We were up in snow ghost country, high in the Gallatin National Forest just west, of West Yellowstone, Montana on a mountain called Two Top. Pure white spectacular snow blanketed all the mountain ranges a hundred miles in every direction. http://www.westyellowstonechamber.com
I am normally not much of a snowmobile person but photography can put you in all kinds of situations. Sitting on top of six feet of snow in near zero temperatures certainly can be part of an assignment for any nature photojournalist. Unique scenarios happen each time the phone rings.
Winter photography is always a challenge. Cold weather, extra bright light and blue reflection shadows are a real test for equipment and personal stamina. Long undies, a snowmobile suit and heavy duty Sorrels take care of the human concerns while zip lock bags and body warmth with deep pockets go a long way in protecting camera gear.
Condensation on cameras and lenses can ruin any photo shoot. Just like glasses that fog up when breathing on them or entering a warm room coming in from the cold your lenses and camera does the same. It can take hours to remedy this kind of water situation.
Always keep extra batteries, scan cards or film, if you are not using digital, deep inside your coat.
A disaster situation example for me happened while on a winter assignment in Yellowstone National Park, http://www.yellowstoneparknet.com/ at minus 50 degrees, I managed to keep frost off my camera but later found I lost all the days’ images due to reticulation of my film and lubrication oils freezing from the solidifying temps.
I had great Bison and elk shots with fur covered in thick frost, plus geysers and hot springs enhanced by low lying icy fog. The images turned out fine however, every frame was plastered in pot marked crystals of ice.
It is a hard lesson to learn before having to confront my client and explain why their monetary and time investment in my services failed. They will never call again. The message here is to be prepared for all eventualities and know what you are getting into.
Besides the cold, exposure with bright whites and contrasting blue shadows can also be a problem with winter photography. If you just go with your average meter reading from your camera you will get a nice grey tone instead of detailed bright whites for snow.
Your meter is always reading an 18% gray so you have to make some exposure compensations. Usually an added compensation of +1 or +2 stops will give you the detail required in whites. When in doubt and you have a great scene before you it is always good to bracket a bit because you probably won’t get that second chance.
A gray card is your best bet for winter landscape photography. Place your card in the same light angle you are shooting in. Fill the frame with the card and take a meter reading. Then recompose and expose with that reading even though your camera will then give you a different meter reading. It can be a little tedious but it really works.
Since you cannot recover details in blown out highlights it is best to expose for them first hand. A circular polarizing filter can also come in handy. It reduces glare and enhances the sky which can add a little more drama.
To me one of the best rewards of winter photography is the hushed atmosphere that is prevalent in nature. This sensation is even more pronounced in the backcountry as when sitting on top of Two Top Mountain in the Gallatin National Forest, http://www.fs.fed.us/r1/gallatin/, surrounded by magnificent sculpted snow ghosts. They speak of a different world wrapped in the purity of white and occasionally share it with those who seek life’s spirits.
Photographs used in this post are copyrighted by Wayne Scherr, Range of Vision Photography, 2009, All Rights Reserved. Reproduction in any manner is prohibited without the written permission of Wayne Scherr, Range of Vision Photography. My image catalog can be viewed at http://www.rangeofvisionphotos.com. You can contact me through this blog or email at: email@example.com