This time of the year we get a lot of days where the skies are blad or the skies are filled with clouds so dense the light doesn’t pop through. Some say it can be really depressing and arguably they are right, too much time looking at nothing but grey can get dull. Now and then the sun pops out and lets in just enough light to make it worthwhile. Truthfully, these nights where just enough comes through are great times to be watching the west and seeing what happens in the east.
I have lived in Bozeman for fourteen years now and in all that time I have never had to deal with a fire that was so close it was visible to the naked eye. We’ve been very fortunate in this town to avoid such fires despite the surroundings and the constant influx of outdoor recreation. Eventually, it was going to happen and sadly it did this year when so many other fires were burning throughout the western US. The Bridger Foothills fire started on Septemeber 4th when winds kicked up an ember that was in a dead tree caused by a lightning strike. That little ember was believed to have been there for as long as a week before roaring to life. It quickly moved past the famous “M” and over the ridge to the east side where the fire made its way along the eastern slope of the mountain range.
For weeks the fire remained uncontained due to high winds, nearby housing, and accessibility. The priority on the eastern side was to stop the fire from spreading to the houses, which the fire crews did an amazing job but sadly 28 homes were still lost. Currently, the fire is 83% contained but the recent cold weather should help. The road leading up to the Bridger’s was closed for a long while but finally, it reopened this month, and naturally, I had to make my way up there to see the damage. It was remarkable. The difference between years past and the current status of the range is striking. Being a photographer you get to see and capture these changes when they occur, and while it is sad, it is also nature’s way of managing the forest. In time, the eastern slope will be green again but for now, it is a stark reminder of the power of mother nature.
Well, we aren’t quite there yet but pretty soon there will be snow on the Bridger Mountains. Right now we are faced with a terrible fire on the Bridgers and honestly, I can’t wait for the snow to show up. This past Monday we had the first minor snow flurry come through in the higher elevations and a welcome reprieve of cooler temps. Pretty soon it will be chasing fall color and fall spawning Brown Trout. Until then, here’s hoping the fire will get contained.
Wintertime is a fun time to take the camera and play around with black and whites. It’s easy to see why as all the snow makes for the perfect white element so that just leaves the black element. This old barn outside of town made for that perfect element. Since I’ve photographed this barn in the past, I knew it would be a good subject for the afternoon. The white paint job makes it blend in more with the snow which is a unique element compared to most barns that are red and stick out more.
There are many ways to capture a great black and white image when it comes to landscapes, but one of my favorites has always been to use a long lens. Trying to capture everything you see in the viewfinder can lead to extra elements that might not be worth having but using a long lens can isolate good elements that are stronger. The treelines on the mountainside were far more important to me than the mountain itself which is why I used the 600f4 to isolate the trees.
There isn’t always a great deal of light showing, sometimes it’s just a spotlight. In the years I’ve lived in Bozeman I’ve noticed that there are plenty of times when we get cloud banks out to the west and you wouldn’t think there would be any light at sunset but then a hole opens up and just a sliver comes through and that’s enough to add some drama to the Bridger Mountains. This was one of those moments that I captured with the 200-400 VRII.
It still amazes me how some evenings in Bozeman the skies just erupt in color and after all the years I’ve lived here, those same skies can surprise me. I saw the little bit of light coming through to the east and figured it would be a dramatic night but you just never know by how much. With the Z50 and 16-50 f/3.5-f6.3, I walked up the lane towards the Bridgers and to my great surprise, the mountains were lit likely nothing else. This was just a simple click and then finished in Adobe Camera Raw.
How much snow is needed for a wonderland? It kind of amazes me how so many people haven’t experienced snow or haven’t had a snowy Christmas. In my little world, it’s a perfectly normal thing that occurs every year without fail. Sure, each year it’s different and the amount of snow that falls changes but for the most part it’s there. I guess the point I’m getting at is that it is important to take advantage of the snow opportunities as they present themselves because you never know what the next year will hold.
I’ve spent a lot of time in the winter, both indoors and outdoors, and I know that going out with the camera gear can be a little daunting. I mean you have to go out in the cold, leave the nice warm indoors, potentially get all your camera gear wet and who wants to do that? Well, there are some great opportunities in the snow but one of my favorite ones comes in between the storms. Snowstorms tend to have really dramatic clouds but then it’s also really dark so the drama can get lost. In between the storms can bring in new light which can make those storm clouds just pop not to mention the landscape.
With the increasing number of snowstorms throughout the state comes the multiple opportunities to make great black and white photographs. Snow acts as a wonderful element to add contrast to any image. Using a long lens is a great way to isolate any small pockets of light on the mountainside.
Image captured with Nikon D5, 200-400 VRII, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film