I scour the Internet as least once a week, looking for freebie tips on shooting and editing, as well as affordable online workshops with photographers whose work I admire. Today, I thought that I would pay that forward, and am even thinking about doing this weekly. What do you think? Wednesdays are good for me; thoughts?
Today’s topic: SNOW. It’s one of my absolute favorites, because honestly, who can resist snow? Playing in it, eating it, making snow cream, throwing it, etc. But there are some challenges with taking pictures with or in it; namely:
- your photo will look blue or gray
- squinty eyes, if the sun is shining
- red noses and cheek and ears
- the white of the snow loses all definition in your photo, aka blowing your whites (no peanut gallery comments…) (ok maybe some, but not too awful, please. that was low-hanging fruit)
There will be other things that come up when you shoot, and my biggest advice is this…
I am terribly inept at speaking/explaining things in technical terms when it comes to photography and my camera. It’s embarrassing, really, and if you’re a geek-speaker, you’ll be quite disappointed if you try to engage me in that type of conversation. Thankfully, by the grace of the camera gods, I’ve figured a lot out just by practicing and soaking up everything in my path so far. Try it.
So let’s discuss those challenges.
First, my equipment. These photos were both taken with a Canon 5d Mark III, using a 24-70L lens. I have a love/hate relationship with that lens. I swear that I hate it, but I find it on my camera body the most when we’re traveling or outside a lot in an unknown-to-me area. It’s one of two zoom lenses that I own, and to be honest, it’s a great “walk-around” lens to keep on my camera when I know that a) I’ll be closer to my subjects, or b) I’ll want those beautiful wide shots outside. I think that the reason I don’t think that I like it is that it’s aperture only opens to 2.8 (this is what creates the blur, or “bokeh”, in the background), and I have other lenses that will open to 1.2. That’s a huge difference.
Second, shooting conditions: these are shot in natural light and I only shoot in manual. (I won’t go into that here, but if you’re interested in learning about shooting in manual, please send me an email and I’ll put you on the list for my workshop later this year.) I also shoot in RAW and use AWB (auto white balance). I shoot AWB because I shoot in RAW. If you shoot in JPG, you will most likely have to adjust your white balance IN YOUR CAMERA in order to get better warmth in your photos. I prefer to do those adjustments in my computer v. my camera, and RAW gives me that leeway.
Here are two shots that I took of my 9yo, straight out of camera (I’m just going to use the term “SOOC” from here forward – it’s one techie term that I love to throw around to confuse people into believing that I know much more than I do).
The three things that I knew about these shots even before I took them were these: 1) because I know this lens, I knew that there will be lens vignetting around the edges of the photos, which would make the edges seem even more gray, 2) because of the lens distortion (being a wider-angle lens), I knew that I would fix that distortion in Lightroom, and 3) because I was shooting in the snow on a snowy and overcast day, I knew that I would add warmth to these in Lightroom.
THE FIX: In Lightroom, I chose Lens Correction>Profile>Enable Profile Corrections to get rid of the lens vignette & lens distortion. Yes, it’s just that easy. I also chose to use a Lightroom Preset that emulates film. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you which one exactly (I can’t find it easily in my gallery history, since I make so many adjustments to the presets themselves), but I’m pretty sure that it was from the VSCO Film 05 for Canon set. From there, I adjusted some of the color (ie, I desaturated the red of his jacket a little).
This is just a simple composition issue. I didn’t have this issue on this day, but if you do, remember that snow is an INCREDIBLE reflector. You might not be able to get a good portrait of someone in bright snow, simply because they can’t open their eyes. If this happens, just have them be silly…
or you can wait until their eyes are watering so badly that they might be crying. I’m a really crap mom sometimes. (I fixed it with warm chocolate chip cookies on that day…)
You can also try to either put them with their back to the sun and meter your camera on their skin (auto metering will not work since your camera will read all of the bright white snow and make your subject too dark), put them in open shade (in the shade but facing a brighter area or snow bank), or wait for the time of day to shift or some cloud cover. It just takes a little patience. :) Here’s a little open shade.
You’re going to have them. Sometimes, you can desaturate your reds a little in Lightroom or change the color of red more toward orange, but you’ll have to play around with that. (If you’re a post-production wizard and can pull that puppy right into Photoshop, then do it. But then again, if you’re a post-production wizard, you probably won’t be reading this.) Personally, I feel that those color variations are part of the story. You’re supposed to be red-cheeked when your face is cold.
Do something that I like to call the “original Photoshopping.” Wipe noses before you take pictures.
BLOWN OUT SNOW:
Tricky. Because I meter for skin specifically in the snow, I find that I lose a lot of definition in the snow. Some thoughts:
Flat light: this is your overcast sky. Shadows aren’t going to be very clear, which means you might lose definition in the snow and your subject could seem to “float” as in these pictures. Try to shoot in front of something with contrast, like trees or a house or landscapey things. In Lightroom, I pulled the highlights down and pulled shadows up to try to balance a little definition without messing up the exposure on his skin. I did pull up the clarity in my photos, but be careful as this will desaturate your colors. I also bump up contrast & add sharpening.
Bright light: wait. Let a cloud pass and give you shadows, or wait until a little later in the day (or shoot earlier in the day). In editing, I adjusted the same things as for flat light – you’re just going to have to eyeball it on your computer to your liking.
Here are before and after examples of the first photos.
My very most favorite thing about shooting in the snow is that it’s a fantastic natural reflector. You’ll get freckles that pop, great catchlights in eyes, and just look at all of those little snowflakes dancing around in the air in front of the trees. Pay attention to what your kids or family or friends are wearing, too. Brighter colors v. pastel colors will make a big difference.
Let me know if this helped you, and if you’d like to see more posts like this. It really is just taking a deep breath and being patient, waiting for a great shot. You’ll know it when you see it. Have fun!