There are more cloudy days in a year around here than sunny, making photography interesting if you’re into bright colors and blue skies. So you take what you get. And in winter that means shapes, forms, composition and tones.
Dark and light make up the winter world. Nature provides the edges, defining one part of the world from another. And the edges change. You can go back to the same place every day and find something new.
Water’s relationship to winter is always fascinating. Moving it creates surfaces and borders that wax and wane as solid fights liquid for supremacy, always with temperature as an ally for one or the other. The flowing stream supplies a source of freezing material at the shore, gradually building up a new edge that is then eroded away by the moving water. Today a solid sheet stretching from the ground over the creek, tomorrow a sinuous knife edge being sharpened each moment by its liquid parent.
The frozen lake, until recently a source of nourishment for the trees on the edge, now a surface holding back its liquid from the bare branches. The white frame of the sky and ice surrounding the tendrils of limbs waiting for the thaw.
The nice thing about winter is all the leaves are off the trees. Meaning you can see deeper into the forest than any other time of year. And with snow on the ground you can see the shape of the terrain, the paths of animal tracks – all sorts of interesting things that are hidden behind a leafy curtain three-fourths of the year.
This image is from around Devil’s Lake near Baraboo, WI. I’ve wandered around there shooting several times but never noticed this old quarry on the side of the ridge. It’s hidden behind lots of trees, which usually have leaves when I’m there. I didn’t even notice the road until the snow revealed it and encouraged me to walk up and see what was there.
One advantage of getting out in the cold, snowy winter – you get to see things that may be hidden the rest of the year.
Lines, forms, shadows, structure – when the world is black and white these are all you have to create a mood.
What is this mood? Patient stillness awaiting the new spring? Hibernation after a busy year of production? Soldiers awaiting their next order? Quiet and peace or orderly attention?
Farmers impose order on the field, photographers capture and expose other orders, intentional or incidental. The sun contributes a new direction and dimension, visible only at the right time to those ready to observe.
Just kidding – right now there are few colors other than the Christmas decorations remaining on the houses and streetlights. Enough snow has melted to drop the landscape from monochrome to at least light and dark tones. Weather is three cloudy days for every sunny one as some storm near Alaska keeps churning fronts across the Great Lakes. I take whatever lighting I can get to practice exposure and composition.
A local park was created from an old limestone quarry and crushing site. A few walls remain to outline the work structures that once stood on the side of the giant hole in the ground. The easiest building material was the slabs of limestone being brought out so there are lots of lines and shapes to see, set against the organic background of trees. A good place to play with shadows, shapes, tones and focus.
The following is a mix of digital and film – can you tell the difference?
The first image is 4×5 sheet film, Kodak TMax 100, exposed and developed for neutral results. The other two are digital infrared images, long exposures through a R72 filter and then processed through NIK Silver Efex Pro software. Each has a unique look to it that appears independent of the source. If I stare at them long enough I think I see a better gradation across the tones in the film image than the digital but that’s probably artificial due to the differences in processing methods. The film scan contains much more information than the digital, though, so it will produce a much larger print at the same resolution as the digital. But who prints anymore?
What happens to the seeds failing to reach the ground? How frustrating that must be to the tree after all that work in spring, summer and fall. Will the sinking level of the snow gradually lower the seeds to earth where they can complete their mission?
Cold weather can be tough for photography, from the batteries and tiny buttons on digital to the adjustments and exposure for film. The scenes can be interesting if you’re willing to deal with the chill. And the almost monochromatic look to everything.
So winter is my time to look for B&W opportunities, including infrared. The bare trees and drifting snow make for some wonderful shapes and textures, and the stark sun in a cloudless sky provides plenty of contrast for shadows.
I continue my education on Ansel Adams’ Zone system for exposure and snow covered landscapes are perfect to experiment with. The dazzling white snow can through off exposure meters or at least lull you into a sense of complacency on how the image will come out. Fortunately the dynamic range of my digital and film cameras is usually sufficient to simply place the mid-tone greys in Zone V and let everything else fall where it does. Here’s an infrared image where I put the grey stones in the wall right on Zone V and was able to retain some detail in the shadow of the wall while holding the texture of the snow in the foreground. Snow is an almost perfect reflector of all colors so it will be white in infrared just as with B&W.
I’ve had this image for a couple of months, playing around with it. I really like the detail in the cattail “fuzz” against the dark sky. I wanted enough depth of field to give a sense of the three-dimensions of the stalk but keep the background blurred so the subject stands out.We’ve finally got our bird feeders arranged to keep the acrobatic squirrels out of the flat feeder we installed for the ground birds like juncos and cardinals. The feeder is high enough to keep squirrels or raccoons from jumping over the baffle. Surprisingly it’s also strong enough to support the larger feathered diners who have started coming by. The snow is apparently deep enough to annoy the turkeys in their scratching for food, so they come by our place for an easy snack. They are amazingly tolerant of us watching them through the windows. I think we’ve had upwards of 10-12 on the deck at one time, vacuuming up the sunflower seed and corn I put out for critters who just like to crawl around and graze. The squirrels don’t really like to mingle with these ladies so I usually put more out after they wander away.
Turkey populations have really grown in my lifetime. Driving around Door County a couple of weeks ago we saw a field with close to 50 of them, all scratching for the corn left from harvest. Are these the next Canada goose for urban parks?