Where’s the Snow?!

December is often associated with winter, snow and of course Christmas. The one thing I’ve learned out of all my years living here in Montana is that winter can never be predicted. Even the weathermen a day beforehand can’t figure out what it’s going to do. So how as a photographer do you deal with that?

Lots of exploration. It really sucks when you’re out shooting in need of a good photograph and you just can’t find it. The days where you get skunked are all too real and can be very frustrating because you know what it should be but it’s not there. The answer is to be patient and to keep driving around until you find something. If you keep a journal of great places to shoot, which I encourage every photographer to do, then that can help with those lulls. Otherwise just keep your eyes open and see what comes your way.

Winter Storm Magic

Winter storms can really suck the motivation away from going out with the camera. It’s cold, it’s dark, it’s snowing and you’re left with this challenge of making something happen with all that. Well despite that, they can break up and when they do that fresh coat of snow can be gorgeous. Well up at Hyalite Reservoir a really strong storm came through that basically was white conditions. After 20 minutes it was gone and all that was left was fresh snow and some great pocket lighting.

It’s hard to believe the blue sky came out but it was never more welcome. In these type of scenarios I love using a longer lens, mainly the 70-200 VRII because it allows you to isolate certain areas that are more interesting while eliminating more distracting spots. Since I wasn’t expecting this to happen and I had a more stripped down setup I made do with the 24-70 AF-S and High Speed Crop. When these situations come up you have to adapt quickly or miss out.

A little Light can tell a lot

Happy April Fools Day! It’s Spring. No it’s winter. Maybe not. Yea it’s that time of the year that isn’t really spring but isn’t really winter either. It’s what we like to call Montana Spring. As result we often get rather weird storms coming through which yields rain in the valley and snow in the mountains. Hey either way that means water accumulation which is a good thing. Well one of things that I really like doing this time of year is photographing the fresh snow that falls on the pine bows. Usually it only occurs after a storm and it usually melts off right away. Thus it becomes something of a race to get their in time.

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There are a number of ways to work with snow and believe me I don’t know them all. But one thing to always look for are the areas that form a natural contrast. In this case it’s the very tops of the pines tree being hit by light because they are just a little bit taller then the others. With the combination of the non lit trees there forms natural depth that can be exploited by dialing in exposure compensation, in this case -1 and 1/3. Using the D4 and 70-300 VR, the goal isn’t to try and capture everything but just the lit spots.

the 18-35mm is just wicked Sharp!

I’ve only had the 18-35mm f3.5 for a couple of weeks now but I got to say I really like that lens! It’s just a great light weight lens. It’s wicked sharp and the 18 to 35 range is great for landscapes. It’s also great for working inside of planes or other small spaces, as I tested that out last weekend at the LA County Airshow. But one thing that I wanted to make sure I did this year was try the 18-35 with snow.

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On Monday I went up to Hyalite Canyon after the snow stopped to work with the fresh powder. I love fresh powder. There is something about fresh snow that it’s just crisper or brighter. Whatever it is, there is a visual difference when compared to snow that has been on the ground for a couple of days. Well this one spot just happened to be rather low in the river so it seemed like the right spot to bring out the 18-35. Real simple one click image that was finished in Adobe Camera Raw.

Fresh Snow!

Over the last couple of weeks the temperature has really gotten warm, resulting in a lot of snow runoff. It’s great in some ways but not others. Yesterday we had a little storm come through adding a few inches of fresh powder, which was great for the skiers, and of course yielded a couple of nice images. This was just a quick click at sunset with a little bit of light hitting the top of the peaks up in Hyalite Canyon.

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Ice is best with Light

With most things in photography the presence and absence of light plays a big role in the telling of the overall story. It add drama, contrast, mystique, softness and many more adjectives to every image. When working with reflective surfaces, such as ice, watching where the light falls is crucial. Ice shares another unique characteristic which is it absorbs light. Since ice is often transparent and seen through, everything beneath the ice that the light is falling on can be seen. Thus creating not only depth but pockets of light and dark.

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When you have direct overhead light it tends to feel rather warm when looking at snow, because snow and ice are very white. It bounces that light around. A great instance of this is when working with large game and the animal is standing in snow. Even on a bright sunny day with harsh shadows, the snow will act as a reflector and bounce light in to the animal. Well the the same theory works with landscapes.

