View Full Version : Where do you meter for snow?

John Kasaian
5-Nov-2004, 21:22
I know of two elderly gents, both skiers who due to health problems have had to quit sking. One of these guys is suffering from a terminal disease, so he especially won't be strapping on his boards this year. He was a long time character at the local ski area well known and loved by all(one legend has it that he streaked the Day Lodge to celebrate his 70th birthday!) I was trying to think of something to cheer him up so I thought I'd take some LF shots of his favorite runs using my point and shoot 8x10(Gowland Aerial) camera and make prints for both these guys. My question is about how to best filter snow. I'll be using a #8 yellow as it seems to help get some of the texture of the snow, but if I take my reading off the snow I'll get rather murky looking white stuff, so I've been metering off the sky. OK, but still not the best solution. So, like ....uhhh where do you meter for expansive snow scenes to get good results? Oh yeah---its B&W!
Another issue I've got is that at the base of this particular ski area there is a small alpine lake. I'm trying to picture in my minds eye how this lake should appear in my print. I wonder if it will appear gray(if it reflects the sky) or more like a big blob of ink? OTOH if it is cloudy there could be some very interesting effects if the clouds are reflected in the lake.
Any ideas, suggestions or thoughts on the matter? Because of the nature of one of these fellow's illness time is kind of running out, so I doubt if I'll have too much time to experiment---any "short cuts" would be greatly appreciated.

John Kasaian
5-Nov-2004, 21:35
Sorry I'm not thinking right! This is really a question about metering and filters. What works best? Conditions are changable---it could be bright sun or overcast As someone once said, weather in the mountains are about as predictable as a baby's bottom.

Jeffrey Sipress
5-Nov-2004, 22:15
I think the general rule is to meter the snow and over expose that by about 1.5 stops.

Bernard Languillier
5-Nov-2004, 22:19
Hi there,

Being new to LF and shooting mostly slide film, my adivce might be the most relevant, but I'll give it a try nonetheless.

As you probably know, the measure provide by your light meter if applied as such to the camera focussed at infinity and without filter used, would result in the area you metered being rendered as 18% grey (a slightly dark grey actually).

If that area was not supposed to be rendered as such, you end up with an underexposed image (in the case of snow). To avoid this, you have several options:

- use a Kodak 18% grey card and average 2 spots meterings on the card oriented first 45 degrees to the left, and then 45 degrees to the right. It is important to make sure that the this test is done in light conditions similar to those present in most of the scene,
- measure the light somewhere in the scene that is close to 18% grey (shadows in the snow could be a good candidate).
- measure any place in the scene, and decide how much thta area should be lighter or darker than average grey, knowing that + 3 or 3.5 stops shoudl give nearly full white, while - 3 or 3.5 stops should give nearly full black.

Finally, if you fear that the exposure range in the scene exceeds 6 or 7 stops, you might have to bias the result above to decide if you want to keep details in the highlights or in the shadows. My personnal feeling is that it is better not to overexpose snow too much so as to keep enough texture information.

If you use filters, or focus to a point closer to infinity, you will have to correct the exposure computed above to compensate for the resulting loss of lights. I am sorry, but I am unable to provide you with a good filter recommendation for B&W snow shooting. Considering that snow tends to reflect the blue of the sky (especially in the shadows), I would think that a yellow filter would indeed produce darker shadows, with probably little effect on the areas directly hit by the sun (besides an overall darkening if the exposure is not adjusted). This should indeed improve the texture of the snow also.

Finally, regarding your lake, I guess that a pola filter would help you control the amount of sky reflection you will get.

Sorry not to be able to help more,

Best regards,

Tom Perkins
5-Nov-2004, 22:57
There is a good section in Ansel Adams' the negative on snow scenes. The light yellow does provide some texture. One full stop compensation for a light yellow filter at 5,000 feet or more. Try metering the snow in direct light and in shadow, put the shadows in zone 4 or 5, and adjust the development time on the highlights to bring them down to zone 7 or 8. If the scene doesn't have much shadow in it, then you can underexpose and increase development time, which also helps the texture in the clouds. Your readings on the bright parts of the clouds and the snow should be about the same. The lake will come out kind of dark. If you don't have time to experiment, bracket. If that doesn't work, then just shoot your 400 film f/11 at 1/250 or its equivalent with a light yellow filter and the H___ with all the worrying. Good luck. Tom Perkins

Erik Sherman
6-Nov-2004, 03:57
You could also take an incident meter reading and, if you are concerned whether you'll like the blance of tones, bracket above and below. Sure, it's overkill, but then you only have to set up once.

6-Nov-2004, 06:37

I have spent most of last winter experimenting with Don Miller's rule of thumb for capturing snow texture and it has now become mine as well.

