Wintertime Blues

Bob Harvey and Diane Kelsay

Nature Photography Adventures

Copyright 2012

Snowy compositions give us a great opportunity to think through the issues of white balance.

Many photographers think that the goal of white balance is to adjust everything to look like it was shot on a bright sunny day. In fact, if you photograph on a cloudy day and use cloudly white balance, you are essentially doing that.

White balance has so much more potential.

The blues that dominate shadow detail in snowy scenes help us "feel" the cold temperatures. Neutralizing those blues takes away from that feeling. Instead, if you can keep your bright snow neutral and let the shadows become "bluish" then you can capture both the sense of snow and the sense of cold.
There are many winter scenes in which part of the scene is sunlit and another part is in shadows. You'll quickly find that there are two active and very different zones of white balance - and the combo presents the perfect opportunity to "feel" the cold in the shadows and realize great sunlit colors in the sunny zone of the image. It's a great way to convey "mood" and drama!

We record our images as RAW files using manual white balance (set to reflect the ambient lighting conditions). By recording images in RAW and adjusting them using a calibrated monitor, we can fine tune the white balance to make sure brightly lit snow is white rather than yellow or magenta or some other unnatural color. We pay a lot of attention to the color of the brightly lit snow and often let the shadow color fall where it will.

Don't feel you have to fight the blues this winter - use them to have fun with composition that make you shiver or feel the impending arrival of a snowstorm!