Living in a city in which we average 2 weeks of snow cover each winter, this project should not have been so troublesome. However, recently the winters have been getting warmer and snow fall is gradually declining. This year has been exceptionally mild with very few days when the temperature dropped below zero, hopefully not a sign of things to come. Yesterday the snow finally came. I woke up with around 3-4 inches on the ground, so hurriedly pulled my camera out and headed out of the door.
A solid snowfall like this completely transforms the city, gone is the dirt and darkness of winter, replaced by a gleaming whiteness punctuated by areas of deep shadow. For a photographer this changes the way I look at things, shape and form become dominant, colour ceases to exist. Occasionally, a heavy snowfall will be followed by brilliant clear days, offering dramatic contrast between the blue sky and white ground, the low sun creating long dark shadows against the gleaming snow. Yesterday was not so, the sky started leaden and grey, a cold wind whipping across the snow, then at around 10am the snow once more started to fall heavily. Sadly the air warmed and this turned to a cold dismal rain, turning the ground into a thick freezing soup.
This was the hand that I was dealt. I managed 3 hours photographing the snow before the rain became too much. The first hour was in my usual haunt of the southerly Englischer Garten and is part of my ongoing dawn light series. At about 9:30 I jumped on the U-Bahn to the Olympiagelande to grab some winter scenes for my portfolio. The work in the park was straightforward, I just had to ensure that I balanced sky and ground in the imagery. Once I was at the Olympic park the problem became driving snow. This limited the angles I could shoot, wanting to avoid snow on the lens and after an hour or so I was beginning to tire of fighting the weather. I am quite familiar with the challenges of shooting snowscapes and the need to override my cameras exposure meter by adding a couple of stops, all of the shots I captured were 1-2 stops over. The bigger issue was the falling snow and the simple fact that this effectively fogged my photographs and reduced the contrast in the images I could get. Fortunately my Canon 5D2 and 24-105mm zoom are weather sealed and so the snow was not a major issue for the camera, other than avoiding getting the lens dirty. I did try to work the falling snow into some shots, but my goal was more to present the stark bleakness of a snow bound landscape. Ah well, we have to play the hand we are dealt. By the time I finished there was about 8 inches of snow, today 24 hours later it is all gone.
Shooting in the snow permits a different form of photography, subjects and scenery change. My first goal was to capture some families enjoying the snow, parents with children on sleds:
Such shots are charming, and tell the story of the joy of the winter landscape, it reminds me of those few snowy days in Northwest England when I was these kids age. The other aspect of such shots in the snow is the ability to strongly contrast the bright colours of clothing with the whiteness. The next image does this more effectively, the runner very visible as the only colour in what would otherwise be a B&W image.
Colour, on the whole, become more dramatic set against the snow. In the next two photographs I have accentuated the brown of leaves or tree trunks against the frozen background:
The overall effect on the landscape is to draw focus to outlines and structures. The next two photographs, again both in colour, virtually reduce the landscape to almost a lino print quality of blacks on white.
Colour cast is also a challenge, the next photo has a distinct blue tone, which is probably correct, but somewhat arbitrary. I have no way to tell if this is an artifact of my camera or what the light really was. My eyes simply saw white.
Another great feature of the snow is to imply absence and bleakness. The two following photographs are places that in the summer throng with people. The snow accentuates this absence. In these two photos I have tried to use the falling snow as an element of the photograph, however, I am not sure if these will be good enough to make it into my portfolio.
Finally, the snow clearly lends itself towards a B&W treatment and a reduction of tones to the extremes. In all of these photographs, I have gone for very extreme contrast and blacks, bringing the eye to the shapes rather than the textures.
Snow is a great leveler it reduces all photographs to bright and dark. Colour, if present, is merely an accent.