Cape Cod Art Preservation Society

Fine Art Landscapes in the Snow?

I love a good snowstorm. The comfort of being forced to take some time off. Sitting around the wood stove watching the windows go dark from the flakes caking on the glass. Talking and reading with the family like the Ingalls’ family would do. Then, when everyone begins to go stir crazy, it’s time to go outside. The fresh white blanket covers the ground, creating drifts and patterns that completely transform your everyday world into a new landscape. The thick insulation absorbs sound. It’s like you are walking in a dream world.

As a photographer, this creates an interesting challenge. The color palettes you are used to working with have all but disappeared. What’s left is a monochromatic world, with the occasional spot of brown and green. Depending on the timing of the storm, the sky could be one big, dreary, gray canopy that adds absolutely nothing to a composition. But, the moments after a fresh snowfall can also be the most rewarding.

Here are a few tips to create great landscapes in the snow:

1) Get out early! Either early in the day when the light is casting oblique shadows on the snow, or early after the snow has ended so it hasn’t been adulterated by footprints and the wonderful mud spray on the roadside from the plows. The trees are still frosted and there is still a peaceful tranquility to the scenes.

2) Overexpose. Your camera’s meter is set to try to make everything neutral gray. So if you were to fill your frame entirely with snow, your camera would think you were pointing at something roughly the same value as a weathered shingle. So control that with your camera’s exposure compensation dial. Some cameras have that on the body and others have it in the menu. I usually set mine to about +1 stop and shoot in RAW mode to give me the most flexibility. It usually gets me in the exposure ballpark.

3) Imagine the scene as contrast and not color. I tend to like my snow scenes in black and white.

4) Focus on patterns and composition. Look for abstract formations. There are usually interesting lines and shapes created by the wind that rival desolate desert dunes.

5) Only include the sky if it adds to the composition. If you time your excursion correctly the storm clouds will be fading and showing some blue sky. If you have a polarizer filter, use it to darken that patch of blue. Even if you are shooting in black and white, it will create more contrasty skies.

6) Don’t be afraid to try locations you love in their full colorful peak of Spring, Summer and Fall. My Graphic Arts Theory instructor, Mr. Noonan used to say that if a photograph works in black and white, it will work in color.

Yes, the landscape looks lousy a few days after a snowstorm, but you can’t beat the compositions you can get with the fresh stuff!
Cape Cod Snowy Landscape #1 by Mark Zelinski
This image breaks the “overexposure” rule when photographing in the snow. There are enough dark tones to offset the pure white snow. I was drawn to the various textures in the shingles and the ivy crawling up the trees. There is something about photographing an old, weathered barn in the extreme elements that are responsible for their worn appearance.
Cape Cod Snowy Landscape #2 by Mark Zelinski
I have photographed “Upper Mill Pond” countless times in the past. I loved the odd bubble formations in the ice which were balanced out nicely by the contrasty sky above.
Cape Cod Snowy Landscape #3 by Mark Zelinski
Monte Zucker called square film the “ideal format”. There is something about it that simplifies things into a graphic composition as opposed to a “Scenic”. Simple lines formed by snow covered steps with a couple of fence rails to break the pattern…
Cape Cod Snowy Landscape #4 by Mark Zelinski
Again, I’ve photographed the Grist Mill in Brewster more times than I can count. But from afar, in the snow it took on another story in this photograph. It’s almost as if a weary traveler from the late 1800’s came upon this scene from his journey through the woods, finally seeing shelter from the storm. The only thing that takes away from that is the guardrail and power lines which I can live with since the rest of the photo makes up for the mood.
Cape Cod Snowy Landscape #5 by Mark Zelinski
A simple photograph with a couple of elements to look for in the snow. Repeating patterns of white capped rocks and a nice calm reflection of the trees at the end of the stream.
Cape Cod Snowy Landscape #6 by Mark Zelinski
I don't know why I am drawn to cemeteries… Only old cemeteries… I couldn’t help notice this row of graves marking a small family. A red filter brought out the dark parts of the blue sky and the overhanging branches almost seem to be attempting to shelter the family from the cold snow.
Cape Cod Snowy Landscape #7 by Mark Zelinski
I don’t really know much about this spot. What the purpose of the field is. Whether some crop was grown here in days past. The solitary tree is what captivated me. I could almost see a figure sitting under it in the blazing sun after a long day of work. Perhaps of scene from a John Steinbeck story. But everything seems to forget the summer when winter has set in…