Winter Scenes: Pros and Cons

Wagon in Winter, near Palo, Linn County, Iowa

I love a good winter photo.  Especially when you can grab the texture of the snow, and double-especially when you can catch shimmering glints of sunlight reflecting off the snowflakes.

Take this photo, for example:  I shot this back in 2005/06, my first winter in Iowa.  It is down the road from where my photo club meets, and I stopped and shot this on the way in.  There was something about the whole scene that appealed to me.  It evokes a peaceful feeling, a quietness.  It is actually somebody’s front yard, but is cropped well.  It also helps that it has the aspects mentioned above, the texture and the glints of reflective light.

Those are the pros.  But, I don’t have very many winter shots, because of the cons.  What are the cons, you ask?  Well, there’s only one.  It’s cold.

Yes, that’s right, I am a west coast, “first world” American, and I am not overly enamored with the cold.  It’s really that simple.  I admire photographers who routinely go out every week in the winter to get a shot.  That takes perseverance and dedication.  Then again, for many of these people photography is literally their bread-and-butter.  For me it’s more of a sidelight.  I still need to keep my day-job.

Take yesterday and today, as a case in point.  It’s been absolutely beautiful.  Fresh snow.  Fluffy-type snow, which is best for those reflecting sunlight glints I keep mentioning.  Clear blue skies.  Everything needed for a truly nice winter photo.  Unfortunately, it’s also been about -2 degrees… and that’s the high!  Wind chills have been -20 degrees, and lower.  Brrr… I’ve been staying inside, working on my websites and blogs, and catching up on things that way.

Many of the winter shots that I do have were taken when I was driving from one place to another and happened to have my camera with me, which I will continue to do.  Stay tuned.  🙂

Red Barns and White Snow

Red Barn and Farm in Winter, near Ely, Linn County, Iowa

Makes for a nice contrast-y combination, don’t you think?  Everything is easily discernible.  The barn just “pops”.  There’s a sense of stillness in this photo.  It’s obvious this is a working farm, as evidenced by the items carefully stored outside.  There’s also a sense of… almost hibernation.  Activity is on hold, most equipment has been stored inside protected from the elements.  You can bet the farmers are inside, enjoying the warmth that modern life affords them.  One would think they’re sitting by the fire, sipping a hot drink, partaking in a favorite leisure activity, and basking in a well-earned rest, but they’re probably actually actively planning and doing paperwork for the next season.  No rest for the weary, as the old saying goes.

I shot this a couple years ago not too far from where I live.  This weekend I was finishing up re-processing all my existing photos that I currently have offered for sale, and came across this one.  I’ve always liked it, the contrasts and all, but never knew what to do with it.  The white sky overwhelmed everything else.  The eye was drawn too much to the white sky and away from everything else.

By cropping it to a 2:1 ratio mini-panorama format the whole feeling of the photo is reversed.  Now, the white sky is just a complimentary aspect to the overall scene.  Now, the red barns dominate the scene and draw the eye, as it should be.  You’re now focused on the primary aspects of the image.  We have wonderful processing tools available these days, and can manipulate in ways that just a few years ago were unimaginable, but it’s amazing how often something like a simple crop is what makes the difference.

Report: Au Train Falls, Michigan

Au Train Falls, Hiawatha National Forest, Alger County, Michigan

This was a different kind of waterfall.  No huge drop-off. I believe the rock is limestone, but am not sure.  It is layered, though, and produced a unique affect.  It’s wide and shallow.  I donned my Muck Boots, waded out, set up my tripod in the middle of the stream, and shot away.  I had to be careful with my footing, but it really wasn’t all that treacherous.

These shots were done in autumn, as you can tell by the leaves on the ground and in the stream bed.  Maybe it’s just me, but I find waterfalls to almost always be more interesting in autumn precisely because of the added color.

Au Train Falls, in the Hiawatha National Forest between Munising and Chatham, has many interesting features, from the natural layout to the man made aspects that almost completely ruin the whole thing.  Personally, I find them inordinately difficult to shoot.  What appears pleasing to the eye isn’t necessarily so in the viewfinder.  Access to the lower falls is easy.  There’s a short road off M-94, and a short walk beyond a gate, and you’re there.  There are man made features such as pipes and buildings that often get in the shot.  There is a lot of “isolating” to get a good shot.  But, when you do get a good shot, it’s a winner!

 

Sitting under a rock

Chapel Falls with autumn leaves, Section Creek, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Alger County, Michigan

I sat under a rock outcropping for over two hours to get this photo.  Not just this one, of course, I got several very nice shots.  I sat… I played with settings… I experimented… I zoom in… I zoomed out… I used fast shutter speeds to freeze the water… I used slow shutter speeds to get a silky smooth look… I used in-between shutter speeds to get an in-between look (like this one you see here).  I had the roar of the falls in my ears for all that time.  It was like being in a special room with other people around me but also being unable to hear them and having an almost unattached feeling.  And I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I think this waterfall, one of my absolute favorites, will get a “report” sometime soon.  I still have another report to do from our trip this past October, too.

In an administrative note, today I have added an email subscription form.  If you desire to get email notification of new posts, please feel free to add your name and email address in the form area at the upper right of this page.  As a devoted privacy advocate I will never share or sell your information.

