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.

It's Snowing

By Roger (2 March 2015)

So, it snowed, again, this weekend. It wasn't much this time. This year, in northern Virginia, we've had a decent amount of snow – for our area. We can't compete with New England's totals, but we've had a couple storms that put down enough to cause some havoc with traffic and the school schedule. (My wife is a teacher, so I know the impact, first hand.) Many of my fellow citizens are tired of it and wishing for Spring to arrive quickly.

Me? I like the snow. During my travels with Uncle Sam, I lived in Alaska and Bavaria, so I have lots of experience with it. We have, even, used vacation time to go visit snow.

Kenai Fjords, Alaska

Kenai Fjords, Alaska

This is a scan of a slide from 1989, in Kenai Fjords, Alaska, and the boat is 80' long. This was a 50mm, the “normal” lens for a SLR film camera. I didn't have a wide angle lens, so I couldn't get the top of the glacier into the frame. The blue color of glaciers is caused by the compression of the snow creating such a density that the red wavelengths of light are filtered out; only the blues are passed through. That's a lot of snow.

The world looks different when the white stuff starts flying. This weekend, I went out before our snow started to melt. The cold temperatures had kept the latest snowfall light and fluffy (as opposed to wet and slushy), but the sun and wind had were beginning to do their work. Although I was out early, another photographer beat me to the scene. He had crossed the ice to get onto a little island in the creek for a shot that most people would never get of the snowy bridge across the creek.

Another crazy photographer

Another crazy photographer

You can use the snow to for inspiration to get outside and find those photographs that no one else will go out for. You might have to dig around to find some extra clothing to put on. You will need adjust your exposure meter to compensate for the brightness. You have to be careful because it's slippery. Are you going to let these trivial things keep you from making photos? Am I beginning to sound like I'm channeling Matt Foley? Sorry, I watched the re-union show and got carried away.

Old Town Manassas

Old Town Manassas

The point is to take advantage of opportunities to add variety to your photographs. The snow and ice will give a new look to the familiar places you've photographed many times. For those complaining that there is nothing new to photograph, this stuff is made for you. Go get it.

An early freeze

An early freeze

I use the snow to try new things. I own a 105mm lens for portraits; however, it is also a macro lens. I rarely use it for that because my main interest is people. I've always liked the photos that macro photographers produce, but I have problems creating anything that knocks my socks off. The snow and ice give me opportunities to keep plugging away.

Sometimes the new things are photo concepts that, again, I rarely employ. The photo below has lots of “negative space.” Like everything in photography, there are variations in the definition of negative space. We'll do a more complete description in a future blog. Here the negative space is the all the snow around the plant.

Negative space can create moods and change a viewer's approach to your photo. Imagine a photo of this plant in May, with all the grass and weeds around it. The plant would be lost in all the other noise. Here the negative space simplifies the photo and demands the viewer's attention. Again, these are not the types of photos I usually take, so I enjoy the variety.

Negative space

Negative space

I hope I've convinced you to get out and take advantage of any snow you've been suffering through. The white stuff can present you with some variety and fun in your photography. If you think I'm just crazy for going outside in these conditions, that's alright, too.

___________Follow-up from last week______

My last blog wasn't so much a rant about amateurs versus professionals, but the fact that, in so many areas of our photography world (and the “real” world, too), labels are a two-edged sword. We've all seen non-paid photographers with work that is breath-taking and paid photographers with work that is sub-standard (at least, in our opinion). The labels are imperfect because they are so subjective.

I guess, I could have written that I don't think labels are useful or accurate, but, then, I'd have needed to come up with a different blog topic. As you can tell, I'm passionate about this one. :-)

Thanksgiving Wrap Up

Well, last week saw us heading up to CT for the holiday.  We left on Tuesday, because of the projected snow for Wednesday.  Apparently, everyone else on the East coast had the same idea as our drive North took a few hours longer than expected.  Still it proved a smart choice as they got about 6” of snow.  Luckily for us, my cousin had everything we needed there.  She even had the table pretty much set up and it looked very nice against the snowy background.  

I pushed the Exposure Compensation up +2/3 EV to ensure the background brightness didn’t overly darken the table. 

I love using my 105mm macro during the holidays.  Zooming in on the details, can help recall how much effort goes in to making the holidays memorable.  

By cropping in while composing your image, you can use large color block elements, like the pumpkin as a framing device for the other vibrant colors in your image.

One of our joys in visiting my cousin is the opportunity to see Cara, the wonder dog, their Great Pyrenees.  She is the sweetest, most laid back creature anywhere. With her long hair and Basque sheepherding tradition, she loves this time of year.

Majestic creature guarding her flock

Majestic creature guarding her flock

Finally as I wrote about last blog, here is our perfectly cooked boneless turkey. 

While we were toasting to friends and family I was thinking nice thoughts about all my photographic family as well.  Thanks everyone for sharing this passion for creating images.