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I am about visit Nepal for 8 weeks, planning to trek the Annapurna circuit, Everest Base Camp and Imja Tse. Most of the landscape is extremely bright and snowy.

Credit: Wikimedia commons
Credit: Gianni Scopinaro

  • How do I avoid getting the snow appear as uniform white surface?
  • Is there a difference between close-ups and scenery?
  • Do I need to purchase equipment, like polarizers?
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possible duplicate of Are there specific techniques/filters for snowscapes? –  rfusca Sep 11 '11 at 19:28
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3 Answers 3

up vote 10 down vote accepted

In the photo you put in the question, note how the foreground is extremely underexposed. This is because the exposure metering was made relative to the snow. However, if you set the snow to the standard exposure, you will get a "dark", gray snow. You need to add about 2 stops with Exposure Compensation (or use manual mode) in order to get a bright white snow.

A polarizer can certainly help by eliminating some of the specular reflections from the snow, to make it more "uniform".

Update: If you wish to shoot people on a snowy background, you can easily run into the problem of overexposed snow or underexposed persons. Except for using grad-ND filter, like mentioned in the other answers, for reducing the brightness of whatever is above your subjects, you need to find other, smart ways to equalize the brightness levels.

Your options are to try shooting when the person is facing the sun, to use large reflectors or to use active lighting like (off-camera) flash.

Another link on the subject: How to cope with high contrast?, and see Matt's answer.

(*) I am assuming you know how your light meter works and how to use it.

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I agree, the example given is a great image to show that this photographer was working around the limitations of a bright sun and white snow! Shooting silhouettes is always an option, although somewhat limiting perhaps. –  dpollitt Sep 11 '11 at 15:54
    
+1 Thanks. I'm looking for a more general answer, not just regarding the photo in question. What about a group of people on a snowy background? –  Adam Matan Sep 17 '11 at 6:42
    
Adam did you look at the link @rfusca provided in his comment? Doesn't it answer your question? –  ysap Sep 17 '11 at 13:30
    
My answer is not necessarily specific. Your original question did not ask about portraits of group portraits. I'll update my answer. –  ysap Sep 17 '11 at 13:32
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The problem with snowy landscapes is that it is usually very highly contrasted. You need to understand that a photograph can only display a range of 5 f-stops.
This means that if you define a specific area as being the medium luminosity point, then any area that is darker from this medium area by more than 2.5 f-stops will be plain black, and any area that is brighter by more than 2.5 f-stops will be flat white.

In the context of scenes that span more than 5 f-stops, you have several options:

  • Play with it,and underexpose and/or overexpose some areas on purpose;
  • Use a graduated neutral density filter, which will block part of the light on a part of the scene, thus reducing the contrast
  • Shoot in raw format (raw format allow you to record information spanning 7 f-stops) and then get back the details you need using lightroom or other processing software
  • Use HDR, i-e shoot several shots with different exposures (for example, 0, -2 f-stops, +2 f-stops) and then combine them using an HDR software (like Photomatix). Hope this helps.
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first, welcome to photo.SE! then, this is at least quite inaccurate. 2.5 f-stops below medium grey is black? Not at all. Photographs in general can display a range of 5 stops? No, luckily it is more than that :-) –  MattiaG Sep 13 '11 at 12:43
    
+1, but @Mattia is right. –  ysap Sep 13 '11 at 17:30
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Polarizers are a good start if you want to achieve a blue sky, but they can be difficult or impossible to use with a wide angle lens due to the angle to the sun that will change across the image. I still would recommend one to any photographer.

A graduated neutral density filter may be the best investment. It will allow you to lower the contrast in that white snow to whatever degree you wish. A great question with answers can be found here: How do I use Graduated Neutral Density filters?

I don't think the conditions that you are describing will be overly complicated to shoot well. If the situation is overly high in contrast, you could try multiple exposures or even HDR images.

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