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Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Beauty & Challenge Of Winter Storms


Difficult weather produces uniquely compelling conditions for photography, as well as dangers that need to be observed



This Article Features Photo Zoom

While many are cautious about going out in inclement weather and potentially hazardous conditions, winter storms provide remarkably uncommon imagery. In contrast to the subdued palette you'll often find in desert landscapes throughout the rest of the year, these scenics offer plenty of otherworldly visual elements like dramatic backdrops in skies, pristine snow cover, freezing waterfalls and bodies of water that steam and fog in rapidly changing conditions. Above: Rime ice covers trees against a backdrop of fog in Hayden Valley, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

The view out my window was pretty lousy! Sunrise looked to be dull and dark with thick clouds obscuring the sun. But, if you don't try, you'll never get the image, so I loaded up my gear and trekked to a location in the Alabama Hills, where interesting foreground rock formations provided leading lines to the majestic, but very dark, snow-covered Sierras. I set up my camera and waited.


Snow covers Yosemite Falls and Lost Arrow in a winter storm that's clearing from Yosemite National Park, California.
Magically, the clouds opened slightly to the east and the Sierras lit up with a beautiful magenta alpenglow. I captured the image and made it back to the car before my face and fingers froze.

Winter landscapes incorporate ominous skies, fantastic storm clouds, dramatic light, God rays, eerie mist, fog and snowstorms. These severe weather elements provide great opportunities for spectacular landscape images, but you must be prepared to deal with extreme weather conditions and also be knowledgeable about the photographic techniques needed to capture striking images.

Photographing storm elements as part of the landscape takes preparation. Do you want to feature the elements of the storm or make them an integral part of, but not the centerpiece of, the landscape itself? Evaluate the weather conditions to frame compositional considerations.

Dark, ominous skies are strong elements, but somewhat featureless, so you need an anchoring landscape element to give your image structure. Look for a hoodoo, mountain, tree, ridgeline or some geological feature, hopefully that adds color to make it stand out, when composing your image.


The Yellowstone River cuts through the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone with Lower Yellowstone Falls almost frozen over, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.
Look to the west at sunrise when clearing sunrise storms often create magnificent, pink-colored clouds or alpenglow on the mountains. If you photograph in thick cloud cover with flat light, emphasize any strong elements of color using color-corrected or polarizing filters.

If you have a strong graphic image but no significant color, capture the image anyway and convert to a powerful black- and-white image using a black-and-white conversion software program like Nik Silver Efex Pro 2. Trees in snowstorms become dark silhouettes against bright backgrounds that translate into great black-and-white images. Winter mist and fog often create ethereal monochromatic conditions and softer light that you can use to create subtly toned and deeply moving images.


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