dead wrong. On this scene. So I'm going to need to go through all of my snow heavy images, and make sure that there's true white in them. Now I want to show you some things about correcting snow. And here in light room these are the same total controls you'll find in the latest versions of camera raw. That is camera raw from CS6CC, possibly 5.5, I can't remember. Your editor will have your raw editor will have different adjustments.

If you're not shooting raw then you'll have other controls to work with. Still I think the mind set that I'm in here, and the concepts that I'm going to discuss should be pretty clear. I'm going to start By increasing the exposure. Now watch my instagram as I go up. I'm not watching the image at all. Because this screen. Doesn't mean anything. I can't tell what's white on the screen, I need to go by the numbers. So I'm going to do an exposure adjustment to pull my exposure up to about here. Now, I'm not going all the way to here for a couple of reasons. One, when I do that, look what happens to my blocks, I lose all my blocks.

So, there's a point at which adjusting the exposure slider doesn't do me any good. I'm going to pull it over here to about the point where my blacks start coming apart too much. So that's helped. My image is brighter but there's still no white. So for that I need to suggest the whites slider. Now one thing that's cool about light room, is as I move over these sliders. Watch what happens in this part of the histogram. It shows me which part of the total range gets edited by that slider. So I can see that highlights right now. This bits light up.

The highlights sliders adjusts this part of the total range. The whites slider adjusts the upper most part. So this is a way for me to drag those very brightest tones to the right. While generally leaving the ones below alone. So I'm going to drag my whites slider, until I have pure white over there. Now I've got white in my image. Now I know that the brightest parts of snow, the parts that should be white, are actually going to print correctly. So you might stop there and go great. My image is adjusted. Look I've got tones all the way across the image.

But there's something more I can do here. Lights and highlights, those two sliders can work in concert to allow me to stretch this whole upper tone of the toner ranges. So I've pushed all of those tones over to the right by moving the white slider. Now I'm going to lower the highlight slider. To take that bit and stretch it back down. So watch this bit of the tonal range as I take the highlight slider, and drag it to the left. ha. So now, in general my whites are staying pretty white.

It looks like I need to go a little bit more here. But I have got more detail spread across this bit of the range, and what that means is, I'm going to have more fine gradations in the brightest part of my image. I'm only watching this right now. I'm going to go over here and check on my image. Watch this area right here where right now there's a lot of fine detail. I'm seeing a lot of contour in the snow, and things like that. I'm going to reset the Highlight slider back to zero so there's no adjustment at all. And you can see I lose a lot of that detail.

So by dragging my whites over, I brightened up all those really bright areas. Watch this area in here now, where I'm highlighting here with the magic wand. Watch that area as I drag the Highlight slider back down to where it was before. As I stretch out. Those upper bright tones, I get more detail in here. So, when it comes to editing snow, these are the, the tools I'm going to be using very carefully and, really paying attention to them. Use exposure to ball park the bright pits of my highlights.

I'm a use the whites slider. To push the very brightest bits up to the right side of histogram and then I'm going to lower highlights to stretch those bright highlights out, so that I get as much detail, and all of that fine snow stuff as I can. Now, the shadows, and blacks slider works the same way. But for the other end of the total range, so I can use blacks to push my histogram down against that darkest bit, and then use shadows to stretch out that part of the tunnel range. I really like this tool set.

Adobe has refined. These sliders over the lifespan of Camera Raw. These are the sliders that have migrated over to Lightroom from Camera Raw. You used to have an entirely different set of adjustments in, in Camera Raw and Lightroom, and I really think this is the way it should be done. I've got just these four sliders. That give me this tremendous ability to expand detail in both the upper range by using highlights and whites, and the lower range by using shadows and blacks. So, I'm going to go through now, and work the rest of my heavy snow day images, and get the snow looking good.

And then, we're going to come back, and take a look at the images that I thought worked.

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