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.
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 — http://www.dofmaster.com/hyperfocal.html is a good writeup, and http://www.dofmaster.com/dofjs.html 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.