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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.
Skill Level Intermediate
At the beginning of this course, I mentioned some reasons that I've usually avoided shooting winter landscapes. The main one being, I don't like to be cold. And I still don't like to be cold. But I've got a nice warm jacket now. So that helps. I've learned some practical things about shooting in this kind of climate, in a really cold, dry climate. Batteries don't last as long. I knew that already. It wasn't as bad a problem as I thought it was going to be. I have pretty new batteries which makes a big difference. The capacity of your battery definitely changes with age and I've got pretty new batteries so I don't feel like I took a hit on my cameras for the cold weather.
I had expected, because I've always read about how well when you come in from the cold you got to be careful because you'll have condensation in your camera so you have put it in ziploc bag and then take it inside and let the temperature equalize and all this stuff. I had expected to have to worry about that but didn't. Even on the coldest days and there was some very cold days, even going out at night condensation wasn't ever a problem. And that might just be because I'm in a very, very dry environment right now so it hasn't been an issue. If you're somewhere there where there's more humidity then that is going to be a concern. If your camera's very cold and you go into a very warm room you could get condensation on the inside of it.
That's not permanently damaging to your camera. It does mean that you should not use the camera until all that condensation is gone. To remedy it, put it in a ziploc bag outside, take it inside, wait for the temperature to equalize. One of the things I was encountering that I realized could have been a problem that I had not anticipated was static electricity. I was getting out of a car yesterday and got a big shock from it. That's, again, because it's so dry here. And that's true just about anywhere in the winter time. That can be, plague real havoc with media cards, with, with flash cards, SD cards and CompactFlash.
So be very, very careful when you're handling your cards in the winter time, if you've been walking across a shag carpet, or just in general existing in a dry climate, there's a good chance that you're going to have a static charge that, if you hit the contacts on the card, could scramble the card. So be careful with that. Those of course are the easy things to solve about shooting in a new environment. I said I came here, because I wanted to challenge myself, and get out of my comfort zone, and try shooting in places that normally scare me. And the thing that scares me about winter landscape is it's a lot of forest shooting, which, as I said, has always concerned me because I've never understood how to handle the geometry.
So I'm going to go back and look at just some images, I've, I've culled through the whole shoot. And I'm not done with my edit. There's more to do. In terms of getting the images right. I expect there's more to do in terms of finding the selects because, when you go back to a group of images later, you often find things that you didn't recognize originally as being a good picture. But from what I can do here just a few days out from shooting, I've made some selects that, kind of answer for me some of the questions about, do I need to be afraid of coming into this kind of environment, into shooting in a place that I normally don't shoot.
This is something I shot on the first day. And I really like this image. You wouldn't necessarily say this is absolutely a winter image, or that this isn't even a desert image. I'm just glad that I was seeing. Very often if you're going into a place that you do feel is outside of your comfort zone, you can be really uptight. You can be in your head. You can be afraid. You can be nervous. You can be uptight. I'm glad on the first day that I was noticing reflections of something that I could compose with. I was in a good zone at the beginning and I think that helped, and it's good for me to remember, that's a, that's just a critical step.
You've gotta go in relaxed. I was very pleased to find that in the winter you get textures that you don't have anywhere else and I was really having a lot of fun playing with those, and I'm definitely not done with that. I think there's a lot more I can go in that direction. I do this a lot in the environments that I normally shoot in. I'm often shooting the ground. It's fun to find such different things on the ground. And so that was a really nice discovery that I actually had not predicted at all. I had anticipated being in environments that were very, very low contrast. I only had one day of that.
So I actually got much, much less of that than I thought. I really only got to knock off a few images in that realm. I am very pleased with this one, I would like to do more of this. I spend so much of my time beefing up contrast and looking at how to capture the most contrast. I like the idea of being placed in a situation where our contrast is inherently limited. Strange thing to say given that I live in San Francisco and it's always foggy, but the snow, the contrast you get with falling snow is really usable low contrast and I would like to go back and work with that more.
