What Color is that Snow?
If You Can Walk...
You Can Snowshoe
Winter Family Fun
My First Snowshoes
What Color is the Snow?
by Carl Heilman II
It was snowshoeing that led me to photography in my late teen years back in the
mid 1970's. I had recently started doing some hiking on the summer trails in
mountains near home, and wanted to get out and explore in winter, too. The thought
of putting pine tar and wax on a pair of skis just didn't appeal to me - I
wanted a simpler
way to get out and wander through the woods. I preferred finding my own path through
the woods anyhow, and just didn't want to get involved in the
maintenance of a pair
of wooden skis (all that was available at the time!). Funds were running a bit low
at the time, and I've always been a bit of a do-it-yourselfer;
so, after some research
into the project, I made myself a pair of snowshoes and headed off into the wilds.
After enjoying a couple of day trips into the woods,
wandering and climbing around
the small mountains near home, I felt strongly drawn to head out and explore the
rocky, snow-capped mountains I kept seeing to the
north. . .
Whenever I remember back to my first climb on snowshoes in the High Peaks,
I can still rekindle those same passions that I felt while leaning into the wind
bare alpine summit, with the vast snowy panorama of the Adirondack wilderness
surrounding me. I remember wanting to become a part of the landscape .
. . wanting
to be able to just lift up and soar with the wind over the rugged beauty of the mountains.
Almost another year went by before I was able to purchase my first camera, a Minolta
SRT 101. The camera was quite simple compared to the mini-computer
I work with today, but it was solidly built - a real workhorse of a camera . . . and just
about as heavy as one, too! I bought some Kodachrome and started
in early fall. My first roll of film that came back from processing evoked quite a mix
of excitement and disappointment. While I experimented a
lot over the next several
years, the quality of the images that I got back was still rather hit-or-miss . . . mostly
miss, actually! I kept wanting to not just
bring back a flat image on film of where I'd
been, but rather wanted to be able to stir the same emotions I'd felt while I was there,
I eventually found that my search for the perfect image was not only a matter of aesthetics
and balance, but was strongly related to the intensity,
direction, and color of the
light that was available for the image. I've found the images that bring out the most
intense emotions for me, are the ones that combine
all of the best elements of photographic
design with variations in the weather that provide an ever-changing array of landscape
moods and colors.
When working with black and white, mood is created by working with textures
and varying intensities of light and dark. While I've enjoyed the
creativity of working
with black and white in a darkroom, I've found that I prefer working with color, and
particularly, color transparencies. Creative use of
color in slides adds a vibrancy
to the image but it adds a certain level of difficulty, too.
Working with color slides is true WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get). There
is no manipulation except for whatever filters might be used when the
photo is taken.
All of my 'lab' work is done out in the field, working with and waiting for the right lighting
and weather to come together, so I can open the
camera shutter at the optimum
time to best record the moment and the mood.
Color is the key element of my photography, and winter can be one of the best times
to take advantage of the variety of colors that are available at
different times of day.
Snow reflects the color of whatever light there is in the sky. On an overcast day,
the snow will have shades of gray; in morning and evening
light with low broken
clouds it might glow red with the low light of the sun. Under twilight the snow can
take on a purplish or bluish cast, while in bright
sunlight it reflects back the bright
white we usually think of snow being, while shadows usually have a bluish cast.
Each color tone evokes a different feeling.
The soft, orangish and reddish tones
of dawn and dusk evoke a gentle, warm feeling that draws people into a scene,
even though the temperature may have
actually been ten below! Twilight colors
on a bright, clear evening add some rather bluish tones to the landscape, giving
a much colder feel to the image. The
trick with winter conditions though, is to be
able to record on film the color you want the film to see.
The most common problem is being able to trick the camera into seeing snow
as white. Each photograph we take isn't made up of trees or snow or people, or
it is that we're taking a picture of, but rather each image is a record of the light that
was being reflected to the film at a given moment in time. The
intensity of color that
is recorded on the film is determined by the amount of light that is allowed to pass
through the lens to expose the film. If the light
reflected from any object is allowed
to expose the film long enough, it will appear light, or even white. If the amount of
exposure is reduced, then that same object
will appear dark, or black. The amount
of exposure of the film is determined by two mechanical things; the aperture setting
of the lens, and the speed at which
the shutter opens and closes.
A typical summer outdoor scene is made up of varying shades of green, gray, and
blue, with perhaps some gray and white clouds. Overall the whole scene
out to about an 18% gray. Most camera meters don't see scenes in color (except
for the newest high-tech version), but instead react to the
intensity of the reflected
light from the scene, and will set the camera, or suggest settings to expose whatever
it's metering at an 18% gray. If the scene is of all
dense green evergreen trees with
dark shadows, the camera will try to expose the scene at an 18% gray and will overexpose
the image, resulting in the dark
greens and tree trunks being washed out and grayish.
The other extreme of course is an all white snow scene which the camera will underexpose
so the snow becomes
muddy and grayish.
Cameras meter scenes in a couple of different ways. The most common metering
is with an averaging meter that reads the top, the bottom, and perhaps the
also (center weighted), and suggests a reading based an the average of the whole
scene. Another method is a spot meter, which reads just a small section
image at a given spot in the frame. One of the most 'intelligent' metering systems
devised so far is the matrix metering system. This system meters a
different sections of the scene, determines where the lightest and darkest sections
are, and weighs that balance against various programs in
memory to determine
the optimum exposure.
Whenever I take a picture, I'm always judging the scene to estimate how close
to an 18% gray it is. In winter, that means averaging in the amount of white
in the picture, balancing that with the trees and sky and how sunny it is, and determining
how much to overexpose the image compared to what the camera is
in a daylight scene where there's a mix of trees, snow, and sky, I'll find the best exposure
to be about 2/3 stop above what the camera suggests
with an averaging meter
system. If a scene is all white, I might overexpose as much as 2 full stops. On gray,
overcast days it's best to add an additional 1/3 to
1/2 stop to bring the snow to white
and compensate for the reflected gray from the sky. The best way to be sure a picture
is exposed properly is to bracket the
image, taking a series of photos at 1/3 to 1/2
stop above and below the exposure that's been chosen. If there's still a question,
bracket further - the cost of a
couple of extra slides is quite minimal compared to
the loss of a potentially great image because of poor exposure.
When working with the spot meter in a camera, take a reading from the whitest
snow in the scene and then overexpose by 2 full stops. Bracket up and down from
there to vary the exposure. Matrix metering will often read a winter scene pretty
true if there is a variety of color tones in the scene. It's still necessary to
sometimes when the central image is white, or if the whole scene is white.
With fully automatic cameras that have an exposure lock mode, it's also possible
to trick the camera to 'see' the snow as white. Either meter off of
approximates an 18% gray tone, or meter off the palm of your hand. Hold your hand
in the same plane as that of the picture you're taking, so that
shadows are falling
across your hand in the same way they're falling across the picture. Lock the exposure,
remove your hand and then take the photo. This might
not work with auto-focus,
so then try to meter off of something gray in the area you want to focus on. Then lock
your exposure and focus, reframe the camera,
and take the picture.
These are all suggestions to be used as a starting point for overcoming the problems
of obtaining proper exposures of snow scenes. Experiment so you
with how your camera will react in varying situations. Bracket so that even after
you're pretty sure of what you're recording on film, you have
some extra images
to provide for a margin of error! Also, jot down notes on your camera settings in relation
to the lighting, so when the film comes back you'll
know what worked and what
Winter scenes, particularly in the daylight, are often full of contrasts. While our
eyes see the full range of light from the dense dark green of the
to the soft textures of the bright white snow, film can effectively record only about
1/3 to 1/2 of the range of light that our eyes can see.
The result is that when a picture
is properly exposed for the snow, all the shadows become quite dark. If the shadows
are exposed properly, the snow and the
highlights will be overexposed and quite
washed out. So, on a sunny day, it's helpful to compose creatively to avoid sharp
contrasts of lighting in the image. Work
with the highlights and shadows so they'll
enhance patterns or detail in parts of the photo, rather than overpowering parts
of the picture.
In the early morning or the late afternoon, when the sun is closer to the horizon,
the variation of contrast in the intensity of the light lessens, and it
to record both the shadow details and the highlights. It's also this time of day, when
the light is low and soft, that you can more creatively begin
working with different
colors on the snow. While a bright clear sky will add more slightly harsher bluish
tones, a slightly moist atmosphere with a few puffy
clouds floating overhead can
help reflect some of the sun's light and add a warmer glow to the scene.
Recording the colors of early morning and late afternoon can be easier than trying
to record the daylight. When photographing the reflected color of
the snow, then
the snow will no longer be white, and the exposure will tend to be closer to the camera's
suggested meter reading. Highlights will become the
color of whatever light is
coming directly from the sun. Shadows will take on the color of the light in the sky.
If there are a lot of clouds reflecting the
reddish rays of the sun, then the shadows
will tend to be reddish, or purplish. If the sky is a mostly clear blue, then the shadows
will be more bluish.
Underexposing the film will saturate the color more fully and
intensify the shadows. Overexposing slightly will soften the image and the colors
will be more muted.
Again, experiment and bracket! It takes a lot of practice in working
with the different lighting conditions before a person can fully anticipate just how
image is going to look after processing.
On an overcast day, contrasts are also much more muted and tend to record on
film as shades of gray. An additional 1/3 to 1/2 stop above the expected
is needed to compensate for the reflected gray light so the snow is recorded as
white. Overcast days add quite a different mood to an image. It's fun to
detail like snow drifts and ice patterns in this kind of lighting. Snowy branches,
or icy grasses or evergreens are always a challenge to
photograph in soft lighting,
It's helpful to key into the lighting wherever you are, to become more aware of the
subtle ways in which it's always changing the mood of the landscape.
will this help your photography, but it also helps put us more in tune with the world
around us. We often miss so much as we rush from one destination to
whether in a car going to work, or on a footpath trying to climb up that next peak.
The more time I spend with a camera, the more I've learned to slow down and observe.
There's so much beauty around us, even in some of the smallest details
the trail. While much time can be spent learning about the mechanics of a camera,
the most important training is honing our skills of observation and
learning to become
a part of whatever it is we are photographing. I find photography always helps me
slow down a bit, and helps renew my connection with the natural
back home with some great photographic memories is just a bonus.