Metering snow? : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

So, I'm heading North in a week or so and hope to get some good photos of temples in the snow (I live in Japan). I plan to use mainly Astia, basically because I'm more used to it than anything else, but I've also got a box or two of TMAX too that I may use. Conventional hints and tips suggest that I meter the snow and then add 1.5 to 2.5 stops of exposure, depending on whether the snow's in bright sunlight or shade. Anyone got any advice? I can use Polaroids too, if they'll help. I don't get to see snow very often, so don't want to make a total hash of it, and'I'm in general a beginner too...

-- Gavin Walker (, February 01, 2002


Use an incident light reading (from the subject position pointed back at the camera) and you won't have to muck about with any factors. Just transfer the meter reading to the camera.

-- Pete Andrews (, February 01, 2002.

If you have sunny skies you should be aware that shadows which reflect blue sky will record lighter with most b&w films than your eye (and meter) perceives. This will be somewhat mitigated by your choice of TMX, which records blue values darker than most films, or more like they appear. Nonetheless, your pictures will likely show better tonal separation if you use of a medium yellow (#12, or equivalent) or light to medium orange (#15, #18 or #21) filter with TMX. This will darken the sky and shadows, which reflect the most blue light, and produce images with greater tonal depth and dramatic impact. I do not recommend filters as deep as red (#23, #25 or #29) with TMX; these filters tend to be too strong with TMX and can eliminate shadow detail, rendering shadows nearly black.

Since you are a beginner, I'm not going to burden you with a dissertation on the Zone system of tonal placement. Very simply, however, if you meter from brightly lighted snow and open 2-3 stops, it will look like bright white snow in your prints--given normal development, of course. But that does not mean you should overexpose every shot of snow you take. If your light is overcast, opening one to two stops should be fine. If half your scene is snow and the rest is darker tones (like pagodas, for example) then you might only want to open slightly, say 1/2 stop, from an average meter reading. The bottom line is, I recommend you bracket whenever possible (one stop intervals should be fine, and go one stop over and under ["over"-"on"- "under"] for average pictures and two stops for shots you aren't sure of the exposure or those really special shots). It's not worth trying to save a few dollars if it means losing a memorable photograph. Have fun!

-- Ted Kaufman (, February 01, 2002.

The Innu have over twenty words to describe snow, and each probably would require different metering. As a start, eyeball the snow for reflectivity - small frozen granules in bright sun add to the required exposure - dry snow on a cloudy day requires less added exposure and so on. And much depends on the effect you’re going for, and the exposure range of the film you’re using.

Two alternatives to reflected metering of the snow would be to use either an incident meter, or a gray card with a reflected meter. I see snow four to six months a year, and generally use an incident meter and would consider that to be your best metering choice, followed by the gray card. If you have to meter the snow with a reflected meter, 1 1/2 to 2 1/4 stops over is a good ballpark starting range, but again much depends on the type of snow, the light conditions, the type of film, and the effect you require.

The two hardest things to meter accurately without an incident meter are coal mines and snow.

-- Michael Mahoney (, February 01, 2002.

Something they never teach in photo class:if you take a reflected readings:white card,a grey card & a black card.The black card is 5 stops more exposure than the white card,and the grey is dead between at 2.5 stops.This where the +2.5 stops comes from to compensate for snow.

-- Edsel Adams (, February 01, 2002.

I just gave my Photo II class the simplified Zone System lecture yesterday, and assigned them the task of making pictures of all-white and all-black subjects. Unfortunately it hasn't snowed here so they'll have to photograph sheets or sheep! I agree with Ted's advice above, the two stop correction will work only if most or all of the scene is white, or if the white part is the only part that really matters. Remember the reflected or spot meter wants to make the tone it is metering into a middle gray (Zone V). If you want something other than a middle gray density on your negative (and hence your print) you have to compensate. "Placing" the snow on Zone III (two stops over) will give you enough density on the neg for the snow area to print white and light gray with detail and texture. Placing it on Zone II (three stops over) will give you more density on the neg, more white in the print, and less detail. But the midtones and shadow areas will come along for the ride. (Not necessarily a bad thing).