So, I'm pleased to find that one of these things that I was afraid of has actually peaked my curiosity. This was an image I was not expecting. I, and here we go, we're in the forest. We're into that repeating vertical geometry that I had been so afraid of. And I'm, I'm really glad that I was able to get in and even within the midst of the physical difficulty of this particular day of shooting, I was able to start to see, shapes and compositions that I had not seen before. So this is one of my favorite images from the shoot, and I don't know if it's one of my favorites because of the image.
I think it is more of an internal thing for me. I really like this image because I feel like my eye was working in a very different way. Again, something that I don't normally get to find because I'm normally not out shooting in the winter. That's a strange thing to say because I shoot all winter long, but winter in San Francisco is weird, the trees all have leaves on them. So to really get the bare trees was a fun thing to get to play with. Aspens as I mentioned before always fun. It's nice to find, I don't know why I was worried about coming to shoot in a place like this. I guess what I'm trying to say is your comfort zone is probably bigger than you think it is, because in the end it's always about light and it's always about light and shadow in the interplay and here I got to find that that's true no matter what.
It was nice to discover that winter landscape doesn't necessarily mean what I had thought, here I am shooting by a lake. The only thing that makes this wintry are the snowy mountains in the background so, I am actually completely in my comfort zone here just shooting things the way that I normally do. And here I am deep in the forest finding that light still works there. There's still stuff to play with there. There are times when the geometry that I was so resistant to can actually work in your favor. This tree is being framed by all these repeating vertical lines. That was a really fun thing to get to play with, as well as point of view in an environment that normally is intimidating to me.
Here's an example of something that you only see in a winter environment. Again, something I wasn't expecting. So, that's nice. Just as the texture on the ground, it's fun to come into a new area, push those boundaries and find completely new subject matter. I spend a lot of time shooting landscapes. A lot of time out in the natural world and I don't find steaming trees anywhere else. Again, another winter landscape. A landscape made winter by the snow in the distance but what I'm working with in the foreground is very similar to the storm filled skies that I'm used to shooting out in the desert or out on the prairie.
So, this is just a nice reminder that my comfort zone is bigger than I, than I think it is. I get self conscious that I shoot too many trees because I shoot trees all the time, but to come out here and find trees like I've never seen before is, is very cool. And then finally, into what I was expecting for winter landscapes, snow covered mountain sides with trees and rocks sticking out of them. And somehow, was afraid of this, without realizing it's just like shooting in that simple paired down environment of the desert, a place to work in raw form, and a place to find shapes and textures and tunnel relationships that you don't get anywhere else.
Having white on the ground is really bad for migraines, but great for getting to play with tonal relationships. So that was a nice discovery. I've got this image in here as an, another one. Like many of these images, I'm not sure if these, if this is one of the images that I will take away as something that I want to show to other people. Some of these images that I'm showing you like this one, are images that are powerful to me because I feel like my eye's working in a different way. I'm glad here that I'm seeing depth.
An essence of light or a type of light that I normally don't see, and I'm recognizing it as something different for me and I'm trying to capture it. I think that for me, is the take away from this experiment. I really came in here worried that I wasn't going to be able to shoot in this environment. And I think what that means is that I was worried that my eye only works one way. And I think I was probably having that fear, because I feel like I've been shooting the same shots over and over. And I felt like that some here. I felt like I've, was composing a lot of these shots just like I would in other places.
These images again, some of these are not images that I feel are the best, but they're showing me that my eye is working better than I thought it was. And that, for me, is going to be the most important take-away from this, that I can come into an environment, and trust my eye, and know that there is something working there over time in the back of my head. Knowing that I can relax into the situation and find new things. It doesn't matter if I get home and actually like any of these pictures, or if I ever want to show any of them, or end up with any of them in a portfolio.
The really valuable takeaway has been to find that my photographic sense has more flexibility than I thought it would, and that's the only reason that you need to do an experiment like this. So, if you are already comfortable in winter landscape, then how about we trade. I came in and did winter, you should go shoot the desert somewhere. You might have the same experience that I did, which is, you might learn that your eye is more sophisticated than you thought it was. So I, I really want to put it to you that I hope you've learned a lot about how to shoot winter landscape here but I hope that what you'll do now is try to find what pushes your own boundary and your own comfort zone because even if you don't learn something new from it, what you may learn is to relax and learn more about the breadth of your own photographic capabilities.