Category Archives: winter

Challenges of photographing winter as part time photographer

Winter is a very fickle season. It is especially fickle in regions with a more temperate climate that have changing seasons. Seasons can seem to change overnight. Seasons may seem to change well before it is time according to the calendar. Seasons may even change and then revert to the prior season. Sometimes it can seem like we skip entire seasons all together, with transformation straight from winter to summer and then from summer back to winter. Wait, where did spring and fall go?

A lot of people complain about winter. I enjoy winter. I even enjoy winter photographically. It can often seem like winter offers fewer options for photography, which may be true, but it offers an opportunity to hone ones craft around what remains. The most challenging part of photographing winter is that very variable that makes winter definitively winter and not any other season. That is the snow. Photographing winter without snow is just not the same. So the biggest challenge in a climate where snow may or may not be present or may or may not last even an entire day is being able to get out there and get those photos of the beautiful white stuff.

This is especially difficult as someone who is a pat time photographer who is growing their business. I do as much photography as I can but I still have a day job I have to report to every weekday. There are many days I wake up, look out my windows, and see the white frosting of snow draped over the trees and I just fall in love with my environment all over again. Then I am snapped out of my revelry because I realize I have to go into the office, which for me requires a one hour commute each way, and I will not likely get a chance to photograph that dreamy landscape. It is dark when I get up in the morning and often dark when I get back home during the winter months.

The best time in my opinion to photograph a winter scene is just after the storm when the snow is soft, clinging to the trees and fresh, and undisturbed on the ground. As a photographer that is chasing the dream of a perfect photo in every spare moment I am not in the office it is not very often when I am able to go out right after a storm to take advantage of this scenario. Even worse, in my region the temperatures can fluctuate so much that you can wake up in the morning to nice powdery snow and then arrive home to try to photograph it for thereto only be puddles remaining.

The other photograph I often chase in winter is a snow-filled landscape with a bright sunny sky overhead. This is not something that I am often able to realize with my time crunch and fluctuating temperatures. Either I am not available for photography on the days and times it is sunny or it gets sunny and the snow quickly melts away. I have been able to capture this scenario at times but it is one of my goals to capture this scene in different locations more frequently.

When you have limitations, you have to be able to adapt. I have adapted for my winter photography. While I still chase these other goals, I incorporate other different types of winter photography into my portfolio. Photography of shadows shown against the white background of snow can be interesting. I take close up photographs of smaller parts of a big scene in the snow. Braving the cold and photographing frozen bodies of water can result in some excellent shots. Another option is instead of waiting for the snow to settle and photographing the peaceful aftermath of the storm, go out into the storm and photograph the weather as it is happening. This can create a sense of drama.

No matter how you are able to do it just get out there and create photographs.

Winter Hike

Its been too long since I have gotten out for a good hike, and this winter has been too long. With this last snowstorm that blew through New York it feels like winter will never end despite spring being just around the corner. The only thing that makes it any better is that after this snow storm I was able to get out to one of my favorite places and experience what the storm left us.

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Tangelwood Nature Center is one of my favorite places to go to just be out in nature. It provides some of the most beautiful scenery in our area. I never seem to find my way there frequently enough. Today I went there to hike through the snow and enjoy being alive and being outside. Being that I am both a nature lover and a photographer I brought cameras.

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I wanted to not only hike around and breath the fresh are and experience the wonders of nature I wanted to try to capture some images that I could share with everyone. There are so many different reasons I love Tanglewood and that means in order for me to capture everything I want in one trip I need a variety of equipment. To capture the full scenic view that is Tanglewood I brought my Nikon 1 J5 mirror-less camera with the wide angle zoom 10-30 mm lens. I also like to try and isolate certain elements of the scene from others. For that purpose I brought my Nikon 50 mm f1.8 lens on my Nikon D300 DSLR camera body. Then perhaps my favorite aspect of Tanglewood is the wildlife, particularly birds. For that I used my Nikon 300 mm f4 lens with the 1.4 teleconverter on my Nikon D500 DSLR camera body. With that gear I set off.

