Saturday, February 01, 2014

Winter's Glory

Although we have been having one of the snowiest and coldest winters on record in Michigan, it seems silly to complain about it, even though we do.  I think winter is one of those things that defines those of us that descended from Europeans.  We survived the Ice Age.  We will survive winter in the Great Lakes. Of course, our lives are far more complex than those of our ancestors huddled in caves and hide tents during the glacial period, but I suspect that any of them could cope with today's life better than we would if we were suddenly plunked down at the edge of the glaciers. However, they did get to share their back yards with cool megafauna...
Mammoth Winter
So, winter offers us opportunities to explore a world that is quite different from what we see the rest of the year.  One can go to the micro world, and explore an individual snowflake.  Shown here is a photomicrograph of a snowflake by Wilson A. Bentley, a Vermont photographer who found that he could attach a camera to his microscope to obtain photos of his favorite subject.
1885 Snowflake photo from the Smithsonian Archives.
"In 1885 he successfully photographed the flakes. This photomicrograph and more than five thousand others supported the belief that no two snowflakes are alike, leading scientists to study his work and publish it in numerous scientific articles and magazines. In 1903 Bentley sent prints of his snowflakes to the Smithsonian, hoping they might be of interest to Secretary Samuel P. Langley." (quoted from the Smithsonian archive record for Bentley's images).

So, in essence, Bentley not only embraced winter, it was the only time that he could do those images. Going back to the old saying "If life gives you lemons, make lemonade."   So, while I may not enjoy the limitations that winter weather gives me - as in bad driving conditions, salt and crud from the streets and roads, and that my heating bill this winter will be a doozy, the snow and ice afford me an opportunity (many, it seems) to do different things than the rest of the year.  I could stay inside, and hang out in my cave, doing studio shots, and still-lifes, or I can go out onto the glacier and see what I can find.
Ice Cave in Big Four Glacier, Washington, ca. 1920. Courtesy of
Univ. of Washington
Although winter photography is often challenging because of the cold... and cameras and fingers do not always work so well cold, imagine how much harder it was back in the day when people were using view cameras, glass plates, and did not have Gore-tex, Thinsulate, and other modern fabrics to keep warm.

While I enjoy shooting black and white in the winter, largely because it is such a monochromatic landscape, color allows for the nuances on the snow that don't show up in monochrome.  I will admit that shooting digital is often easier in cold weather than shooting film, so long as your batteries hold out.  The Li-on batteries in today's DSLRs do quite well in the cold, and keeping a few extras in a warm pocket make shooting pretty easy.  However, if using a film camera, I go for simplicity and easy control - which means the Nikon F2 and FM2N.
Winter is also a good time to experiment with high contrast black and white films such as Kodalith, Techpan, and all the other oddball films that are still out there designed for high contrast work.  I know I have posted here previously on using such films, so take a look through my archives.   About the only thing I have not tried in winter is shooting models in the snow.  That seems like a way to torture someone. I know I would not get naked in the snow, so why should I expect someone else to?  However, take a look at Craig Blacklock's "Lake Superior Nudes" - some people are just tougher, I guess.  His and her ancestors must have been from the edge of the glacier.

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