There are two times in the winter when photography is a real challenge: when there’s no snow, and when there’s no sun.
Snow changes a bleak landscape into one that’s been windswept into contours and shapes that last only as long as the temps stay frigid. The sun casts the shadows that give all that glaring white its texture, whether subtle or dramatic.
So, in the winter, I don’t care how cold it gets as long as there’s snow and sunshine. That’s when I can easily be talked into a photo trek.
The other day, it was a trek with a purpose. A friend and I do an “assignment” each week on flickr, a photo-sharing site, and this week the topic is “winter landscape.” Day after day, driving around the area, I’ve seen beautiful photo ops; but of course, when I NEED to find one, I hardly know where to start.
It helps if there’s been a new snowfall to decorate trees and stationery objects. On the day I went looking, there wasn’t. The waterfront is also a good place to look, but the ice was covered with snow so that the bay could as easily have been a flat farmer’s field. Ice shanties decorate the bay right now, and boats are wintering at Bay Shipbuilding, and both
make for interesting photos. Those photos have also been done to death, even by me. This time I wanted something different.
So, George and I put the dog and the cameras in the car and headed out, skirting the shoreline of Sturgeon Bay, then changing our minds and heading across the peninsula to check out the lighthouse at the Coast Guard Station on Lake Michigan. We never made it. Instead, we were beguiled by the farmland snowscape. But we were beguiled because we let ourselves be.
What does that mean? It means we were doing more than just glancing casually as we drove along, as does any photographer worth his memory card. We were mentally composing, framing and cropping each scene, both prepared to make use of the car rule: we can always stop, or go back. We were both seeing, not just looking.
It reminds me of the time a friend of mine decided to shoot some autumn color. He got in his car, drove up and down the roads, and came back saying there was nothing worth photographing. He never stopped, got out or looked more closely. He was waiting for The Amazing Scene to suddenly materialize in front of him, and of course it didn’t happen.
Sometimes, when the larger landscape isn’t particularly inspiring,
you have to focus on the details, you have to find the one single, solitary thing that can stand alone. When the forest doesn’t wow you, you find a leaf that does.
This wasn’t one of those days. With one exception, I found the big picture enchanting. Country roads connecting isolated farms and orchards, no traffic at all to interfere, not even one single car. No wind to discourage, no ice to restrict, just wide open country, layered in snow and washed by the sun.
So, I raised the exposure compensation by about two-thirds, to make sure the snow came out white and not gray (although photo editing programs make that happen quite nicely, too) and I found my photo. I found more than one. I even got one when we finally walked the dog, who had been patiently waiting in the back seat. Good thing she’s patient when we’re walking, too.
It was the kind of day that makes winter worthwhile.