When I use my spot meter, I often look for something in the scene that I want to render as middle gray and meter off of that. The other tones then fall into place. If there's a normal contrast range in your scene, the snow will fall where it should, Zones III-I.

You can control your snow (highlight) density even more with development changes, but that gets a bit complicated.

By the way, a question for incident meter users: I never could understand how you accomplish this type of reading in the landscape. Don't you have to travel over to your subject (the faraway pagoda or mountain, for example) and stand there to get an accurate incident reading? You're gonna end up with your own footprints in the snow scene, and someone's gonna steal your equipment while you're gone.


-- Sandy Sorlien (, February 01, 2002.

Oops, correction, make that Zone VII, not III. Snow will fall on Zones VII-IX. I must be thinking negatively this morning! Time for coffee!

-- Sandy Sorlien (, February 01, 2002.

Using an incident meter is a good idea if you have access to one. An incident reading will put you in the ballpark most of the time. You can always check your incident reading against your reflected reading. This will also give you a better sense of how to adjust your meter readings from something as challenging as snow can be.

For incident metering of distant scenes, you don't need to walk all the way to your subject, provided your metering position and the subject are met by the same general luminence. In other words, if you and your subject are both in full sunlight, face your subject, point the incident dome at yourself and you'll get the same reading you'd get if you walked to the subject. Obviously, if the subject is in shade and you are in sunlight, this won't work. But as long as you match light conditions (sunlight to sunlight; open shade to open shade, etc.) you will get accurate exposures.

Oh, one more thing--BRACKET!

-- Ted Kaufman (, February 01, 2002.

I forgot to mention one more key when using incident meters. Your clothing and its reflectance can influence an incident reading. This is most troublesome when you are wearing white or otherwise highly reflective clothing and you are front lighted (the meter will be facing you, so it is backlit). In this case your clothing acts as a fill that your subject does not benefit from. To avoid errors under these circumstances it's best to hold the meter off to the side or above your head.

-- Ted Kaufman (, February 01, 2002.

Every answer that has been given here, dealing with black and white film, means nothing if you have not calibrated your system. Your shutters may be slow or fast, your meter may be on or off, your development tempeature may differ from others, you may not have the same dilution, your agitation may be different, etc. etc. etc. EVERYTHING AFFECTS EVERYTHING. In addition, and being more specific to your question, alot depends on the lighting range you will encounter. Black and white film will easily handle the range of tones if everything is either in full sun or in full shade. It is only when you have dark objects in shade and very light objects in full sun that you have trouble. My suggestion is that you do some tests on your own before you go on this trip. I would do a zone 1 test and a development time test using the exact chemicals and procedures you will use for your trip negatives. Have fun. Kevin

-- Kevin Kolosky (, February 01, 2002.

I second the comments about incident metering. I do like to use the zone system a lot, but also find myself using the incident in situations like the above unless I know exactly what zone I want to place an object on. For instance I did a dog portrait the other day and really didn't know exactly what zone to put his particular tone of fur on. So I used incident and it worked great. Snow scenes and scenes with lots of dark objects seem to be easier this way for me as well. So I am glad that I have one of those meters that lets me pick between spot and incident for different situations...


-- Scott Jones (, February 01, 2002.

Just a quick additional word about incident metering - I'd suggest an inexpensive incident used on every shot regardless of which final metering method you use to arrive at your final exposure.

You will in time become very good at determining the correct exposure based on the ambient light measured by the incident meter, regardless of your subject reflectivity, luminence, or distance. I recall a thread some time ago perhaps titled " the meter in your head " which dealt with this.

I carry a Sekonic 398 incident only and have learned to use it in all exposure conditions. An additional benefit is you learn to read and understand light.

-- Michael Mahoney (, February 01, 2002.

Gavin: you have been given excellent, if not always simple advice. Here comes the simple: carry a Kodak Grey Card cut to shirt-pocket size. Using a spot meter, with your arm fully extended turn the card to roughly a similar plane as the snow and take a reading off the card. The reading from the card is your reading. You can bracket if you wish, 1/2 stops should be OK. Good Luck.

