Travel Photography: Mountains and Snow Landscapes
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Travel Photography: Mountains and Snow Landscapes

with Ben Long

Video: Reviewing the first snowy shoot images

All right. I was wrong.

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Watch the Online Video Course Travel Photography: Mountains and Snow Landscapes
2h 27m Intermediate May 09, 2014

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Snow-covered landscapes introduce a variety of photographic opportunities and challenges. A blanket of brilliant white can do beautiful things with light, but it also complicates exposure. Crystal-blue winter skies are dramatic, but shooting in the cold can be cumbersome and hard on your gear.

In this course, photographer, author, and educator Ben Long takes a trip to Lake Tahoe to explore winter shooting at various times of the day. He also shows techniques for post-processing winter scenes to make them look their best.

Ben Long

Reviewing the first snowy shoot images

All right. I've gone through all of my images from the first blizzardy day of shooting. And I'm going to show you what I've got. You know very often, it's really boring to sit around and look at someone else's vacation pictures. But you don't have to worry about that right now because I don't have much to show you. That was a extremely difficult day of shooting. Still, let me show you what I got. I've learned some things from them. I'm ready to go out into another blizzard, I think. First of all, I had seen this which I was intrigued by. It doesn't really work as a picture. It was vegetation that had a big pile of snow on it.

I liked the relationship between the, the snow and the darkness underneath. And I thought there was some cool kind of graphical lines. I was wrong. There's really not an interesting picture here. But, look at the difference between this shot of it and this shot of it. What's the big difference here? This one was shot at 1 200th of a second. This was shot at 1 25th of a second. When snow is falling, you really want to think about shutter speed. Because here, I've got pretty close to pinpoint snowflakes. Here, I've got more streaky snowflakes.

I like the pinpoint ones better in this instance. I think that even sharper would have been better. A faster shutter speed would have been nicer. I was at ISO 100 at F8. So I had enough latitude to get my shutter speed up, and maybe get them even sharper. Now, the problem with getting them sharper is, they're going to get smaller as I speed up my shutter speed. But still, it might've been cool to have these kind of speckles all over. To me, in this image, when I see streaks like this, it looks like I just didn't know what I was doing. Now, there are other times when taking streak, streaky snowflakes could be a correct artistic decision.

The important thing to remember is, with rain or snow, if you can see the precipitation, you need to think about shutter speed. You've gotta decide, it's just like shooting stars, you gotta decide if you want points or streaks. In this case neither choice saved the image, so this one's a loss. This I like. I think this works pretty well. I like the balance of these three shapes. Now this is not something that I have recognized in post-production. I remember seeing this there. I remember looking through the viewfinder. I saw these two shapes first, and what I thought the shot was going to be was, if you would imagined that I had stepped more this way, then I would have had a big thing in this upper corner and a little thing over here, and those would have balanced each other.

As I was framing up that shot, though, I saw this rock over here, and thought no, I can, I can move around to the left and form a triangle out of these three shapes. The other thing that got me was, I was watching the background, and decided that I liked the relationship of this stuff back here to this tree better from this position than when I moved around to try to get my original framing. Oddly enough, I didn't shoot my original framing, and this is the kind of thing I'm talking about, about just kind of how outta the zone I was because of just the physical place I was in.

Normally, I would have taken that first shot and then moved over and gotten the, the second shot. I would have worked the shot. In this case, I think I held my camera up and went, oh, boy, it's really cold. I want this camera off of my face, so I just gotta find a shot and take it. And I took the one that I thought was right rather than working the shot. It would have been nice to see the other one. Looking at it now, I can imagine that if I had stepped more to the right, then this rock would have intersected with this tree. Maybe that's what I saw, then, maybe that's why I abandoned the shot. Anyway, I think this works pretty well. This one, I think, is actually the keeper shot for me out of all of these.

I just like this picture, I think it works well. I I think I got the snow rendering right, I like that these are points. I like that they kind of fill this frame with some white visual noise. They create, the contribute to the sense of depth in the scene. They remind me that I wasn't just walking through space, I was walking through space filled with all this stuff. I've got repetition here, receding into the distance. I like the tonal change from here to here. Now, I will tell you, I've done some cloning on this image. There was some stuff in here that I took out.

Let me just find it for you. You can see that there were some rocks and things in here. So here's the original color image. I like it much better in black and white. Oh, also, this tree has a, has, like, a tag on it, some kind, there. Tracking it's migration or something, I don't know. I took that out because it, it seemed like it a distraction. So here's the black and white version. Here's the color version. I think it works better tonally in black and white. And I think I was imaging this in black and white when I was shooting it because this image is just about form. The color information is simply distracting.

