Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Evergreens in a Snowstorm

Evergreens in a Snowstorm

I have been shooting in snowstorms lately. Why? Call me crazy, but I love the magic of falling snow. Especially the first snow, when you can still see the shape of branches and leaves, and when New England mud hasn't appeared yet.

I know, there are those of you out there who would rather roast chestnuts over an open fire. But I love being outdoors and winter is my favorite season, so I just can't wait to get out in the snow.

It's a challenge. You need to stay dry and warm, because a miserable photographer makes miserable images. So I wear waterproof boots, pants and jacket and a hat with a brim to keep comfy.

How about the effects of weather on the camera? KEEP IT DRY! I carry mine in a plastic bag and try not to work in rain. Rain is wet, and wet is bad for electronics. But as long as the temp is below 32*, the snowflakes don't melt and get my camera wet. So if the temp is low, I just brush the flakes away occasionally.

But shooting snowstorms is still tricky. Heavy clouds reduce the available light. When it's dark, you need to take a long exposure, or reduce depth of field, or raise the ISO to get enough light on your sensor.  Or all three.

In a long exposure, falling snow just looks like weird white streaks. You need a quick exposure, about 1/250 second. But at that speed, you have no depth of field. So I found a subject that didn't require much depth. Then I raised my ISO to 1600 (because sensor noise doesn't show in a snowstorm).

All set, right?  Not quite. Depth of field affects snowflakes as well as trees. Even though the trees look ok, the foreground snowflakes are big white blurry blobs!

Here's an original, with blurry blobs of snow

Then I took 3-5 shots of each composition, all exposed exactly the same. When I got home, I took the best 2 and loaded them into Photoshop as layers. Then it was easy to erase the blobs from the top layer and reveal the detail from the layer below, because the blobs were in different places in the layers.

The picture at the top is not perfect, but at least I have a way to practice and improve this technique and share this beautiful season. I hope you enjoy the snow - it seems like we're getting a lot of it!

You can see more of my work at my Fine Arts America galleries.

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Color of Light

As photographers, we spend a lot of time correcting the color of light. We, or our publishers, remove the blue cast from snow and the orange color of indoor lighting, trying to make everything look as if it were shot at noon on a sunny day. We fiddle with white balance to minimize the variation. We measure the color of light in Kelvins and call it color temperature.

As a visual artist, my reaction to this is: YUK!!!  What a loss!

Light changes color in nature. A bright, cloudy sky gives white light. A dark cloudy sky gives light that looks blue. The first beams of sunrise give light that is red or magenta, known as alpenglow. Light filtered through or reflecting from abundant foliage is green, and tints the fog in rural areas. And if the sky is neon at sunrise or sunset, those hues are reflected on earth. And we love to see the warm beam of a lighthouse contrasting with an evening sky.

In man-made environments, lightbulbs also vary. Our homes used to have the warm glow of tungsten light bulbs. Newer indoor lighting ranges from the white of halogen to the various shades of compact fluorescent light bulbs at the hardware store. Those of us who are sensitive to the color of light will notice the difference in mismatched bulbs and the change of color from room to room. 

Outdoors, the light in streets and parks varies widely. Mercury vapor bulbs give an orange light, and metal halide bulbs glow green. They are often mixed in one place, making color correction impossible.

My question is, why do we insist on "correcting" color temperature?  I looked out my window this morning and saw the scene above - a park with airport hangers in the background. The snowfield was blue with green circles. Snowbanks in the parking lots were orange. The sky was showing stripes of magenta, purple, and turquoise. There was nothing correct about it, and no way to fix it. Traditional photographers might publish it in black and white. I fell in love with the riot of color, and present it here to you. Enjoy!

And check out +Benjamin Williamson  for a real stunner!

There's information on color temperature on Wikipedia.  

Here's the same photo, converted to black and white.