Winter Simplicity - Snow

I love snow, as long as it’s prepared for.  Even though I grew up in Canada and saw it up close and in person each winter, I have not yet had much of a chance to photograph it.  I strive to make clean and simple images, and snow makes this process so much easier to accomplish.  Like during the cold week of weather we had in the Pacific Northwest back in December, photographers piled outside when the snow hit two weeks ago trying to capture and make their own artistic interpretations of this rare weather event.  While I didn't get up to see some of the frosted waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge, on Saturday morning my Friend David Leahy and I explored some of the country roads between Hillsboro and Forest Grove, looking for wintery scenes that caught our eyes and imaginations.  I was so excited at what lay ahead that morning.  The further west we drove, the more snow we saw that decorated each stark branch on every tree.  It was perfect!

The historic Scotch Church was a natural first stop.  From there, we shot a nearby beautiful red barn that really stood out in the fresh snow.  While at the barn we started to see the odd snow flake fall, and within ten minutes the snow was dumping down.  I found shooting in heavy snow fall a little difficult, in spite of it being so pretty to watch.  The falling snow left white streaks or dots on the images and on the lens that I kept removing with my air blower.  I took photos in bursts so I could easily clone or brush out though layers the worst of the flakes, but the falling snow was simply too much and kept me from getting the really clean images I was hoping for.

Still, I was so glad to be able to get out and find some simple, clean and bright scenes to shoot during this snowy weekend, and especially since fresh snow hanging in trees the morning after a snow fall is so rare in the Portland area.  Typically when we get snow, it is wet and is melting on contact when its’ descent to earth ends.  All of my favorite shots from this morning begged to be processed in black and white.  I did like a couple, but the black and white versions still won out when compared side to side.  Winter scenes are often so dull in color that the drab color can be a detriment to the aesthetic appeal of a photo, at least in my opinion.  Of course, you’ll see the red barn had to be left in color, I didn’t even bother to process it in black and white!

Lastly, here’s a tip for shooting in snow the next time winter’s icy grip locks onto the Pacific Northwest, or sooner if you live somewhere colder (like Winnipeg).  Many of you ambitious hobbyists and pros will already know this, but it should help out a lot of you.  If you’ve ever taken photos in snow or in ice rinks that came out too dark, it is simply because they are underexposed.  This can be overcome when using point and shoot cameras or consumer level SLR’s by selecting the snow scene auto mode, or shooting in a manual mode such as aperture priority, and increasing exposure compensation by one full stop of exposure or so.  If you’re not familiar with exposure compensation, please see your camera’s manual for more detail.  If you already shoot in full manual mode, all you need to do is increase your exposure by either slowing down the shutter speed, increasing your ISO setting, or opening up your aperture (choosing a smaller aperture value).

If you’re shooting with a cell photo, tap on the subject for focus and exposure.  The subject will likely be darker than the bright snow filling most of the frame.  Since the photo will then gauge the exposure on the subject, the snow should then be exposed much brighter, and the image should look more natural.  Try it out next time you're having fun in the snow!