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White balance for snow

edited January 2016 Posted in » Nikon D3200 Forum
Just curious to know what white balance you use for outdoor snowy landscape shots?


  • edited January 2016
    You can go with auto white balance and adjust it in post if you shoot Raw files. The auto will tend to be a little on the blue side, but snow is generally a little bluer in photographs than our eyes would have it, and if you overcompensate for that other colors may go off.

    You might try as a starting point the "cloudy" setting, which is a color temperature of 6000 degrees K. That's a pretty good center point, and from there, using View NX2 or a similar raw reading program, you can adjust it as you like. If you find you like something that's not very close to an existing preset, you can do a custom white balance.

    Remember, though, that almost every snow shot will be underexposed, and if you want your snow to be white, you will probably have to compensate. If you are shooting a person or animal against the snow you may have to go to +2 or greater to avoid a silhouette. If most of what you're shooting is snow, you may still have to overexpose some to keep it from being too gray.

    When you get out to a good snowy scene, try it straight and then try the same shot at +1 and +2 exposure compensation. See which one comes closest, and then you can fine tune the compensation from those base lines.

    If you can, go to the playback menu, and enable the playback option "Highlights". This will play back an image with any highlights that are blown showing as blinking black areas. Your goal, if possible, is to expose such that you just avoid blinking, or confine it to a few unimportant areas, reflections and the like. That is the point at which you've achieved the maximum good exposure, which will also contain the most digital information and the least noise.

    In View NX2 and Capture NX-D you can also show lost highlights. An image with no lost highlights will be solid black.

    If you are taking a person or animal in the snow, you probably will have to blow more highlights to get the subject well exposed. You can turn on Active D-lighting to help a little, and you can add some recovery in post as well. You can fill flash sometimes, but the dynamic range between a shaded face and a snowy background is very wide, and hard to get. At times this is not such a bad thing, as snow can provide a quick way to achieve a high key portrait.

    If a highlight is blown, the information is gone for good. but if the image is on the bright side, it can be lowered in post, and as you darken it, you will also turn down the noise. It's easier to recover a dark image, but when you raise the level, you also turn up the noise.
  • Very helpful. Thanks!
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