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The snow was deeper than I expected and it was warmer than I was expecting. I was fine while I was standing still photographing some bluebirds. But with the sun out and shining I quickly heated up as I trudged through the deep snow. The deep snow and recent cold weather had me thinking I needed to bundled up. Turns out I was overdressed. But, too warm is better than too cold I guess.

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There had been people there prior to my visit cross country skiing. I started off staying on their tracks. It made the hiking a little bit easier. Eventually as the ski tracks became more frozen and hard it was just easier to hike through the fresh snow. I don’t care who you are but it is one of the coolest feelings to be the first one to put tracks into virgin snow. The snow had drifted and was quite deep in places. it was up to my knee as I sunk in at times, but the varying depth was another challenge because you never knew what the next step was going to be lie. I went from sections of deep snow over my knee to a patch where I could see grass in just a short series of steps. When I was in areas of open field I couldn’t even tell where the actual trail was supposed to be, so I just did my best.

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I just hiked around on some of the more open trails closer to the main complex. I didn’t get down into the woods. I was so happy to just get out and enjoy the day. No real plan, just be outside, do something, and enjoy.

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Mt. Tom Challenge

One of our friends decided we should take on the Mt. Tom Challenge instead of our regularly scheduled local trail run. So at the last minute the night before the event we decided that was just what we would do.

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The View from the top of Mt. Tom as another person reaches the summit.

The Mt. Tom Challenge consists of going straight up a mountain. Then going around and down the other side. And you do this as many times as you can in two hours. There is no warm up to the incline. You immediately start going up the mountain as soon as the race starts.

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The view down the trail we ascend up to the top of Mt. Tom.

You quickly discover that most likely this is nothing like anything you have done before. Well, at least thats what I discovered. The incline is a climb of 1100 feet over a distance of .8 miles. Someone good at math figure out what the angle of that ascent would be.

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Once you get to the top you head down this very brief but flat trail. It was so nice to be on flat ground again. No more climbing. Each lat is about 2.5 miles. So once you get to the top you still have over a mile to go to get back to the bottom and start again.

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As you leave the flat land you come to this nice depression that was filled with snow. I couldn’t resist stopping to take a photograph here. It was such a nice spot.

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The uphill climb was snow-less. Thankfully for me as my trail shoes are virtually bald. I never would have been able to get up a slick snowy slope. On the way down it was a different story. It was muddy in spots and there was varying amounts of snow. The snow could be just a dusting, to half frozen/half melted ice, to ankle deep or more amounts of snow. It was pretty tricky for me picking a route down the mountain and watching my footing. Trying to figure out where I would have the best traction. I was constantly varying my speed and stride to maintain control on the way down. And it almost worked too. At one point on my way down I over stridded and my front foot slide out in front of me and I went down. I basically sat down on my back leg bent right under my butt. I slid down the slop a little on a frozen hard snow that felt more like gravel and cut up my knee a little bit. But I was able to bounce back up and continue running. No real injury, thankfully. As I was getting close to completing my race I stepped in a thick mud hole and lost my show. As I was going downhill I ended up taking about three shoe-less steps downhill in the mud and then I had to walk back through the mud to retrieve it. (Check out my Instagram for that photo.)

When I looked at what the incline was like I was nervous I wouldn’t even be able to complete one lap. So I was very happy with the two laps I was able to complete. I completed my first lap in around 45 minutes and my second lap in about an hour and a half. I could have went for a third lap but I just didn’t have it in me mentally to go back up that hill a third time. Plus I was battling a cold, so that didn’t help. Maybe if I do this event again my goal will be three laps. It was a great but challenging event. Check out the Tyoga Running Club and the Mt. Tom Challenge.

 

 

 

Redpolls and Flash Photography

I passively monitor biding issues and sightings locally by receiving email from a list serve set up by our local chapter of the Audubon Society. I read or at skim the emails as they come in to see if there is anything interesting going on in the area. Sometimes information that peaks my interest comes through. Recently there had been several emails sent out of people in the area reporting Redpolls in the area. I found this interesting because I had been fortunate in the past to see Redpolls for a short period of time where we currently live shortly after moving here. I had not seen them since, so I am always interested when hearing of an opportunity to see them again.
 

