Blinded By the Light

Winter in Montana can present some unique challenges when taking photos outdoors. Every situation is unique but there are some general guidelines that will help you take consistent photos during the long winter months.

How to keep snow from looking gray
Under extremely bright conditions where large patches of snow and strong sunlight dominate the frame, the camera's metering system will attempt to compensate for the additional light and the results will often make the snow appear gray or muddy because the photo was under-exposed. In order to offset this effect you'll need to fool the camera by adjusting your exposure levels. Take a spot reading on a bright patch of snow and then open up between 1 or 2 stops depending on the conditions. On cloudy days make smaller adjustments of .5 to 1 stop. You can also use the auto exposure bracketing (AEB) feature available on most digital cameras when you feel a certain shot requires greater attention. When using this setting the camera takes three photos of the same scene at three different exposures-the first image is taken at what the camera thinks is the right exposure, and then two additional photos are taken at specified increments above and below the original setting. Using these techniques should keep your winter scenes looking natural and not gray. As you gain more experience you'll be able to accommodate for these different scenarios much quicker.

Condensation and cold weather care
Generally, most cameras will hold up well on cold winter days but a few additional precautions will keep your equipment operating smoothly even under the most extreme conditions. When you're heading outdoors place the camera in a backpack or camera bag that has some insulating properties. This will allow the camera to acclimate slowly to the ambient temperature outside and will keep the lens from fogging when you begin taking pictures. Hand warmers will keep batteries and equipment functioning properly and should be included on most winter outings.
Carry extra batteries and store them in a pocket close to your body, or place them next to hand warmers so they retain their charge throughout the day. Most importantly, when you head back indoors remove the batteries, film or data card from the camera and then place the camera in a plastic bag for a few hours. This will prevent any moisture from collecting on the camera and lens while these items return to room temperature.