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Thus in the presence of shadows or flat light, ice and snow instantly feel cold. The image becomes less about the contrast between light and dark and more about the pattern of the snow and ice.

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The truly powerful images are the ones that can balance these attributes together creating the idea of the cold along with that of the warmth of the sun. When working with rivers, streams and lakes sometimes it’s better to not focus on capturing the whole scene but capturing that one small snip-it of where the frozen world meets the light.

Images Captured with Nikon D4, , on Lexar UDMA digital Film

Working with Ice

When it comes to winter landscapes I love working with ice. Ice can be a lot of fun and one spot can suck up hours of time. As we all know from the ice cubes in our freezer that ice is usually cold and see through. While it changes often based upon what is behind it or what the ice is frozen too, the general thought when it comes to ice is that it’s cold to the touch and when capturing the essence of ice that is something to remember.

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This happens to be a great time of the year because we don’t have the snow levels yet to cover up all of the ice that occurs when the rovers freeze. There is enough motion in the water to break free from the ice and thus create pockets of moving water combined with icebergs. One of my favorite places to spend a morning is up in Hyalite Canyon where there are lots of these pockets and the light keeps changing thanks to the natural landscape of the canyon.

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Now everything I shot here is with the D4 and 70-200 VRII. Why that combo? Well, as it is with most canyons the darkest spot is on the bottom and the brightest is up top. To try and encompass everything would result in a lot of HDR images that wouldn’t accomplish what I wanted. The story wasn’t about everything it was merely about the ice and how it is constantly different. The 70-200 is a great lens for isolating those details in the ice.

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This is a great example as everything around this one spot was surrounded in shrubs and brush that just wasn’t appealing. The focus was this one little waterfall, the last unfrozen patch in this section of river. What makes a great winter landscape image is he same as any other image, the light. Where the light hits, how much light and what is lost in the absence of light.

The Endless Supply of Subjects in Snow

Winter is truly my favorite time of the year and not just because I’m a ski bum. While some days it can be photographically challenge to shoot, prompting one stay inside where it’s nice and toasty warm, the days ventured out can be truly rewarding. Snow is a natural powerful element that can be used in a variety of ways. While on the surface it’s just white, the ice crystals change dramatically with just a little bit of light. Snow can turn any boring or dreary landscape into a vibrant canvas when explored.

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Snow has a general appearance of being soft and light, like a blanket stretched across the earth. Everything underneath pushes up trying to gain reach over the frozen ground while the gentle light shows the beauty and truth of its being. It’s the combination of the elements that can make great images.

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From the frozen lakes, ponds, rivers and streams, every chunk of ice can be used to tell a visual story because every time the water freezes, it’s different then it has ever been before.

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Even the frozen trees sill covered in a week old snow show the signs of bearing the weight of the cold. Even in the absence of light the pattern of the land comes to life.

Images Captured with Nikon D4, 70-200 VRII, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

The Unexpected

I originally went out the other day because of the clearer skies but as it normally happens the clouds kept moving and the clear skies turned into bald skies. Bald skies and mountains just don’t work for me. As I was moving up through the canyon I was presently surprised to see the mountains around Hyalite Reservoir covered with clouds. While it was an easy decision to head that way I was secretly hoping that the clouds would stick around until sunset. They didn’t. But before the clouds completely blew to the southeast, they stuck around one of the peaks.

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Same Rock but Different Look

Well as is common with the afternoon light moving through any canyon, it’s always darkest at the bottom and the last light is always up top. When I looked back I saw this one rock that still had the afternoon light on it. While it would’ve been great to have a Mountain Goat or Bighorn Sheep standing on top, the rock by itself did have enough character to warrant a couple photos, even without any clouds behind it.

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What originally caught my attention was the light on the rock and on the trees below it. While the foreground trees were surrounded in darkness and yielded little overall the two different compositions got me thinking about that rock. I love finding examples of one subjects but different methods to shoot it. With the D4 and 70-200VRII, zooming in on the rock and the tree line tells one story, the falling afternoon light, and the second shot which took a bit of post work, of a snowy afternoon with the snow leading up to the rock. It’s little things like these that you have to look for when you’re out shooting because they often can have the best rewards.

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