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Olympus E-M1,  f/5.6 @1/100th sec, ISO 640, 80mm (35mm format), no filters

We’ve had some significant snow fall in the Hudson Valley recently, and wth the forecast calling for more during the morning hours, it was an invitation I couldn’t resist.

Hiking in the snow is one of my favorite activities, and if it’s snowing, its all the more special. Instead of the sublime silence that you normally experience in the woods with snow on the ground, there’s the almost inaudible, yet unmistakable sound of snow crystals in the air. 

There’s also the ephemeral diffusion that snow imparts on the landscape, similar in many respects to fog, yet more energetic and transitory-the individual flakes create movement, streaks, and even directional lines.

It’s all fascinating visually, but capturing something that has a sense of harmony is difficult at best. I’ve been in situations like this many times, but often return with images that seem like a bunch of elements thrown together haphazardly.

As I came across this scene however, I recognized the potential for a good composition containing the three elements that I look for in every image – otherwise known as “LCU.”

  • Does the composition Lead the eye? Yes, the staggered pattern of the tree roots creates a diagonal starting at the bottom left and moves up through the middle ground continuing up along the dark shapes of the trees.
  • Is there a Center of interest? Yes, the trees themselves have the strongest tonality and visual weight in the image, and they create a pattern and rhythm that is easy to see. This promote a sense of importance, distinct from the background.
  • Does the composition look Unified? Yes, and this is where the falling snow and the effect it creates as I mentioned above, helps to add a sense of continuity from front to back, and also adds a diagonal component to add tension to the vertical nature of the trees.

While I was using a tripod, I did raise my ISO to 640 because I wanted to make sure my shutter speed froze the snowflakes just enough to prevent them from becoming white streaks only. A quick check on my LCD at 1/30th sec (ISO 200) showed that wasn’t the case. I also wanted to maintain a good depth of field so that the background trees looked distinct, adding to the sense of rhythm and pattern of the whole scene.

All of this is an exercise in analysis, important to understanding the compositional decisions I made in the field. But I really don’t think about these things in such specific terms until it’s time to explain them in writing, like I’m doing now.

Otherwise, I prefer it to remain more organic, more intuitive, more improvisational. I made other images, reacting to tonal variations, the changing snow, and most importantly my own emotional response.

I walked slowly, stopping often to simply observe, respond, and smile. I realized how fortunate I was to feel the snow hitting my face, the cold awakening me to the simple beauty of nature, and life.

The red lines show the main path leading the viewer, established at the bottom corner, and repeated by other similar shapes and tones diagonally and dimensionally (front to back) adding to the sense of depth. The yellow lines show the rhythm created by the vertical shapes of the trees -notice the variation in their tones and their spacing, no two are the same. That mostly comes from moving the camera ever slow slightly left and right to change their relative positions, and relationships. The green boxes represent the major division of the composition creating the background, and tonal balance, for the dark trees. 

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This Post Has One Comment

  1. Robert, I agree. I have three books on Blurb – go to bookstore – go to search –
    search Len Holland.

    I’m not in the market. I elected to just enjoy photography and pass images on to my family through books.

    My comment: All points well taken. But you have an opportunity to write an article about stepping out into bad weather — and the wonderful opportunities it affords. Regards, Len

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