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Monday, January 1, 2007

10 Creative Winter Jump Starts

Keep your photographic eye sharp by exploring the winter world

Nikon D40 back view
Snow As Simplifer
Snow seems to quiet the land and slow down our lives. Snow can also simplify landscape photos by covering up the complexity of vegetation. We’d normally pass up a photo of a bird in a tangle of bare branches; the scene is simply too complex. But a coating of fresh snow can make the same scene magical. Get out early after a new snow before wind or warmth make the branches bare.

Nikon D40 back viewPatterns Abound
Wind-sculpted snow, ice cracks on a frozen lake, frost feathers on a window pane—all are winter-dependent patterns that make beautiful photos when combined with the right light. Shadows define the shapes of windswept snow; shoot at an angle to the sun to capture the pattern.

And don’t forget winter vegetation, such as rushes arcing gracefully on a snow-covered lake, multiple red sumac heads or spruce boughs covered with a blanket of snow.

Nikon D40 back viewWillow Wond
Another source of color in late winter is the willow. Many species can be found in the north, and they all have bark that turns deeper shades of red, green and yellow as winter starts to loosen its grip. Isolate a plant of a contrasting color against a background of willows. Or shoot birds feeding in a dense stand; maybe even set up a bird-feeding station nearby so that they use the willows as a perch.

Aurora Borealis
It’s not that the Northern Lights are more frequent in winter (in fact, they’re more common around the equinoxes), it’s that they’re more visible because the nights are longer and we tend to be awake when they’re displaying. I always have a few shooting locations picked out just in case. I choose spots that have a clear view to the north with a distinctive element to silhouette: a gnarled tree, a lighthouse or a mountain. Try setting your camera to ISO 400 or 800 with an ƒ-stop of 5.6 or so. Start with 10-second exposures and adjust from there.

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