Photo Exploration: Rock and Snow

April 16, 2013 at 11:36 am

I have acquired a new respect for cold weather pho­tog­ra­phy. I may have got­ten in over my expe­ri­ence level ear­lier this year with an excur­sion with Karl Abbott out to Max Patch. We expected the weather to be a bit of snow in the early morn­ing but clear by 9am. What we didn’t plan on was end­ing up get­ting stuck, unable to get the vehi­cle out, and hav­ing to be dri­ven down by offi­cials. An inter­est­ing time and it proved to me how utterly unpre­pared I often am for chang­ing weather conditions.

How­ever! This post isn’t about my mis­ad­ven­tures. This is about this image and the how/why I took it.
Rock and Snow
I know I spot metered for the rocky parts, those were def­i­nitely the dark­est parts that I wanted to check, but at my dis­tance I was still get­ting inter­fer­ence from the snow in the meter. So I metered down a full stop. That gave my dark­est darks a bit con­trast and helped alle­vi­ate the ten­dency of snow to blow out all the highlights.

The focus­ing was pretty sim­ple, even with the over­cast day it was still bright enough to do a 1/250 sec­ond at f/11 or so. With that large of a depth of field, I could assuredly get every­thing in focus from about 20 feet onwards, using hyper­fo­cal tech­nique and my lens markings.

A quick aside on hyper­fo­cal tech­nique: when you focus a spot X (say 10 feet away) then, depend­ing on the aper­ture, you have space closer and fur­ther away from X in focus as well. By stop­ping down your lens, you can increase the amount of that dis­tance in focus (also called the DOF — depth of field). Because of the physics of optics, you can cal­cu­late what dis­tance you have to focus to have for EVERYTHING behind that dis­tance be in focus — all the way out to infin­ity. This is why lenses have a lit­tle infin­ity sym­bol on them — it basi­cally means “every­thing from here on out is in focus”. How­ever, you don’t have to place your focal point at infin­ity to have the DOF reach to infin­ity. The “hyper­fo­cal” point is the place where every­thing will be in focus behind it (and a good bit in front of it). You don’t have to actu­ally cal­cu­late the dis­tance, you can just man­u­ally place the infin­ity sym­bol on the lens on the “outer” f/stop on your lens. That guar­an­tees that every­thing between two f/stop mark­ings will be in focus, includ­ing the dis­tance out to infin­ity. There are lots of great arti­cles out there on hyper­fo­cal focus­ing — is a good writeup, and is a cal­cu­la­tor that lets you cal­cu­late the hyper­fo­cal dis­tance for any lens/aperture com­bi­na­tion. It’s a some­what com­pli­cated expla­na­tion for a simple-in-practice tech­nique — but it is a very handy tool when there isn’t time to focus on a spe­cific point, and it also saves time when you know you want an extremely large depth of field.

I was really taken with the three tex­tures in this scene. There is the soft pow­der in the lower left, then mov­ing to the solid rock with ice and packed snow, and finally the wisps of trees and what pre­cip­i­ta­tion can adhere to their branches. I imag­ine the sheer face of the rock chal­leng­ing the weather to try and hide, to try and cover up and blank out the exis­tence of what is always below. Snow can make every­thing even, make it all the same and con­sis­tent. But this rock face is respond­ing with a nega­tion of that effort. It reminds me that no mat­ter how deep the pow­der and how thick the snow­fall, there is always our solid earth under our feet.