How I Got the Shot: Snow-Covered Forest

Title: Snow Mounds at Bog River Falls
Exposure: Bog River Falls: 1/50 second, f/4.5, ISO 200
Nikon D7000, Nikkor 18-70mm lens set at 46mm

Title: Snow-covered Forest on a Shoulder of Blue Mountain
Exposure: (cropped from a panorama): 1/4 second, f/22, ISO 200
Nikon D300, Nikkor 80-200mm Lens, set at 120mm

The Adirondack landscape is transformed by winter’s storms. To make efficient use of field time and find astonishing beauty, I routinely consult and for live Doppler radar and extended forecasts. I’ve photographed ice chunks piled up as if by a conveyor belt on Rodgers Rock State Campground beach, on Lake George. I’ve shot a vast expanse of polygonal ice sheets on Schroon Lake and slushy pancake ice flowing down the Hudson River. On clear cold nights, the stars seem to sizzle. Freezing temperatures and a lack of snow glaze the surface of lakes and ponds with intriguing formations. Extraordinary weather leads to impactful images.

I particularly like shooting early and late in the season, when rivers and streams are open and ice forms intricate patterns along their banks. As frigid air passes over warmer waters it generates mists that condense on nearby trees as rime ice. On a negative-seven-degree, blue-sky morning, rime ice coating trees along the Schroon River glistened in the morning sun. It was breathtakingly cold, but those conditions produced the special beauty. When I returned the next morning under 20-degree, overcast skies, the rime ice had melted, taking the photographic magic with it. On a December afternoon at Bog River Falls I found snow mounds atop boulders (above). Ice extended from shore in swirls, mimicking the round rocks. I experimented with several shutter speeds to alternately freeze or blur the falling snow. 1/50 second froze it in midair, giving the scene more texture and atmosphere; slower speeds lengthened the flurries into streaks or made them effectively disappear.

Snow softens and simplifies landscape compositions. It hides visual clutter and delineates trees and ridgelines, as a heavy snow did on a shoulder of Blue Mountain (above). Snow is also a reflective surface that mirrors the colors of the sky; on blah gray days, the snow too is blah, but on sunny days, shadow areas register rich blue. Watch also for the brilliant purples and pinks of sunrise and sunset, and the moody blues of twilight. The warmer, moisture-laden snows of early and late winter are often the most photogenic, as the snow sticks to the trees. Even small clinging snows create gorgeous scenes. At elevation, trees become encased in snow and ice, the scenery sometimes as idyllic as a Christmas cartoon. My favorite winter days to shoot are blue sky, wind-free days following a fresh snowstorm, when snow flocks the trees, the air is crystal clear and the blue-white color palette makes the world look refreshingly new. I try to get out before the wind does. Sometimes, as temperatures rise, snow “bombs” fall from the trees. Long exposures will capture them flowing like waterfalls.

In processing, pay particular attention to white balance and exposure to fine-tune the mood of an image. I frequently shoot with the camera on Auto White Balance, knowing I’ll likely refine it in post-processing. In Adobe Lightroom, white balance can be adjusted both globally (that is, for the entire image) and locally (using the Local Adjustment Brush). Brighten exposure for a more lively look, or darken it for a more foreboding feel. When the contrast range is minimal, such as on overcast days, consider boosting contrast in post-processing to add definition—for instance, between darker landscape elements and snow-covered trees. For the Blue Mountain image above, I adjusted White Balance in Lightroom for a cooler feel, and slightly boosted exposure and contrast to bring out the beautiful textures of the snow-covered trees.

Mark Bowie explored each season in-depth for his The Adirondacks: In Celebration of the Seasons book. All of his books are available on his newly renovated website, Mark is a staff photographer with the Adirondack Photography Institute, which will again offer a wide range of photography workshops and tours in 2014, in the Adirondacks and elsewhere. Visit for schedules and program descriptions.

Tags: , , , ,