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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.
We got out of the house yesterday after being rained in for a couple of days, and got to the lake, Lake Tahoe. And, I shot a bunch of stuff all day long. I've gotten through a bunch of edits. It took a while. I got a lot more shot yesterday than on, than in the blizzard on the first day. And, I'm liking a lot of what I've got. I think I've got some keeper images. But, it's interesting. As I kind of have come out of this process of editing. I'm not as much struck by any of the individuals images, as by kind of trends that are happening.
My eye is working on something, I think. I'm, I'm not sure. Well I just want to show you some of what I came up with, and what I've learned from yesterday, and what I may want to adjust when I get back out. It was cloudy early in the morning. And so I got some nice cloud stuff. This is a pretty simple image, basic composition. I didn't move this branch around or anything. It was just sitting there. You may think this is an HDR image, and it's not. I'm not actually doing a lot of HDR these days. I will still do HDR to preserve skies. Or capture interesting skies, but this is one that I did just by selectively adjusting different parts of the image.
Using layer masks in Photoshop, I edited in the sky to make it more contrasty, the foreground to make it more contrasty, and the branch. That said, this is not my favorite shot of this branch. I worked the shot. I went from here into thinking, you know what's interesting about this. Is not that it's a branch. Wow, you know, as I've looked at this now, I, this really needs to be straightened. It's absolutely crooked. I was editing late at night. I, I think I was sitting like this editing, and, and, and so it, it, it ended up crooked. I need to straighten it. I need to crop a little bit. I also think I just need to ditch it, because, it's not that compelling to me, but as I was shooting it, I noticed this bit in here.
The reflection in the sky was really cool. So I got closer, uh-huh! This was starting to get somewhere. I really like this, I like the sky up against the reflection. It's still not right, I'm glad that I went in closer, and got to here. This, I think is the image. This is a stick up in the sky, and I really like that. This is a fine example of why you work the shot, and why most of the time. The keeper shot's going to be the one that happened when you got closer to your subject. I shot this picture of my feet. And I don't know why, but I like it. I like the texture.
It's for me, a kind of personal shot of what the day started out as. So, it's okay to do that. This is not a fine art picture, that I would hang on the wall. But I think it's a good photo, and it's one I'm going to be glad to go home with. But I really like the texture on the ice and stuff like that. It's making me see. Wow, there's textures out here in the snow-filled world, that I'm really not used, given that I'm usually somewhere much warmer. And, that kind of continued, as we'll see. I'm also not that used to being out in the forest in the winter time shooting, so, I was finding myself really compelled.
By the graphical nature of bare branches. So I shot this, and there's a great idea waiting to happen here. And it's not happening. I like the contrast between the black and the white. I like these lines through the white, and through the black. But it's too busy. I need, I haven't found the right, shrub yet. That's the problem. I need one that's got more of a geometric something happened. What I would like to have is, rather than just kind of these lines all over the place, some general sense of movement in the lines. These are lines just everywhere.
So, this is a good idea, and I like the tonal relationships between the left and right side. There's something happening here. This has been good practice for me, because, in editing this I've seen how, through some localized adjustments, I can really pull more contrast out of the bright bits here, using the same techniques that I used on the snow. And really crunch down these black ones. So, this was good practice. And that, I think, is you're going, is, is what you're going to see as the theme that I've taken away from day two here. I went on and shot some more. I really was seeing these branches just as their own thing.
I like this shot. I don't think there's much more I could have done to it. I, I like the diagonal line across, from corner to corner. It feels a little too weighted towards the trees. Should have been more on the sky. Fortunately again, this is one that, I can probably find this configuration again somewhere, if we get more cloud. So, good first attempt. I might keep playing with this. I spend a lot of time just shooting texture as I said earlier. I was just really into, wow the ice is pretty and snow is pretty, and the, correlation between the two is pretty. So i was just shooting the ground a lot. I felt kind of silly.
But, I'm trying to just indulge those things, wow, I hadn't really noticed, I guess I was playing with these red tones in here also. I'm trying to just indulge those interests, I don't know that this is a shot I'll ever do anything with, but there's something working, because I kept doing it, I kept finding snow against other things and shooting at something. Is compelling me and I'm not sure what it was. Then the snow went away and I just kept doing that. I spent a lot of the day just pointed down. Playing with the relationships here, between these three things, here, here and here, that were all lit up.
Here's another one that I struggled with all day long. There was a stand of aspens. That were up against these green trees. And it's the weirdest thing about aspens, they're always pretty. They're pretty if they have leaves. They're pretty if they don't have leaves. They're pretty if there's light on them. They're pretty if there's not light on them. In the daytime they're white, at dusk they're green. They're amazing trees, and, I wanted something from them and, and I shot this and there's no picture here. And then I shot this, and there's no picture here. And you can see what I'm doing with these two images. I'm thinking the white up against another color would be really cool.
And no, I haven't edited this one, but this one doesn't work, because there's no composition here anyway, that I can do anything with. Same thing here. But I just kept doing it all day long. As I was prowling around every once in awhile I'd look back, and I'd see 'em again from a different angle. And I'd take the shot. And then finally, at the end of the day, the light changed and I got this. So, I'm really glad that I didn't look at, then take the shot, look at the camera and go, no, these aren't the right stand of aspen trees. This isn't going to work. I just kept shooting them all day long, because my eye kept getting drawn to them. You have to just follow those impulses.
And one of the trickiest things about. Being a photographer, is learning to identify when you're even having an impulse, because your brain will edit it out so quickly. It would have been very easy at this moment to look in that direction and go, wow, those aspens are really lit up. No wait, I've shot them already. They don't work, there's not a photo there. Instead, I just kept going. And I, I like this shot. I think this is a keeper. It was worth spending the day shooting these trees over and over. And that's a good lesson for. Wow. Staying in one place all day long, as the light changes, you don't know what you'll find.
