I use to tell people that one of the things I enjoyed about my hometown Walla Walla was the full, distinct four seasons that we have. I’m getting awfully close to amending that to three.

Winter is almost here, and with it, the snow. Sometimes a little, sometimes a lot, but always, dang it, some. Last year I wrestled chains on and off our two vehicles way too many times to enjoy. Once it was on Snoqualmie Pass in blowing, freezing rain where it took me over an hour with two 20-minute breaks to thaw frozen finger tips.

But hey, I’m not one to complain, so just ignore those first paragraphs and send your sympathy cards care of the Union-Bulletin.

This is about the snow and how it can effect your photography — cameras and images.


Snow is white. Duh, but easy to forget when you’re out shooting. A common complaint from weekend shooters is that their snow photos look dark and muddy. Almost always this is because they are underexposing their shots.

No matter how smart your camera is, it is stupid. It doesn’t know if you’re shooting a snow bank or a pile of coal. It’s trying to make every image 18% gray, which is the age-old standard for proper exposure of images. Snow is not 18% gray. More like 4-5%.

So if you’re out with the family sledding and shooting with your camera on auto-exposure, set your exposure compensation dial to about +2 to overexpose by two f-stops. This will give you snow that is basically white. But remember, when you fill the frame with your adorable three-year-old’s rosey red cheeks, they will be overexposed. Rosey cheeks are not snow white, but your camera doesn’t know this.

Your best bet is to have your camera on manual and shoot test shots of your hand in the same light as your subject matter. When your hand looks right — say 1/500th at F8 — leave that setting for the rest of the day (or until the light changes). This way, whether you are shooting wide shots of the hill or close-ups of the family, the snow will be white and the faces right. You are exposing for the light not the subject.


The biggest issue on your equipment is the cold. Batteries don’t like cold and lose power quickly. It’s a good idea to bring extra batteries and keep them in an interior pocket where your body heat can help keep them strong.

If you only have only one camera battery, make sure it is fully charged before you go out and keep the camera tucked near your body until it’s time to shoot.

If you have no choice but to keep shooting for long periods of time, try taping chemical hand warmers to your camera near the battery. The same warmth they convey to your brittle fingers they will convey to your frigid batteries.


It only took me 20 years as a professional shooter, but I finally got over my inherent cheapness and bought a pair of really good boots, a great parka and warm, warm mittens and gloves. They all last for many years and keep the joy of photography alive when winter is killing everything else!

And those hand and foot warmers! I buy a case of them every year. When the weather turns crappy, I still have to be out there shooting. Having that extra warmth inside my socks, gloves and pockets can make all the difference in the world.

(If you have questions or ideas for future columns, contact me at greglehman@wwub.com)