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.

Snow Makes For Good Black and Whites

Black and White photography is still a realm in which I enjoy working but honestly frustrates the hell out of me. Perhaps it has something to do with my age and not growing up around black and white photography enough. Maybe I haven’t studied the great black and white photographers enough. Whatever the reason, I don’t practice that form enough because I enjoy the world of color so much. But in the winter months opportunity does present itself on many occasions where black and white is the best option.

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Yesterday I went out on a drive towards the Spanish Peaks in search of critters and while I found some, the bald skies and bright sun made photographing them a bust. While it is doable in the winter time, the snow acting as a reflector, backlit animals still doesn’t work for me. The landscape on the other hand was kind of interesting. I broke from my norm when it came to lenses in part because I had the 200-400 VR and D4 on my lap ready when I found that critter. Using the longer focal length and narrow field of vision I was able to isolate the parts of the scenery that looked the most interesting. Notice there is no sky. Bald sky is a killer in most cases and this one definitely proved that theory. The finish was a simple conversion in post. Black and Whites thrive if they have those two main ingredients, black and white. In Winter it’s easy to find both but getting the right contrast in the rest of the elements is where the challenge lies.

If you See Fog, Stop!

One of the natural occurring features in Montana is the geothermal rivers. We have a lot of heat keeping the rivers often unfrozen in the winter time. The closer to Yellowstone you get the better the water is and thus the greater the steam is coming up off the water. Lately what’s been happening is we get these great cold snaps that are followed the next day by a warm spell, and I’m talking about going from 10 degrees up to 25 degrees and then if it’s nice it might hit 30 degrees, but these snaps are creating some great fog banks. This winter I’ve seen a lot of these fog layers, one time it was so thick that it was white out and it lasted all day. Well these layers are great for photography especially at sunrise and sunset when the light really starts to bounce around.

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This was taken last weekend when it went from 16 degrees one day to 30 degrees the next and at sunset the light was just gorgeous on this ground fog. This was up towards Canyon Ferry Lake on the Missouri River and was a quick click with the D4 and 24-70 AF-S. I really encourage people to go out and drive around with a camera on their lap because that’s all this shot is. It wasn’t a lot of prep work, just knowing the weather patterns and exploring can produce some pretty amazing results.

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 Morning Steam is Back

The temperature is finally starting to drop. This week we might actually be back in the below freezing temps at night here in the valley. This past weekend was the closing day of the interior of Yellowstone. Soon the snow coaches and snowmobiles will be bringing people into the park to see the splendor of Yellowstone in winter. This time of the year is one of my favorites because it brings about a change that I love to photograph, the great steam coming off of the geothermal rivers.

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I am in no way a morning person but the truly the best time to photograph the steam is in the morning. It is in the morning when the temps start to rise after a below freezing morning that the river really starts to talk. In the glow of the morning sun you’d swear you weren’t on this earth anymore. I shot this with the D3 and 24-70 AF-S, nothing tricky just a simple click of gods splendor.

All Roads Lead Somewhere

I’ve always been an advocate for using man made roads or any other form of roadways when photographing landscapes. Like any other photograph there has to be a way for your eye to move through the image. While this can be done with many tools, using a road is certainly one of the most obvious. Sometimes the most compelling landscape images are nothing but a windy road, while other times it’s just a lead in.

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Roads are not just part of the story but they can lead the imagination some other place. What lays at the end? How far does the road go? What’s down the other end? Shooting with the D4 and 24-70 AF-S f/2.8, I tried to capture the beauty of a simple road leading down into the valley during sunset. With a little help in Adobe Camera Raw, highlighting certain areas along the pathway of the road, the eye has a place to go and a story unfolds.

Why You Have to Visit Old Haunts

Exploration is one of the greatest parts of being a photographer. It’s the main reason I became a photographer. Driving around Montana has always been a great joy, even when it’s going back to the same places I have been before.

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A couple of years back I found a new canyon to drive into and while there wasn’t lots of opportunities there was this little shack. It was fall at the time and as it shows, the shack was surrounded by Cottonwoods. It was a little gem that remains one of my favorite fall landscape images from Montana.

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When you find those little gems you have to write them down, that way you can go back again. Well I went back up that canyon to see what Winter would hold in store for that same shack. It was a very different scene and while it was not as interesting as in the previous Fall, it still was good to see the shack standing, and with those great Cottonwoods behind it. The point is you have to get out and explore and find those gems. Then once you find them write it down and find time to go back.

The Light is Gone in a Blink

Light can come and go in a blink of an eye. There are a lot of days in the North where all we get is grey skies so when the skies break up for a while, you better believe everyone gets out. Just as fast as it disappears the clouds come back. While out chasing the hole in the clouds you wait as that one moment arrives that brings a solitary beam down to earth. You can’t explain it but you’re instantly drawn to it. Then the chase is on to get the shot before the heavens close up and the light is gone once again. It’s the challenge of landscape photography, waiting for that one moment to come and bring light to the hills.

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