This is another one that I worked. There was something about this jetty or spit or. I'm not a nautical person. I'm sure there's a specific word for exactly what this is. And I don't know what it is. But there was something about this line in here, that was compelling me. So, I set this up. Yeah, it's kind of there. It's a nice overall shot of the landscape with the mountains in the background, maybe I could crop out this upper part of sky, of the the sky. But it's interesting because I, I and oh, here are those tracks I shot before. So I started with this, but then I kept going and I, I got out on to the jetty or spit or whatever it is, and shot this.
Still getting some of that curve. And this kind of works. This shot's anchored a little bit by that rock. So, that's kind of working. But then I just kept going. I, I moved over because I liked this rock here, and no, that's not quite it. But look, I like the relationship between this and this. And then I had this. And this is the shot. So, you don't stop if there's something there that's interesting to you, because you, you have to go, and you have to find it. And it's very easy to think well, if I was a good photographer, I just would have seen it. Nonsense! This is what all photographers do, I promise you.
This is just how it works. These shots here are my sketches. I am looking for the composition, and not able to find it until here. And, just because I couldn't visualize this from somewhere else is okay. I have legs, they move, they work and it's a nice day to be out walking around. So, in addition to getting this shot. I got some exercise and I had a nice walk around Lake Tahoe. And, so this is just kind of what I kept doing all day. Oh, this is interesting. I came back to the rails, and shot them again. And again, this is the case of I went in tighter and simplified the image more and it became stronger.
There's something I could have tried here, which was to step back and zoom in, to compress the distance between here and here. The image might have been stronger, I dont' know. I wish I had tried that. So I didn't quite work this enough. While I was standing there, that's something I could've done. Shot this. Backed up. Zoomed in. And see if the image changed. This is an image, that I shot over and over yesterday. And I don't mean this shot of this patch of snow and those trees there. I mean, something in this part of frame, and something in that part of the frame. Here it is again, these trees and the moon.
Here it is again, this rock and the mountains. I've also shot this same image in Death Valley, a lot of different times. I'm doing something here. I could be disillusioned, part of me wants to say ugh, I have to start composing a different way. I keep just lining up the same composition with these three different things. I'm trying to not worry about that, and go no, I'm just practicing this relationship. I am learning. About the relationship of something in this part, of the frame and something in this part of the frame. Some the weighting the bottom to the top.
There's no reason not to keep shooting this, this shot shot. I am trying to, when I see this relationship. To take this shot, and then move around and work it, and try and see if there's something else there. I'm also trying to just let go of worrying it and, and say I'm practicing something. And maybe I'm getting some good shots along the way. I also have a feeling that, that some day there will come along some arrangement. Where this composition is perfect for it and I'll be ready. I will know how to see and compose it that way, and I'll be rewarded with a really great shot.
Oh, boy. I shot this a lot, in a lot of different ways. There were these three rocks, and this really compelling pile of bushes there. And, there are so many ways to string these around because I can change my camera position and my focal link to change, to change the relationship of the rocks. The light was changing. I'm just going to show you two, rather than show you the 35 that I shot throughout the day. This one and this one. So here you can see I'm working rather than just lining them up in a straight line, which I could've done, I'm playing the curve of them going up into here. This was me consciously trying to not do that.
Putting something here and putting something here. And, I like the sense of the rocks getting smaller. So, then I did try what I didn't do on the rails. I changed my camera position and my focal length, to play with the sense of depth in the image. And, I'm showing you both of these, because I haven't decided. I don't know which one really works. And I'm not sure that I will know until I step away from these images for a few months, and. And come back to them on paper. I want to print them out pretty large, and stick 'em in a drawer and then come back. because I, often do that and come back and go oh, well, it's obvious.
It's this one. So I want to do that. This is another one. I saw this, and it's not quite working. I had a sense that, look, there's a line here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here. Pointing to right here, and then there's a cloud, pointing to right here. I don't know if you, and there's, there's another one pointing to right here. I don't know if you would have noticed that if I hadn't pointed it out to you. It's, kind of clear to me but not really. And because I can say not really, I'm worried that it's not clear to the viewer. But that put an idea in my head, so that when the sun got lower, and this came up, I really saw that right away.
Look, there's a bunch of striations in the sky here, and here. This line pointing here, the reflections of the striations pointing here, I don't know if you can see that on your screen because. This is a very tonally difficult image. This is one that I have to get on paper and work, really hard to get those lines to really appear, but that is possible. I know I have enough dynamic range to do that, and I know my printer. Can support it. I'm looking forward to getting home and printing this one, but I feel like this is the image that I couldn't get here. It's the same idea.
So that was kind of my theme yesterday, was, I was just working the same ideas over and over. Now you could say, so you're saying you were going to yesterday. I could say that, I'm going to try not to. Because I think it's working. I think practicing these ideas is leading me to see things, that I wouldn't have seen otherwise. I feel like I was really relaxed yesterday, and I'm glad about that, because this is an environment that should make me really nervous. Trees, I find are very difficult to shoot, snow I was afraid was bleak and hard to work with. And here I am, finding myself coming up with ideas and working through them in a lot of different ways.
So, after this. I'm really excited to get back out shooting, and I know I said that about day one. I was excited to get back out into snow and shoot. Now, I'm just feeling like wow, I've got a bunch of geometric ideas working. I just want to get back out there. I don't know if any of these are my final keepers from, by the time I leave here, if these are the images I'll like. But I feel like I'm chasing something, and so I want to get back out there and pursue it some more.
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