Adds Adamus, "One thing that you have to pay real close attention to is exactly what the conditions of the snow are and how you're going to get where you're going. Obviously, there are skis and snowshoes, and there are advantages and disadvantages of each. But the main thing for me when I'm in the mountains is what the avalanche conditions are going to be like and picking the safest route of approach. People back East are saying, 'Avalanches, really?' Avalanches are a big killer out West here among winter backcountry enthusiasts. Every region has its own avalanche forecasting center, and they do a pretty good job of keeping you apprised of what the current avalanche conditions are, and just doing some snow pack analysis yourself—not just because of avalanches, but for ease of travel.
"For example," Adamus continues, "if there was a warm spell or a few days of sunny weather, and we had a nice firm crust form on top of the snow, and then a new storm came and dumped a bunch of new snow on top of that, that might make for bad avalanche conditions because you have a real inconsistency in the snow pack—you have light snow on top of that hard icy snow—but it also makes for really good walking conditions. If it's just been dumping and dumping, and you don't have that firm crust anywhere to walk on, then you can find yourself even with big fatty skis or 30-inch snowshoes wading around in thigh-deep snow, taking the entire day to go a mile and a half. That's not very much fun. Then you really have to try to pick the ridge routes that get windswept when that happens, and sometimes you just really have to scale back your ambitions on account of the snowfall. When it's really light powdery snow and there's a whole lot of it, I don't care what you have on your feet or who you are, you're just not gonna get all that far in it."
In spite of the challenges of cold weather—actually, because of them—Adamus relishes his travels in the heart of winter.
"Oftentimes, people just kind of previsualize the winter landscape as dark and foreboding," he says. "It's not natural to them. But once you get familiar with it, and prepared for going out in it, winter can be just as beautiful as anything. Also, you can get out there and have these places completely to yourself in winter, which is another thing I really love about it, and the amount of unique picture opportunities it gives you—the combination of all those things just makes winter an endless source of fascination for me.
"Your best photographs are going to come from the places you know best," concludes Adamus, "and the places that you've really taken the time to get to know and to care about. I just absolutely love the winter landscape. If I hated it, I probably wouldn't make very good pictures of it. In any type of photography, it all just comes down to having a good relationship with your subject."
Depth-Of-Field Blending Technique
To create the image Marc Adamus calls "Ice Art," not only did the photographer capitalize on the winter landscape's predisposition for reflecting beautiful skies in ice and snow, but he used a favorite advanced Photoshop technique he calls Depth of Field Blending. He recently has been teaching the technique in workshops, and he explains the concept behind it here.
"That's a study of reflected light," Adamus says of the "Ice Art" image. "I never would have been able to come up with a perspective like that, and get that type of separation and get everything sharp, if not for the depth-of-field blending. I was able to focus at 10 different focal points and blend them all together so that I had the image sharp. Otherwise, there's no way that I could have come up with a perspective like that and have that type of separation.
"When people realize they can blend from different focal points to get the depth of field they need," he continues, "they're completely enthralled with the concept and think they should use it anywhere at anytime, and that's really not the case. It's something where you have to know what you're getting yourself into because sometimes it can be excruciatingly painful.
"If you had a field of wildflowers and grasses, for instance," Adamus says, "a finely detailed foreground, and you're shooting a big wide-angle lens that has lots of distortion around the edges, the combination is just going to make depth-of-field blending really difficult. There are tools to help photographers—one is Helicon Focus, which was developed for macro photographers to help Photoshop identify the sharp pixels and keep only the sharp ones and throw away the soft pixels—but the fact remains that anytime you change the focal point, you're also adjusting the focal length ever so slightly, and it's that disconnect, that inconsistency, that really causes problems."
Concludes Adamus, "Then again, there are other times, like ice, sandstone or anything with a very consistent texture throughout, or anything naturally layered or segmented in some way—it can be very easy to mask those images together. Sandstone, for example, has a very consistent texture. So even if your images don't line up perfectly, it's very easy to fudge it a little bit and make the blend pretty seamless."