Wandering Snow

ISO 100, 88mm, 1/250 sec., f/7.1

Sometimes nature doesn’t behave the way our brains expect it to.  Or at least what we see isn’t consistent with what’s happening.  Take these small snow dunes on a local frozen lake.  Resulting from snow piling up on small irregularities in the ice it appears the wind is blowing the snow from left to right across the image.  We believe this because of the streaks of snow on the right side of the dunes, seemingly streaming away with the wind.  But the wind that created these was blowing from right to left across the image.  So how to explain the evidence before our eyes?

One theory I have is the snow dunes are actually moving from right to left across the image, creeping across the lake as the wind blows the snow on the top of the dune forward, where it falls to create a new dune edge.  This is how sand dunes move across the desert.  But what about those streaks?  Snow sticks to the ice tightly enough that the wind can’t blow it away so as the dune move forward across the lake it leaves a trail of snow frozen in the lake ice.  Sort of a giant snow snail depositing evidence of where it’s been.

I don’t know if this is the reason but it make sense once I know about the wind direction.  The image alone is insufficient for me to appreciate what’s going on – I need to know a little more about the place being photographed.

In a way it helps me understand why I enjoy a well made photograph of a place I’ve visited, a place I know a little about.  Perhaps I can realize how difficult the photograph was to make, or I can remember the feel of the place, or something memorable happened when I visited that was a result of all the elements of the place coming together in a unique way.  Which is another lesson while composing; intentionally include elements people can connect with in addition to the obvious scene.  Perhaps a person wearing a winter coat, or a sailboat running before the wind, or in this case, a wind vane indicating the direction gusts are coming from.

Details make an image more than a snapshot.

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