Oh, and I got wet, too.

The long and winding road

Dirt road in autumn, Alger County, Michigan

Three posts in three days.  I’m on a roll.

Here’s a shot from a workshop I went on in 2008.  First time I had been on such a workshop.  It was a week long, a lot of work, and well worth every moment.  I learned so much, and got a great many fantastic shots.  This is another one that I have not publish before and was just lying around on a hard drive waiting for me to go back in and update my photos and my site.  It really is amazing how photos can come in and out of your interest over time.

This was actually the day before the workshop began.  I got there early and kicked around a bit prior to checking into the motel.  I came across this road and the way it wound its way back into the unknown intrigued me.  The road leads you back into… what?  You don’t know.  You’re left to wonder.

Now, I did drive back there, and the road actually degenerates into nothing passable very quickly.  I didn’t feel safe taking my rather large truck any farther.  Interestingly enough, my judgment may have been a bit too cautious, because right after this somebody else in a bigger truck than mine came down from the beyond and I had to move.  Go figure!

Doesn’t that look good?

Boat reflections on river, Manistee, Manistee County, Michigan

For those of us who spend winters in cold and snowy climates, the mere thought of a spring and summertime activity such as boating is most certainly inviting.

It can be pretty much anything done outdoors, actually, possibly even photography.  As I have mentioned before, this time of year is the worst… in my own opinion… for outdoor photography.  It’s cold AND dreary.  You don’t even get the coolness (no pun intended) of a good snow scene.  You just get… blah!

But spring!  Yes, spring.  A time of renewal.  Everything becomes fresh again.  And the best part?  It’s now warm enough to enjoy!

Winter: Goodbye to you!

Stacked firewood in snow in winter

Who remembers a 1980s rock band called Scandal?  They did a song called Goodbye to You that was actually pretty good.  That song echoes my sentiments regarding winter precisely.  We just had our first snow storm in a couple months this past week.  It wasn’t much, but enough to cause some minor havoc.  And with that I am officially done with winter.  I say, “Winter… goodbye to you!”

This time of year is the toughest time to shoot, in my opinion, because everything looks so dull and dreary.  The snow that is on the ground is lackluster and unappealing.  It’s really the best time of year to catch up on photo processing, since there’s not a whole lot to shoot.

I also like the idea of doing some indoor experimenting with still life, cut flowers, and so on.  I have some ideas that involve props and backgrounds that could come out quite nicely.  I also want to do some experimenting with photo stacking.

This shot was taken near Palo, Iowa, on a back road.  One of those days where I was driving along and had to stop and see what I could do with the scene.  Chances are that I will never sell this shot, and it will probably never end up on my wall, but it does have a nice look to it regardless.  Sometimes the lesson is simply the enjoyment of the art.

You Never Know

Trees in silhouette on Goose Pond at sunrise, near Center Point, Linn County, Iowa

I’ve been going through and reprocessing some of my older photos.  Just a couple at a time.  It’ll be a journey, that’s for sure.  Anyway, I’m looking through a couple photos that I have never published and came across this one.  It’s similar to another that I have published, but that one is more “bright”, while this one was more subdued.  I played around with some settings in Lightroom to tone down the overall shot even more and boost the saturation which brought out the oranges while keeping the subdued areas.

I kept looking at it and it really strikes me.  The more I look at it the more I like it.  This one just might end up on the wall… and I’m thinking metallic paper.

This shot was taken 10 years ago this month.  I did an overnight sleep study and they woke me up at 4:30 and kicked me out (standard procedure).  I then went and sought a place for some winter sunrise shots and found this place.  I have not been back since, but maybe I should.

Winter Serenity

Frost on trees in winter, Newago County, Michigan
Frost on trees in winter, Newago County, Michigan

If there is an area where my selection of photos is lacking it is winter and snow scenes.  I have a handful of really good ones, just not a whole lot.  On a recent weekend trip to Michigan for Christmas with Missy’s family I wanted to make some progress toward rectifying that.

Like so many of my shots this one was in a place where I didn’t think I was going to get much, then suddenly I look to my left and there it is.  What I think appealed to me was the combination of frost on the trees, some green from evergreens, and the rust-ish colors from leaves that haven’t fallen.  I took only two shots at this location.

Something new

Leaf on fence with fall colors reflecting in background
Leaf on fence with fall colors reflecting in background

Another visit to Thumb Lake, from our Michigan trip last month.   Tried something new with this shot, and wasn’t sure if it’d work out or not.  Fortunately, I think it did.  I had to look at it off-and-on for awhile, and it kept growing on me.  Plus, I had to ponder how I was going to process it, and finally decided on a somewhat minimal approach.  I did do some HDR and tonemapping, but used a preset and didn’t put a lot of thought into it.

I shot this with an 800 ISO, which leaves it a tad grainy when looking close.  The background is purposely out-of-focus.  I like how your eye is drawn to the fence rail and solitary leaf, then your eye gets drawn back into the photo to the blurry yet still distinguishable lake and autumn colors in the trees in the background.

Another aspect that appeals to me more and more is the “layered” look of the far shore(s).  The lake actually does veer off the the left behind the closest trees in the left of the frame.