As I began to see an increasing number of reports on Redpoll sightings coming in I started to get hopeful that they would return to my feeders as well. I began to be more diligent about making sure there was seed in my feeders so that if they did show up they would find food and hopefully stick around instead of moving on.
 
One day I looked out the window at the feeders and quite unexpectedly saw that there was a Redpoll mingling with the other birds that are commonly seen at the feeders. A few days later I happen to look out at the feeders and saw there were now two Redpolls in the mix with the other birds at the feeders. This pair appeared a few more times over a few days.
 

I did not initially go out to photograph the individual that showed up or the pair I saw. I did not want to scare them off. I was hoping that the presence of the ones already here would draw in more individuals. I had read reports of large flocks of Redpolls and I was hoping for a large flock sighting of my own at my feeders.
 

One day I was on the phone with my dad and I noticed movement outside in the treetop where my feeder is. I walked towards the window to investigate, while talking, not really thinking much about it. When I got to the window I exclaimed to my dad that I had a huge flock of Redpolls in the tree. Now the flock probably wasn’t really huge by comparison to other sightings but it was certainly more than I had ever seen at one time and I was excited and I am sure I exaggerated due to my excitement.
 

I began to try counting the number of Redpolls in the flock but it was difficult. The flock was in constant motion. Every time I would get into it, they would move.  I could only confirm a count of 20 but there were clearly more than that present. I enjoy birding but I am by no means an expert. I have never really tried to count a large number of birds all at once.
Despite my challenges with counting the birds this is the opportunity I had been waiting for. I wanted to get out there and take some photos. However, my gear was all packed up as I had not used it recently and this being upstate NY in the middle of Winter with several inches of snow on the ground, it required me to scramble around to dress quickly in boots, coat, gloves, and hat. Once I was geared up I quietly went out the side door as opposed to the door leading directly to the location of the flock because I didn’t want to scare them off. As I cautiously moved around the house to where I had seen the flock, they were nowhere to be found. This was clearly a disappointment.

I went back in the house, but this time I kept all the needed gear in easy reach in hopes that the flock would return. As luck would have it my hopefulness and preparedness this time was rewarded. After a few hours, I looked out the window and saw that there were once again Redpolls at the feeders. It was not as big a flock as before but it was still a significant number. I decided against wasting time trying to count them and immediately got dressed and snatched up my camera and went out seeking photos of these elusive birds.
 

In this region of upstate NY in the winter it hasn’t been sunny very often. The sky is often overcast and gloomy. There has not been much nice light for photography. For my photography, I prefer to use natural light whenever possible, as probably most photographers do. While the light was sufficient to get at least decent photographs, I decided to go against my instinct stick with all-natural lighting photography because I thought I could get better photos if I used a flash. My preference is to stick to the KISS philosophy, which was drilled into me at a young age. Keep It Simple Stupid. To me adding one more variable such as flash just complicates matters and increases the likelihood something will not work out quite right.
So there I stood watching the feeders as the Redpolls flitted about snatching up seed. These little buggers were not an easy subject. A few of the Redpolls were content to sit on the plat form feeder and eat for several seconds at a time so I snapped a few photos of that behavior as documentation type photos. However, that was not the photo I was after. I wanted photos of Redpolls perched on branches with the darker background of the woods in the background out of focus. I stood still and visually tracked individuals as they approached the feeder. They would flit from branch to branch getting progressively closer. I watched to see what path the Redpolls often took. I wanted to be able to anticipate where the Redpolls would land and be ready when they landed there. Sometimes I was spot on and got the shot and sometimes I was not ready or simply not fast enough and missed the shot. It was a fun experience to photograph this group of birds that I do not get to see often. I am hoping they will be back to provide me with another opportunity to learn their behavior and improve my ability to photograph them.