Tuesday, December 24, 2013

I had a photographic a-ha! moment today

And I thought I'd share.

I think snow is beautiful.  Now that I don't have to drive Cleveland's scariest highways, my attitude towards snow is: Bring it on. Only, I've never been able to take a decent picture of snow falling.  Now matter how hard it's coming down, how big and fat the flakes are, it just never really translates.

It's Christmas Eve today and snowing big, fat, snowy snowflakes and I can't help being happier because of it.  I wanted to take a picture, but the pessimist in me said "Why bother? It won't show up anyway. :("

And then it dawned on me:

YOU HAVE TO USE A FASTER SHUTTER SPEED TO 'FREEZE' THE FLAKES!

doh.

Have you ever seen a picture of an airport that looks deserted, even if you know that place is usually packed?  The photographer used a tripod and a slow shutter speed to make all the people "disappear."  The long exposure means that only the parts that stay constant have a chance to burn in - everything else just fades away.

The same premise is true for falling snow.  Only in this case, the falling snow is like the people who fade away.  Because it's generally a little darker when it's snowing, the camera compensates by holding the shutter open for a longer time.  This allows more light to seep into the camera and get you a proper exposure.  When the shutter stays open for a longer time, anything that's moving shows up as blur.  If there's enough disparity between the shutter speed and the moving object, the object can disappear completely.  That's not usually the case with snow, but it blurs enough to just barely show up.

In order to get the snow to show up, then, we need to dial in a shutter speed that's fast enough to "freeze" the action.  In these examples I jacked the shutter speed all the way up to 1/1250.  That's probably way higher than it needed to be. And to get a decent exposure on this very grey, snowy day I had to up my ISO to 12800.  I was shooting in shutter priority, and the camera dialed in an aperture of f/13 - so obviously I could have brought down the ISO and still had a very workable image.  But it was cold and I'm at work, so I wasn't going to be fussing around too much. ;)

Bottom line: this settings are probably way more drastic than they need to be, but the premise is the same: If you take a snowy day picture and the flakes aren't showing up, you'll want to up your shutter speed (and probably your ISO).  Start by doubling your current shutter speed - if you were shooting at 1/60th, try 1/125th and keep playing until you get where you're going.


I was only about 15 feet away from this wreath when I took it.  The snow shows up, but there's only about 15 feet's worth of snow.  On the other hand, I was across the street from this clock tower:




So there was LOTS of snow between me and my subject and even more behind it.  The cumulative affect is so exciting!  To me anyway.  It might take more to get you excited.  I get it.  To each her own. ;)

Merry Christmas!
And if you don't celebrate: Happy Random Wednesday Off!

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