Bright, sunny conditions (sunlight on snow): use a Yellow (2x) filter and expose for 2 stops more than the metered reading adjusted for the filter factor.

Cloudy conditions (no sunlight on snow): NO Yellow filter and expose for 2 stops more than the metered reading.

One example http://cicoli.com/WinterScenesGallery/pages/Neg1Feb9,2004gentle_jpg.htm (http://cicoli.com/WinterScenesGallery/pages/Neg1Feb9,2004gentle_jpg.htm)

Good luck!

Francesco (www.cicoli.com)

6-Nov-2004, 08:25
Francesco: What emulsion do you use that yellow filter on, could you mention this please?


Robert A. Zeichner
6-Nov-2004, 10:02
It sounds as if you really need a "painless" way of doing this and fast. I would recommend the following:

Try using the "Sunny 16" rule to establish your exposure. f16 at the reciprocal of your film speed and calculate from there (in bright sun of course). So, if using T-Max100 say, and you intend to shoot at 1/100 sec., set the aperture to f16. That gets you a base from which to work. Just re-calculate for different apertures or shutter speeds. If you rate the film at 64, use 1/60 at f16.

A yellow filter will do just fine, but for even a little more texture on the snow, I would recommend a Wratten G (equiv. to a #15 dark yellow). With T-max 100, you can use a filter factor of 1 stop for this filter. Because it is deeper in color, it will block even more of the UV rich skylight that illuminates the shadow areas of the grains of snow resulting in a more obvious texture.

The business with the pond is a bit trickier. A Polarizer might help if the orientation of the sun is correct. Otherwise it will act more like a neutral density filter than a polarizer. The Wratten G will do well to make any reflections of clouds pop, so that might be all you need. It will also darken the water if the water is reflecting blue sky.

I've done similar kinds of shooting with my Graflex RB Super D and have gotten wonderful results and had a good deal of fun shooting to boot.

Good luck

Gem Singer
6-Nov-2004, 10:47
Hi John,

I second Robert's suggestion of a #15 yellow filter. It was my favorite filter for B&W film while photographing snow scenes in the Oregon Cascades. It will also help with the reflection of the clouds in the lake. Meter through the filter, if possible. Then you won't need to worry about the filter factor.

I usually spot meter the darkest shadow area in the scene and then close down two stops. Bracketing 1/2 stop in either direction for insurance.

Andrew O'Neill
6-Nov-2004, 11:31
Where do you metre for snow? Come to Canada. We've got lots of it!

ronald moravec
6-Nov-2004, 12:58
Cross lighted snow is best as that is what picks up texture. Dark yellow or G is dramatic. Light yellow ok.

Meter the bright areas of snow with the spot meter and open 1 1/2 -2 stops so it doesn`t turn grey.

Don`t bother in overcast.

6-Nov-2004, 14:49
Ramin, that shot was recorded on Efke PL100 8x10 inch film rated 100.

Francesco (www.cicoli.com)

John Kasaian
6-Nov-2004, 16:48
WOW! Thanks for all the responses! I've got some Tmax 400 already loaded in holders so I'll try that first. I think I have a #15 filter around here so I'll take that up with me as well.
Great snow texture Francesco!
I think ski runs should be pretty interesting. If I can get up there early I'll have "corduroy" from the grooming machines and later in the day the inevitable "death cookies"(rock size pieces of ice that act like ball bearings under skis!)
Thanks once again---I think these photos will mean a lot to the old guy.

6-Nov-2004, 22:45
I've photographed a lot in snow; never used any filtration. Treat it like anything else in the picture, whether you filter or not--meter on it and decide where you want to place the value. anywhere from zone VII to zone VIII+, typically. In bright sun this may require some N- compensation in development.

David Karp
6-Nov-2004, 22:47
You may not want to make a huge change in your technique before taking these photos, but I have found that Barry Thornton's 2-Bath formula works great on snow scenes. By its nature, the self-compensating developer helps keep the snow from blowing out.

His formula: A bath - 750 ml water, 6.5g metol, 80g sodium sulfite, water to make 1L. B bath - 750 ml water, 12g sodium metaborate for N development, water to make 1L (7g/liter for N-, and 20g/liter for N+). I have split the sodium sulfite 50/50 between the two baths with good success. 5 minutes in each bath without a wash in between works well. As with Diafine, extra time or temperature variations make little or no difference.

I have tried this formula with Arista Professional 400 and 125 (HP5+ and FP4+) and Arista.Edu 400 (Fortepan 400), but not with T-Max 400.

