This island goes by two names: Thera (or Thira) and Santorini. It is the remains of a volcano that produced what is probably the fourth most powerful explosion in all of recorded history, an explosion that wiped out a civilization and decimated most of the known world at that time. Indeed, the Minoan Eruption, as it is known, may be the genesis (pun intended) of the tales for both Atlantis and the Great Flood of Noah’s Ark fame. Just how big was this explosion? It was probably four times more powerful than the famed Krakatoa explosion of 1883, and nearly on par with the Mount Tambora explosion in 1815. All told, about 100 cubic kilometers (24 cubic miles) of debris were blasted into the atmosphere.
Today, Sanorini is a quaint travel destination that has much to offer in the way of visually stunning sights and almost limitless photographic opportunities. But it’s a tricky place to take photographs. The colors that you see are often not the colors that come out of the camera. That’s because there are two obstacles facing those who normally rely on their camera’s automatic settings, and both of those obstacles can be attributed to one of the very things that make Santorini so picturesque—the extensive use of whitewash on many of the buildings.
Exposure Control: Whitewash reflects bright sunlight that fools your camera’s light sensor into thinking the scene is dimmer than it actually is. Think snow. All that reflected white presents much the same problem here, and is one which I covered before in a previous article.
Color Balance: You would think that color balance would be a snap with all this white, but there’s a trap. If the “white” object you’re photographing happens to be in shade, it will record with a distinctly bluish tint. We discussed this before as well—white balance in shade versus direct sun.
To compensate, you’ll either have to correct things in post processing or, better still, get the picture settings correct to begin with. That calls for two adjustments to the camera. To correct for the tendency to underexpose, it’s best in this case to use positive exposure compensation somewhere between +⅓ and +1 full stop depending on the amount of white in the scene and how much of that white is reflecting direct sunlight back toward you. But don’t go overboard here. This isn’t snow blanketing the bulk of an entire frame; it’s white reflecting off an object or set of objects within a much larger scene. As for white balance, that depends on whether the sun is reflecting off your whitewashed subject, or if most of your whitewashed subject is in shade. It’s best to override your camera’s automatic white balance settings accordingly and manually set the camera for sunlight or shade balancing.
If you do all this then you can probably get away with photographing in JPEG and avoiding the pain of dealing with camera raw. But if you want to make sure you get the best possible shot, this may be one of those occasions when you’ll want to go with raw to give yourself the most possible latitude in correcting things on a computer later. After all, visiting Santorini isn’t something you’ll likely get to do very often. You may only get there once, so don’t blow it.
And if you do get it all right, here’s just a small sample of what you can expect in the way of photographs: