Snowfall

By Roger (31 January 2016)

We got a bit of snow, last weekend. About 30 inches. For some of us, this is a great time to get outside and make some photos.

I've spent large chunks of my life in snowy regions, so, unlike most northern Virginians, I'm not driven into a panic attack when the flakes begin to fall. In fact, I like to get out early – before the plows start blocking streets and people put lots of footprints onto the sidewalks and into the drifts. If that's at night, I'm even happier, since most people will be off the roads and out of my photos.

We had a past blog that covers some of the precautions to take with your camera out in these conditions and some adjustments you may want to take on your exposure settings (link), so I'll skip those in this blog.

As the storm was coming in, Friday night, I went out with a couple of other photographers, Robyn and Pete, on a quick trip into Old Town Manassas. We had the entire area to ourselves. Great conditions.

It is always nice to have other people with you when you're out. It just makes the cold and snow more enjoyable. And, you have other eyes to make sure you don't get so into your camera that you miss some random vehicle headed your way when you're in the middle of the road. ;-)

We parked at the Amtrak Station and set out on foot, toting tripods and camera bags, looking for some quick inspiration. We only had a short amount of time, but, hey, you need to get out there when the time is right.

Pete is a fan of long exposures, so his first shot is a six second exposure of the park, near the train station. This is where a tripod is a must. Unless blurred photos are your artistic statement, you're going to need a sturdy place to put your camera for such a long exposure.

Long exposure, from Peter Guyan

One of the joys of shooting with other people is comparing how differently you shoot the same subject. Pete and I were standing next to each other, under a small gazebo, when we heard a train's warning blast. Both of us spun our cameras around. We were only going to get one shot. We didn't coordinate who was going to shoot what, just both made quick decisions on what we wanted.

Pete went for the long exposure, with a five second shutter speed. As the engine moved through the station, the lights on the cars became a blur. The rest of the scene is sharp and the exposure was correct for the lamp post. It would be very easy to blow out the highlights in this kind of shot.

Train station long exposure. Photo by Peter Guyan

I was concentrating on the station, trying to get the engine as it pulled into view. My exposure was a quarter of a second. I got the motion blur of the engine and snow. If I had a second chance, I might have used an eighth of a second, to slightly reduce the motion blur of the engine, but I like how the engine's headlights illuminate the falling snow. The snow was really coming down by this time.

Train arrives in Manassas Station

At our next location, just a couple of blocks away, Robyn lined up on the steps of a local restaurant, Malones. It is in an old church, so it has nice sweeping stairs and interesting windows. She went to monochrome in post-processing for a moody photo, about tones and shapes.

Monochrome staircase. Photo by Robyn Wiencko

I put my camera in almost the exact same spot, although I swung my camera into the building a little more. I liked the warmth of the lights on the steps, contrasting with the cooler lights from the windows. Since the colors are what attracted me, I left mine in color.

Snowy steps, at Malones

When you're out with other photographers, it is always fun to compare how differently you each shoot the exact same scene. We didn't talk about what we were seeing or how we wanted to capture the scenes, we just each have a different view. That's why photowalks work.

The snow will give you opportunities that a spring day doesn't. You can experiment with exposure settings and lighting beyond the more common sunrise. Now, I'm a big lover of sunrises, but you can't always shoot the same thing. All of the effort can pay off as you advance your photography skill set.

Robyn and Pete stopped by the battlefield, on their way to our meetup, to make a couple of photos there. For those who worry about having fancy equipment, Robyn is shooting a lower end Nikon, with just the kit lens. It hasn't stopped her from making some fine photographs. The snow shimmering in fading light caught Robyn's eye on these old weeds. I think she made one of her best photos to date.

Winter weeds. Photo by Robyn Wiencko

My plea to you: get out there. Yes, it is cold. Yes, you may need to take a few precautions with your gear. It is worth it. And, we always have fun.

If you want to see more of Robyn's photos, you can find her on 500PX (here) and Flickr (here). Pete's photos are, also, on 500PX (here) and Flickr (here). My thanks to both for letting me post their photos.