When snowmaggedon hits, it's hard to stay indoors. I love to get out while the snow is still falling and take photos before the snowplow disturbs the tire tracks and while the tree branches still have have their white outline against the dark bark. Right now, it's starting to snow, again, and I'm dying to head outside and finish up that roll of 1600 that's been in my camera for over a month. But, first I have some work to do.
Usually DC winters get one to two good snowfalls each year, if we're lucky. El Niño winters, on the other hand, often bring the snowpocalypse all winter long. Lucky for you, this winter is giving you many snowtastic opportunities to get out there and photo our city in all its snowjestic glory. But, first, some tips to help you capture those scenes perfectly.
Your camera's light meter measures the reflected light and adjusts the exposure based on that information. Scenes with a lot of white, like snow, cause the meter to assume there is more light than is actually there, even if it is cloudy, and adjusts the exposure according to that information. This usually causes snow to be dull and gray with loss of detail (in black and white) or with a bluish tint (color film and digital). In these cases, green square mode is not your friend. Take a meter reading of your scene in auto-mode, switch over to manual, and deliberately overexpose by 1-2 stops. Bracketing is another way to overcome the exposure issue, as well. If you are shooting digital, adjusting the white balance will help avoid blue snow.
If you're using an automatic camera, read the manual for information about it's pre-set modes; it might have a "snow" setting. Even if your automatic camera won't allow for exposure control, there is a simple way to trick it into submission. Many of them allow for the shutter to be depressed half-way to collect information about the exposure and to properly focus your photo. Simply point the camera to a mid-range color that's equal distance to your desired scene (a face, for example), press the shutter half-way, hold it there, then reposition your camera and press the shutter down the rest of the way. It may take some practice to get the feel right. Oh, and please turn off your automatic flash.
Now that you've got exposure under control, think about composition a little. If snow confuses your camera's meter, it may also overwhelm the photo, itself. Try to find interesting shadows, buildings, or people to break up the sea of white. Early morning and late afternoon light will provide long shadows and contrast to black and white photos like this one taken by Davin Tarr, while colorful clothing pops in this photo by Erin McCann.
On these cold, snowy days, make sure your batteries are fully charged, or replace them with brand new ones, and take a back-up, if you can. Cold drains batteries fast (I left my camera in my car during the last big snow and the month-old batteries died in one day). Keep your camera under your jacket whenever possible to protect it from the elements and keep it warm. When you head back inside, remember what happens to your bathroom mirror after a hot shower; this will happen to your lenses, too. Give them a little time to adjust to the warmer temperatures and for the fog to naturally fade away. After being outside all day, you'll need to warm up, too! Once you've set down with that cup of hot chocolate and put the cookies in the oven, your lenses should be thawed out before the cookies finish baking. You'll have a snownormous amount of photos to go through.
Oh, and one more thing: the less you carry means the less that gets damaged when you slip and fall. Be careful out there! No one wants a snowtastrophe.
Have some snow tips of your own? Leave them in the comments!