-- Julio Fernandez (, February 01, 2002.

I agree with Edsel and Sandy...

I have another method (which you all may already know) that I suggest to beginners.... In case of you have only a spot meter and do not have a gray card .. just meter the brightest part of the scene and meter the darkest part of scene (the ones that are relevant to you..) then divide it in half...

Other zones will fall in place... or at least you have some starting point to bracket...

-- dan n. (, February 01, 2002.

"Don't you have to travel over to your subject (the faraway pagoda or mountain, for example) and stand there to get an accurate incident reading?" The sun is 93 million miles away,incident readings from one spot,is as good as another.

-- Edsel Adams (, February 01, 2002.


No one seems to have said anything about metering for the Astia. Here's what I do for transparency film:

Under sunny skies, I meter snow in the sun and open up 1 1/3 stops. Under cloudy skies, I open up 1 2/3 - 2 stops. With eveing or morning light on the snow, I open up 1 stop.

Keep in mind that I always make 2 or three identical exposures of everything I photograph. I process only one of each, and then decide whether I need to psuh or pull process the remaining versions of each image. The previous exposure suggestions assume that the snow is a dominant component of your image. As other subject matter becomes more important, like the temples, you need to meter them, too. It then becomes a balancing act, because transparency film often can't handle the exposure range within your composition (i.e., dark walls and bright white snow). Working in the morning and evening reduces the contrast. Otherwise, you should try compositions that emphasize one component or the other (snow vs darker subjects). You can use flash to balance the lighting, but that adds a lot of effort when you're working with large format.

Good luck,

-- Bruce M. Herman (, February 02, 2002.

Edsel Adams,

Great name, wise guy, but I think you are incorrect. Ted Kaufman explained it. Sure, you're right if you just want to meter the sunlight. If the subject is in shade or partial shade that doesn't help you much! I am often photographing subjects (such as the other side of a street) where the light falling on the subject is completely different from the light falling near me. Reflectivity off the ground upwards (snow is a great reflector) is also going to affect the light falling on the subject. I would never go out with just an incident meter.


-- Sandy Sorlien (, February 02, 2002.

By and large the light falling on a subject nearby in sun or shade is the same intensity as the light falling on an object 1 mile away. Variations which you can see with your eye can be seen with a meter too. When using slide film and photograpphing a contrasty scene you will need to determine which tones you will want to have accurately depicted in your slide. The shadows or the highlights. Slide film will reproduce 4 stops of tone, from black to white. Everyone here has talked about incident and spot metering as if they alone will give you the information you need to get the correct exposure. Neither will. You need to know the contrast range of the entire scene more than what the midtones will be. Just metering a grey card tells you next to nothing about what you really want to know which is the contrast range of the scene. If you have a scene with bright sunlit snow(zone 8) and some deep shadows(zone 3) you are going to have to sacrifice one end of the tonal scale or the other. The slide film will not reproduce that range of tones. You shadows will be empty black or your snow will be detailess white. Your choice. You can pre expose the frame to widen the films latitude. Another way to meter is to meter the snow in the sun and open up 2 2/3rds stops or meter the snow in the shade and open up 2 stops. But remeber if the tonal range is greater than 4 stops your shadows will come out empty. And if you haven't calibrated your system then you may want to use these strategies and also bracket by 1/2 stop either way. And I am jealous as sin that you get to photograph in Japan which I think is the most under represented country photographically in the western world. James

-- james (, February 02, 2002.

Thanks a lot to all who answered this. I'm really looking forward to this trip a lot, and have already packed and repacked and re-repacked my camera! The only issue I'm now worrying about is whether my carrying cart will get stuck in the snow... :o)

-- Gavin Walker (, February 03, 2002.

I suggest still metering for shadows, but develop your negatives so that the snow falls in the zone VII-VIII range. In bright light, this might mean some greater compensation (bigger N-). You might then need to print on a higher grade to separate the mid-tones.

I'm always struggling with snow. I think its really tough to photograph snow in flat non-descript light. Some moderate hilights usually make things nicer and more three dimensional. Have fun on your trip!


-- Chris Jordan (Boston) (, February 04, 2002.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