Hudson Highlands, NY / Olympus OM-D E-M1, 1/100 sec @f/11, ISO 250, 24mm (effective)
We’ve had quite a bit of snow here in the Hudson Valley, and that makes many of the local hiking trails extra difficult to tackle, especially when they go uphill. Snow shoes are always an option, but I prefer to use my crampons if possible since I’m much more mobile and balanced. Maybe I’m just not a snowshoe person, but when I have to use them, I do.
On this particular day I set out an hour before sunrise to get to this location, which I normally reach in about 40 min. But the 12″ of snow and 8° F temperature definitely slowed me down, and I didn’t reach this summit until 10 minutes after sunrise. Shooting in direct light always poses a challenge as the extremely bright snow makes balancing a composition that much more difficult. I try and find shadows—caused by the ridges in the snow—to create more interesting shapes and lines to lead the eye.
In this image I purposely stayed away from large bright areas for this very reason, and luckily I found this spot with a nice mix of highlights and shadows. Once thing I also do is scan the foreground as much as possible before actually walking around, because once the footprints are made it’s hard to keep them from becoming a major distraction if they wind up in the image! What’s nice about relatively deep snow is that it brings the foreground much closer to the camera (once the tripod legs dig in) and so I love the enhanced perspective that creates.
I had my new Olympus E-M1 and Olympus 12mm prime lens with me (which makes it a 24mm on a m4/3 camera) and that’s perfect for this composition. Since wide angle lenses push the background away, any wider would have made the river in the distance rather insignificant, and that’s not the result I wanted. I manually focused about 8 feet away, and at f/11 that’s more than enough depth of field. (Why ISO 250? I did say this is a new camera, so I’m still learning my way around the very deep menu system.) Checking the histogram is critical here—I don’t want to clip any of the highlights since that’s where the critical detail in the snow is. A quick check of the LCD readout shows I’m ok, and the rest is checking the composition—corners, edges, and focus.
The OM-D E -M1 has proven to be a great camera so far, and while I’m not giving up my other DSLRs anytime soon, I welcome the chance to shoot a different format (4/3) and lighten the load on my back when hiking in difficult terrain. Making images is the priority for me, and anything that keeps me productive is a welcome addition to my camera tool kit. The EVF (electronic view finder) is amazing, the first one I’ve ever used that didn’t have me frustrated over lack of detail and clarity. I still prefer an optical view finder, but it’s a compromise I’m willing to make for the benefits of this system.
Finally for some winter photography tips – I dress in layers and always bring an extra warm outer layer (Marmot 600 down jacket) and hat with me in my bag. I tend to dress rather light when climbing to keep from overheating, but when I reach the top I change into drier and warmer clothing—and what a different that makes as my body cools down. I also use foot and hand warmers since I have serious problems keeping my fingers and toes warm in very cold weather—there’s no way I could use those gloves with the finger tips exposed for dexterity. I take my gloves off when I have to, then put them in my pockets where the warmers are to keep the blood flowing. And I avoid touching my tripod or bullhead when my gloves are off—my fingers will instantly go cold.
I’ll be heading up to this spot again soon—I’m eager to see what I can capture in different lighting and weather conditions. Plus I just love to hike in the snow…the tranquility and solitude is something I can’t get enough of. Share your thoughts and comments below – I’m always eager to help and learn.