Shooting sand and snow have some similarities: they both will end up under-exposed if you leave it up to your camera!
Your camera tries to find a neutral grey and will make whatever it perceives as such into an 18% neutral grey color. That is usually o.k., but not when it comes to sand and snow…
In sand, it will make your sand lifeless and off-color, often appearing near grey. Yuck! Not appealing at all! You want your sand to be nearly-white or golden (depending on the time of day). This makes for appealing and inviting beach scenes.
The same thing happens with snow. Your camera thinks the snow should be a drab neutral grey of 18% and will make it that way in any photo where you leave it up to your camera to choose the exposure. This means on any of the exposure modes except manual. Not good.
While it true that some cameras have specific modes for beach and snow, these usually only produce JPEG images and most pros shoot in RAW. You should too.
Fortunately, there is an easy fix for the sand and snow scenes:
- Use live view or the monitor on the back of your camera.
- Compose the scene and depress the shutter button partially so your camera selects the exposure.
- Take a test shot and look at the image on your camera’s screen. Is the snow and sand too grey? Probably.
- Before shooting the next shot, up the exposure value (EV) by 1 or 2 stops (+1EV to +2EV).
- Take another shot and look at the monitor on your camera afterward. Adjust up or down with the EV value and shoot again until you get the right color of snow (white) or sand (white-gold).
It really is that simple! Yes, you can set-up in manual mode and make various settings work, but it is easier to use one of the program modes (P, Av, Tv, etc.) and just adjust the exposure value (EV). You’ll take a lot more photos that way and will spend less time setting up the shots or fixing them in software later!