Winter time. The cold. The anticipation. The snow.
Every winter I’m filled with excitement when the weather service forecasts the snowfall. What I love most is the serenity. Snow muffles the sounds, it hides distractions. It just makes everything look fresh and clean.
Of course, it’s not just the serenity I’m excited about. I dream of unploughed roads and pristine footpaths. There’s a special joy to driving on an unploughed road as I can really play around. And walking on a footpath towards the summit of a local hill is just exquisite. Especially in an early morning.
And sometimes, such conditions present themselves perfectly. Just like the on the last Saturday of November 2021.
But before I ventured into the known, some things needed to be checked and other stuff needed to be prepared.
The first thing I do is to get the gear ready and packed. What do I mean by ready? Batteries need to be charged fully, SD card needs to have ample free space and needs to reside in the camera body and all of the gear needs to be packed into the backpack. If I go on a climb, I also add a flask of water.
The second thing is weather. Our weather service provides us with an hourly forecast. Which is usually quite accurate. For that particular morning, the forecast showed a lot of clouds that should clear just around the sunrise. Though I never trust it fully, I often use it to decide where to go. As I did this time.
The third thing is clothing. Given the temperatures, I went with a lot of layers. It is hard to judge what to wear when doing any sort of photography combined with any sort of physical effort. I tend to almost run to my destination, as I never want to miss a good light. I get quite warm doing that, but can be stationary for a good few hours while shooting stuff. It is here, where layers really come in handy.
The forth and the final thing is – setting up an alarm clock. Surprisingly, any sun related activities tend to happen at a known precise moment. Sunrise and sunset tend to require quite accurate timing.
Enthusiasm was non-existent when the alarm went off in the middle of the night.
I managed not to get injured while stumbling towards my car with all the gear. The drive to the start of the ascent was mercifully short with no traffic anywhere near.
It’s always like that with these sort of stupidly early starts… I tend to ask myself why I’m torturing myself. And while some might recommend I should talk to appropriate professionals about it, I have a good idea.
This ascent is well known to me… As much as I like adventure, night hike on an unknown path isn’t something I’m keen on doing.
My mood was improving with every second and every step. The sky… Perhaps not the sky, but the fog surrounding me, was at first illuminated solely by my head lamp, but I could almost see it getting bluer and lighter. The change came in minute increments, but it was there. Still my mood was lifting with every step, with every meter I gained in altitude.
The one concerning this was said fog. Although snow and fog combined make for some nice scenery, I was sort of dreaming of sunlight. At first I was hoping, the summit would be above the clouds. When I was finally close to it, it became quite clear it wasn’t.
As you can the, there were no grand sunrise vistas visible from my location. So… Plan B? Not quite yet. The forecast said, the skies might clear in the next hour. I therefore remained on this location as I know, the view would be nice should the cloud part for a moment.
The snow was perhaps only 5 or 10 centimeters deep. I covered the ground, but it didn’t cover taller grass, some flowers and some fern. And such as my plans are, I started looking around for different compositions. Let’s call this plan C.
When I started to look around, some plant caught my eye.
A plant?! What sort of plant? In all honesty, I don’t really know. If you read any description of my plant/flower/tree photos you can notice, I almost never write the exact name of said plant/flower/tree. I just don’t know. If someone knows, please let me know in the comments… Any information is greatly appreciated.
Anyway, this plant looked nice to me. The problem I had is the composition itself with the combination of the background. The plant only looked good from one angle, and there were trees visible behind it. I opted for a wide focal length (16mm on a DX sensor) and a wide F-stop (f/2.8).
The camera was fixed to the tripod, and was really close to the plant. Still, the photo just doesn’t work. Even with aperture set to f/2.8 the background is far too clear and the plant is positioned really awkwardly. It simply looks bad.
I continued to look around this plant, trying to find a more suitable composition. After a few minutes and a few more attempts I gave up. It just wasn’t working with the wide angle.
All this time it didn’t look like the weather will bless me with clear skies. I therefore turned my attention to other subjects. A V-shaped tree caught my attention. It had some snow at the bottom of the fork. I changed my lens to 70-300mm, repositioned the tripod and took this photo.
For the detail shot of the forest I sort of like it. I would like the background less busy, a bit of light on the main subject and perhaps some snow on the trunk.
As I couldn’t see any other composition with this particular tree, I continued looking at the smaller plants. Just 10 meters away I found something. A twig with two leaves and some rime ice on it. When I positioned the camera, even the gods of weather smiled on me and the cloud/fog thinned enough, that some light sipped through.
This one I like. Simple, there’s some light and rime ice and the background does give some sense of the mood that morning.
Nearby, there were this things with other taller things around. A great description of the scene, I know. Perhaps, the photo will fill in for the lack of it.
Now you know what I meant. A bit of light would help this photo a lot, but for a photo taken in a flat light, it’s not that bad really. And I like how the grass frames the subject a lot.
The keen eyed among you might have noticed, I was using really fast shutter speed. There’s only one reason for this. Wind. Apart from snow, fog (cloud) and low temperature, a quite refreshing wind was blowing. And by refreshing I mean cold. And by cold I mean freezing. I was something I usually expect, my fingers, however, don’t.
By the time I was done shooting different compositions of similar plant and grass, my fingers were freezing despite using quite warm gloves. I would keep my whole palms in the pockets, but that makes working with the camera sort of impossible. Unless I was to use my tongue. But then my tongue would freeze to the camera…
My fingers were freezing and it didn’t look like the cloud would go away. I didn’t really do much exploring in the woods around where I was. Fog, snow and trees are the conditions I really enjoy. The photos can be full of mystery and atmosphere. The end result can be quite mesmerizing. Provided the forest is old enough with interestingly shaped trees in it. Hoping for such trees, I quickly packed everything and set of into the unknown.
I quickly found the forest wasn’t that old and that it mainly consists of arrow straight spruce. I was no longer very hopeful. But after a few more minutes of walking I noticed more and more trees, which would be full of luscious leaves were it spring or summer.
Now I’ve found the trees, I probably need to mention something. I’m far from good woodland photographer. I take such photos from time to time, but that’s about it.
As I don’t know much about it, I just try to find something that stands out. Or doesn’t belong among other trees.
These are the three photos I like. I wish the fog was thicker or the trees in the background further away. At least I now know where those trees are. In case the fog will ever be thicker or is there will be more snow, I can revisit this location.
After additional half an hour (and a few more falls…) I saw something in the sky. Something, I no longer expected to see that morning. Something, that looked like a blue sky. At first I thought my eyes were deceiving me, but then some sun rays illuminated the canopy.
Of course, I was nowhere near the best viewpoint. With the light being quite fleeting, I searched for anything to shoot in a somewhat rushed manner.
Luckily, I found some fern poking out of the snow. I changed the lens to my 85mm macro lens and started. This is the first photo I like.
The aperture was set to 13. It might seem like a lot, but this macro lens has a very narrow window, where things are sharp at this distance. I was also using polarizer because plant are surprisingly reflective. It also makes the colors a bit more vivid.
Then, I decided to get even closer. This is the photo.
This one I like even more as more detail is visible in the fern. I had to take multiple photos and focus stack them in post-production.
With a few photos taken in a good light, I tried to find a view point for some photos with the view. Unfortunately, I was only able to take one photo. It’s not the best, but that’s just how it is with any sort of outdoor photography. Sometimes I’m at the perfect location at the perfect moment, and sometimes I’m not.
That’s quite OK. Photography is just a good excuse to go outside, explore the world and to enjoy the experience.