I had the good fortune to be in Yosemite during a snowstorm a while back, and the photos developed in this formula during and after were all that I could have asked for. I used a #12 filter and metered for the shadows (next time I will try a few with the #15). If the snow fell higher than zone VII, I took a chance and just let the snow fall where it may (hoping that the developer would exhaust in the highlights before they blew out), and it worked fine. I made two exposures of every shot, so I had a backup that would allow for N-1 development in a weaker B bath if required, and ended up developing the backups in the normal B bath.

If not this time, it might be worth trying some time.

Have fun.

7-Nov-2004, 09:03
I have found that the best thing to do is two tests. The first one for Zone I and the second one for Zone VIII. The second test the development time test is the key test. This test is used to fine tune your negative development time to your darkroom materials i.e. paper, enlarge, and chemicals to print the high lights. After running these test to make sure the film speed and the development time are correct go out and photograph snow or a white building. When metering place the white value on Zone 7 to 7 . Make exposure.

I don’t use any filters at all. Take a look at the work I have been doing here in Vermont for the past 20 years.


N Dhananjay
7-Nov-2004, 10:18
I've struggled with this a fair bit. I think the most important thing here is to develop a feel for the light on snow, local contrast - at least, that is what I struggled with the most. In terms of general rules, you want to be particularly sensitive to what the highlights on the snow look like. Unless that looks sparkly (that particular, granular, local contrast look for snow that we strive for in the print - complex base white and just grey dots over the highlight area), whatever you do with the rest of the print does not matter. Note I am not talking about the overall contrast but the local contrast. This is going to depend upon lots of stuff.

Fresh snow provides a little more contrast because the flakes sort of sit on top of each other and provide small little pockets of micro-contrast. Once that surface area melts and re-freezes, much of that is gone. You want angular light - this is less of an issue given the angle the sun makes in the northern hemispheres during winter. But you do want sun, some amount. That's what provides those little pockets of brilliant white highlit flake and just off-white flakes which are in the zone 8 area but shaded by the highlit flake. Don't bother with grey, overcast days. I wasted huge amount of time on this before applying a little thinking to it. There is so little local contrast to begin with, and all the compression of the film/paper stuff pretty much ensures that the print won't cut it. Either you will have textureless, base white or slightly dingy, dirty snow. There is no local contrast to play with on overcast days, and no amount of filtration or trickery gets around that.

If you buy the importance of local contrast in the highlights, forget about contraction and expansion. Those are useful tools if you are trying to control the overall range but are less useful for local contrast issues. Filtration is, in my opinion, a better tool for local contrast issues.
The sunlit flake is a specular highlight, the slightly shadowed flake is lit more by blue sky and can be depressed slightly with filters in the yellow-red region of the spectrum. Bright sun typically yields nice textures without filters, although you might like using a yellow filter if you feel the toe/paper of our materials are distorting that some. Where I find filters useful is when the sun is weak and provides less contrast in the highlight region. But I'm afraid I can't predict a filter's effects accurately - maybe others can, I can't. So, for me, using filter tends to be a somewhat more intellectual than felt/seen decision. I can't predict/see in my mind's eye its effects perfectly, but I can sort of intellectually predict it and take a chance on using it. I have made repeat exposures with and without filters but I have concluded that the initial quality of the light is probably a more important factor.

Thus, my argument that the most important thing is to develop a feel for what those highlight areas look like. It's easy to trick ourseleves into thinking there is more local contrast than there actually is - look at snow in grey, overcast light long enough and you will see minutely different greys but the human eye has a much greater sensitivity to local contrast that film does (this has to do with inhibition mechanisms in the eye-brain optical system). That was a source of much frustration for me because I saw minute differences that were just impossible to get on film. So, my argument is that you need to develop a feel for the minimum amount of sparkle required to actually get that on film. After that, you can play with using filters to control that etc, but developing that feel seems to be key. A trick that works for me is to look somewhere other than the highlight area - if you can still sense texture and lcoal contrast in the highlight area through your peripheral vision, there is probably enough to get on film.

Hope this helps. Cheers, DJ

Alex Milne
7-Nov-2004, 12:38
Hi John,

I suggest a simple approach that works for me. Very much along the lines of what seems to work for everyone else here. Which goes to show that it ain't rocket science!!!

When in the high mountains I always try to put the snow in zone seven. I use a yellow filter (K2) almost always. Normally I meter the whole scene and cross reference the different zones to see if they match up to my expectations. If they do it gives me more confidence that I have the correct exposure. I then add a stop for he filter correction. Perhaps the most important thing for me is if there are some rocks in the scene, I try to check to see which zone they have fallen on. If it is V and the scene is in bright sunlight, then I feel good about it. Why zone 7 and not 8. Well I have found that the extra exposure can wash out a lot of the all important texture that you want to record in the snow. I then develop normally.

Hope this helps.