Proper White Balance for Snow

by Bob Evans on March 2, 2011

For this quarter’s newsletter I thought I would share the proper white balance and settings for snowy conditions.

I just completed my two Winter In Yosemite workshops and enjoyed the loads of snowfall that we were blessed with.  One of my students asked that I review the white balance adjustments that I covered during the workshops with you all.  So here are my suggestions .  First of all get out there and shoot during the winter months!  The images can be some of your best with patience and good techniques.  Take a look at the photo below and see what improper white balance produces.

Snow in Yosemite

Heavy Snow in Yosemite

You will notice I’m sure how blue the image is.  Not too natural!  Can you adjust in camera raw, yes but will you remember just how the real scene looked at the time you clicked the shutter.  Being a purest photographer I want the scene to represent the actual white of the snow that I saw during the storm.

If you only use auto white balance, then you should consider more advanced options.  I use the expo disk to set a custom balance each time the light changes in temperature. I have found however that even as accurate as this method is, it does not always key in on the white of snow.  So instead, if your camera has the capability, then I suggest you set it to 6500 kelvin temperature.  You should find that it will be very accurate in representing the true white of the snow.

In this image I used that method.  It shows the real scene as I captured it.

Yosemite Snow

Merced River Snow

So if you can set the kelvin white point, try to use it, and I think you will be pleased.  In addition to the white balance you need to adjust your exposure so that the white of snow is clear and detailed as in the image above.  If you don’t adjust it, your histogram will be too far shifted to the left and you will not only loose data but your image will be dark and gray.  Increasing the exposure composition by .3 to .7 stops captures the details in the snow.

Yosemite Snow

Snow at El Capitan

Here is an image that is too dark, due to the camera metering system trying to expose for neutral gray tones.  So with the slight adjustments indicated above we can bring out the highlights and shadow detail.  Just be cautious that you don’t go too far to the right of the histogram and loose data.  Remember that no matter what software you are using you cannot recreate data the is not there. Weather it is on the black or white side.


Clearing storms

El Capitan after a storm

So now in this image we have adjusted both the white point and the exposure comp as indicated.  As you can see we have not only good whites but we can see lots of details in the shadows and highlights.

Lets recap by saying that in order to get great snow shots we need to adjust our white point to 6500 kelvin, if your camera has that feature, and adjust the exposure comp by .3 to .7 stops over metering.  If you camera does not have this feature then use shady or cloudy and you might come fairly close.

So remember. “Keep shooting.”  If you have any questions my line is always open.

See you next time,

Bob Evans


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