And you can see that I've just cloned out a couple of things here and here. Because this big empty white field serves to balance this over here, I also think with these things here, this big empty white bit is not a shape unto itself. If I take them out, then this becomes a big sort of negative space. It's a negative space that's all white, but it still works. So I like this image. Moving on to this image. Now, technically, this image, you could argue, is wrong exposure-wise. If you've watched my printing course, if you've watched me go on and on and on about what needs to happen before you print.

You'll know that I always say that you need black in your image and you need white. Well we can look at the histogram and see, there's no black. We can look at the image and see there's no black. This an extremely low contrast image. And it is exactly right as far as I'm concerned, because it was an extremely low contrast day. And I had mentioned at the time that one of the things I was going to be looking for was playing to that low contrast. That was a big part of my reality was watching around, walking around seeing ghost landscapes in the distance because the snow was obscuring everything. And I knew that while I was out there that I wanted a shot like that.

I was actually looking for one. In fact, I thought that this was going to be that shot, but it turned out that this tree in the foreground punched up really nicely. So I like that I've got some foreground and some ghosty stuff. But I really wanted that ghosty mountain in the distance shot that I get here. I like the composition here. I think it works. I think this huge expanse of white up here is nice. I think it balances this shape well. I have cloned a little bit here and I don't think I'm done yet. Let me show you the original on this. And you'll see that it also works better in black and white than in color.

Here's the original black and white conversion. This tree up here is bugging me. So, here's what I cloned it down to. I've also done a little bit of a re-cropping. I just feel like it competes with this tree. I think I'm going to go the rest of the way and take it out altogether. Now, those of you with a journalism background might be reeling right now. I'm not a journalist. I'm not out there to create journalism. I'm out there just to make pretty pictures, honestly. And I'm out there, in this case, to convey something of what I was experiencing. When I, when I was out there, I saw a beautiful distant hazy tree on a hillside.

That's what I want this shot to be, and I don't think it's as beautiful with that tree in there, so I'm taking it out. And I, I actually feel okay about that. Moving on, I have this shot. Now, this is the crew suffering up the trail ahead of me. And the reason I've thrown this image in here. When we're out here doing these shots, I take a lot of pictures of the crew because, they're my friends and we're experiencing this together, and it's part of my experience here. In this case, I actually took it as a serious image, because I'd been wanting a colored accent in this black and white world somewhere here, and this yellow bit of blanket or cloak or cape, or whatever this is, looks really nice.

The problem is, this is actually three people who are all walking in line, and they just kind of blob together, so it doesn't really work. I was hoping they'd spread apart, but they were all walking in each other's footprints to keep their feet dry. So I'm not sure this works, but I like the rest of the scene. It's a really true representation of the environment that I was walking through. You can see just how much snow was falling. I like the way the trees are all chewed up by the snow that's in front of them. I could clone them out, and I might try that, it wouldn't be hard to do. I have a feeling that the composition'll fall apart, though, because they're really the anchor of this shot.

They're are sitting right at the intersection of the thirds lines in this lower quadrant. So I'm not sure it's going to work. And, to be honest, it's not that great a shot anyway. This was mostly a shot just for my personal recollection of the scene. So, hopefully we're going to get back into some more snow, and I'm going to be able to find that color accent on a black and white world kind of thing that I would really like to get a shot of. When you're out shooting in any landscape, you're often practicing without knowing you're doing it. again, I said that I wanted this shot of the distant snow hazed landscape.

I'm going to keep looking for it. I don't know if this is the right one. I'm going to keep taking this same picture over and over and over, because there might be a better one. Similarly, I'm going to shoot every instance that I can find of a color accent in a black and white world. And as I do that I will continue to get better at it. And some day, the perfect situation is going to show up with a color accent and a snow landscape, and I'm going to have a lot of experience about composing it and exposing it and so on and so forth. Maybe that's this trip, maybe it's another one, I don't know. So that's it, that's what I've salvaged from this shoot. I'm actually pretty pleased.

I came back with more than I was expecting, given how I felt like I wasn't getting anything at all because I couldn't even see. To go out and get this shot alone, I feel like I had a good day of shooting. Coming back with one picture's plenty. If I could do one picture a day, you know, a couple months outta the year, I'd have a good 60 images a year. That's not bad. More importantly, I've learned a lot about what I want to do next time. Gotta be careful about shutter speed when snow is falling. Gotta watch my exposures, make sure my metering isn't messing with me. But I can feel, especially from this image, that I am at least seeing abstractly, and it's a very abstract environment.

I want to keep working this. I'm, I'm glad that I didn't take this shot literally. I wasn't looking for complete tree or complete stand of trees. I like that what I saw was three repeating vertical lines, and I composed around that. That's the zone I want to be in, is really this purely conceptual abstract zone. That's the kind of thing I want from this environment. That's what I want to look at when we go back out. So we're going to head up back up high in a couple of days. I'm actually really looking forward to it now, which I wouldn't have thought on that day, the other day when we were so cold.

But I want to get back out there.

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