Keep your photographic eye sharp by exploring the winter world
Text And Photography By Sparky Stensaas
Birds Don’t Hibernate About once every five winters, the northeast may experience an eruption of owls. Great gray owls, snowy owls, northern hawk owls and sometimes even tiny boreal owls fly south out of Canada in search of food. Luckily, most of these hungry owls are daytime hunters and undisturbed by larger, inedible prey (photographers). In the winter of 2004-05, more than 5,000 great grays were believed to be in the state. I saw 106 great grays and 42 northern hawk owls in one day! Other birds invade the north in the winter. Common redpolls, pine grosbeaks, purple finches and evening grosbeaks all come to bird-feeding stations. Bohemian waxwings descend on mountain ash and crabapple trees. White-winged and red crossbills flock to spruce and pinecones.
Carcass Sitting I know it may sound unpleasant, but carcass sitting can be the surest way of photographing elusive mammals in winter. Road-killed deer dragged into the woods can attract hungry critters, including coyote, red fox, long-tailed weasel, pine marten, fisher, bobcat and timber wolf. Set up a blind a fair distance away and get in before sunrise. One photographer friend even constructs a snow cave (quinzhee) with windows to use as a blind.
Focus On Snow Snow seems so boring—it’s white and just lies there. Perhaps, but you can also make interesting photos with a little imagination. During a fluffy snowfall, capture individual flakes by setting an old (and clean) windowpane across a couple of sawhorses. Put a blue tarp or blue posterboard well below to provide contrast (of course, snowflakes don’t fall from a clear sky, but the blue contrasts nicely with the white flakes). You’ll need a macro setup of some kind to highlight individual flakes.
Flash For Fun I love playing around with on-camera flash in the digital age. You can instantly see if you’re spreading your creative wings or wasting valuable shooting time. When composing scenics, try flash at dusk to highlight a foreground element. Dusk skies may look dark gray to our eyes, but the digital sensor will often render the sky blue. Popping the flash at night with snow falling can create crazy round blobs of light for an artsy effect.
Black-And-White I said that color can be found in winter, but some scenes simply are expressed best in shades of gray. New printers using multiple gray ink cartridges allow for more accurate renditions of black-and-white images. To get a good black-and-white photo, try Photoshop’s Channel Mixer (Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Channel Mixer). Check the monochrome box and adjust the red, green and blue sliders to find the best combination for your particular image. Many winter subjects lend themselves to this technique: winter landscapes, cloudscapes, convoluted melting icicles and snow-laden tree branches.
Don’t let the winter blahs bog you down. Set yourself a weekly goal to focus on one of these creative ideas.