Black and White and Snow

If there is any subject matter that more naturally fits with black and white photography it’s snow. Snow is the best catalyst for use in black and white because it makes it real easy to acquire the two most essential elements to any good black and white photo, an absolute black and an absolute white point.

Both of these images go back to a point I talked about earlier this week about using a long lens with your landscape work. Both images were captured with D5 and 200-400 VR. The story wasn’t about the whole scene in front of me but rather the small sections here and there. The light coming over the hills or the loan Bison by the tree. Small parts that make up a larger whole and when converted to B&W tell a story.

Using a Long Lens for Landscapes

When it comes to landscape photography there are a lot of tools you should have in your bag to get “the shot.” One of the tools that is often over looked is using a long lens. Now I’m not talking about 200 or 300mm but 400mm and up. A long lens allows you to do two main things, first you don’t have to get close to the subject which in landscape may not always be possible; and second, a long lens allows you to focus in on one specific area without any distracting elements. These two images I put up are examples of just that.

Both of these images were taken on the backside of Mammoth Hot Springs using the D5 and 200-400 VR. For those that have not been to this area of Yellowstone, the backside of Mammoth Hot Springs looks really cool but the boardwalk doesn’t let you walk by it. You can drive around it though and park, which is what I did. The top image is at 240mm which certainly shows more steam but with the overcast skies the steam gets lost. If it was blue sky and sunny it would look more dramatic. Since the subject wasn’t the steam at all but the mineral formations going in tight was the answer.

The bottom image is at 400mm and works better to show off the subject I had in mind all along, the patterns in the rock. Now I wasn’t even planning on doing landscape when I was out that day, I was looking for critters which was in part why I was setup with the 200-400. That being said, even if I didn’t have the 200-400 in my lap, I wouldn’t have grabbed the 24-70 to capture this image. It wouldn’t have worked. Long lens with landscapes can lead to some really great images if you look for them.

Vignetting in the Snow

Everyone has heard of a vignette and the effects it can have in a photograph. It can either be too much and ruin a potentially good photograph or it can be extremely effective and make an image stronger. It really depends on the story you are trying to tell and how much information is needed to tell it. One of the great things about shooting in winter and working with snow is it is a great time to use a desaturated or lightening vignette, which is the opposite of a darkening vignette. Most of the time when you use this technique it instantly becomes artsy and not natural. The snow brings in the balance.

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This backlit set of trees I photographed in Yellowstone a while back is a great example of where a lightening vignette can be effective. We had diffused light coming from a cloud screen, not overcast or full sun. The forest in the background was already somewhat faded because of the diffused light, but in order to exaggerate the feeling of being in this valley with the diffused light I used the desaturated vignette to make the background even more faded out. Because of the snow and the subject being backlit it feels more natural and almost more of a flare then diffused light. It’s a simple trick to use in your winter photography and should be kept in mind. Now I did shoot this before I had the D5 so I can’t wait to go back to see how much better I can make this.

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