Portraits In The Snow: Some Tips On Getting Proper Exposure

Photographer and Author Tony Northrup has put together a video tutorial on how to use your DSLR's histogram and exposure compensation to get proper exposure when working with backgrounds that are too dark or too bright. He also talks about spot metering vs. evaluative metering, and discusses when and why he chooses the different modes. There are a number of good tips in this video, and if you're out taking photos in the snowy North, you might find them helpful.

If you haven't seen any of Tony's work or other videos, head over to his YouTube page, where he has lots of short, but highly informative videos about different aspects of photography. One of his more popular videos was this one below, about shooting portraits in the full sun and filling with flash.

You can connect and follow Tony Northrup's work through his facebook page or his portfolio site.

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Milan Sreckovic's picture

Great tips! Chelsea is gorgeous if I may say! :)

C. Edward Brice's picture

Man my iPhone does all that stuff in the phone

Maybe that is the difference between a photographer and someone who takes pictures?  I don't know... my point is, is that there is a certain connection to your work when YOU do it opposed to letting the computer take over the controls.

Tony Northrup's picture

Just for argument's sake, I dragged Chelsea back out into the snow, took a snapshot with my iPhone, and it wildly underexposed it.

I thought maybe it really did have more sophisticated metering; it's feasible, since it's not relying on a limited number of metering sensors like a DSLR does, and it has powerful processors in it. Nope, same dumb metering, but no convenient thumb dial to allow me to fix it.

For the record, I love my iPhone camera.

photographybytylerdotcom's picture

I wanted to address Edward's comment.  While preparing for a workshop I am hosting to help people take better photos with DSLRs, Point-and-Shoots, and smart phones;  I noticed when I took my iPad mini into a shady backlit situation it detected my face and seem to meter bias my face and overexposing the background giving me roughly the correct exposure on my face.  My face is about middle grey.
I was so fascinated by this I then pulled out my iPhone 4 to try this, but no luck.  The iPhone seem biased towards the background and underexposed the face as I would have expected it to.  Maybe the user has an iPhone 4S or iPhone 5 which is making this metering priority on the face itself or maybe he got lucky.

Keegan Evans's picture

Thanks for the post!

Opaluwah O.S Akor's picture

Thanks for this. .  I have had some issues with overexposure during some really important shoots. This would definitely help.
Thanks again

Dan Lubbers's picture

Even though I already knew this information it was a very informative video. Tony explains in a clear simple manner that anyone should be able to pick up on. I have never heard of him, but will now check out his other videos. The thing I look for the most when watching tutorial videos is the simplicity and clarity of the subject and speaker. I always turn off a video when people ramble with nonsense. Nice work Tony and thanks for the post Mike!

How about manual exposure... Sorry but that's just basic stuff. Got a manual, anyone?!?

Good video for beginners though.

Tony Northrup's picture

Respectfully, Helmut, part of what I wanted to convey is that all anyone needs to know about exposure, from complete beginner to working pro, is to use evaluative/matrix metering and exposure compensation.

I actually say this in Chapter 4 of my book, but the only times I really use Manual exposure (apart from M mode combined with auto ISO) is at night and in the studio, where the AE system completely fails. In every other circumstance it's better to have your camera instantly adjusting the exposure for you based on changing lighting conditions. 

For example, if the bride is walking down the aisle at an outdoor wedding, and the sun peeks out from behind a cloud, the exposure needs to change by several stops. With my technique, your camera adjusts automatically, and exposure compensation keeps that white dress nice and bright. With manual exposure, the photographer needs to notice the change in ambient light, decide whether to adjust the aperture, shutter, or ISO, and how much, turn a dial, and then continue shooting. The sun could be emerging from behind the cloud for 10 seconds or more, and the photographer would need to be adjusting the exposure for every shot. Nobody could manually adjust exposure fast enough to keep up with an emerging sun, and the photographer on M would blow out his shots or miss the moment while he made adjustments. The photographer on AE would be able to concentrate on focus, composition, and not tripping over the ring bearer.

Well, just wanted to add that because I've had several people watch the video and indicate that AE and AF were for amateurs, but every working pro I know (outside of the studio or night photography) uses AE and exposure compensation.

Helmut Steiner's picture

Well, you got a good point with changing ambient light and rapidly adjusting the exposure. Nonetheless I usually shoot in manual mode during my trips or shootings. I spent the whole year 2012 on the road on an around the world trip. At the beginning I used auto exposure with exposure compensation, too and only sometimes manual mode. But after some time I realized that in most cases because the lightning conditions changed fast or the subjects varied so much that manual was better as I had to adapt the exposure compensation almost all the time. So I went to fully manual and after shooting for such a long time on manual I just know how much I have to dial to get the right exposure.
But this said, I still use AE from time to time if I have the same subject.

Sorry for the late response, but I just saw your answer today after logging in to Disqus.

Ralph Hightower's picture

My camera doesn't have a histogram.

"Exposure square"? I know of the exposure triangle: ISO, shutter speed, and aperture; but I don't know what the fourth element is.

Tony Northrup's picture

Light. It's in my book. Extending the exposure triangle is my way to encourage photographers to take control of the light when they can't get the exposure they need, rather than simply being passive observers.

James's picture

1st part of second video highlights are blown out BIG time.