Sunday, January 18, 2009

Winter Photography With A Hammer

Well, perhaps not really a hammer, but there is no doubt that the Nikon F2 could be used for one if necessary. Like a hammer, it is a basic tool - what you create with it depends on the wielder. My F2 pictured above, has a plain (non-metered DE-1) prism, making for a very solid and attractive SLR. Winter photography (and by that, I mean with snow being present) is challenging enough -- too cold and your batteries in the fancy SLR or DSLR fail, leaving you with a plastic rock, never mind the fact that your hands get cold adjusting all those tiny buttons. No, I think winter photography works really well for simple cameras with no batteries, or if any -- just the ones needed for the meter. The Nikon F2 with a plain prism obviously has no metering, so you can use a hand-held meter, or learn to trust your instincts and go with the "sunny-16" rules. I like b&w film for snowy landscapes -- I find that unless there is a compelling color element, b&w and shades of gray are the predominant colors, anyway. So, I tend to shoot b&w film, and in the photos that follow, it was a roll of expired Kodak Plus-X Pan. Kodak's T-Max 100 or Tri-X are also good choices.

A lens hood is a good idea, as there are reflections coming off snow in the winter landscape that can cause havoc with lens flare and reducing contrast. If you shoot using sunny-16, you won't have to account for the meter being wrong, as the snow will reflect enough light that your meter will indicate overexposure. If your camera has exposure compensation, set it at +1 to +2, depending on conditions to get an accurate exposure. Bracket, if necessary. Black and white film has plenty of latitude, and some overexposure is better than underexposure with most b&w emulsions.

The Nikon F2 was the last hand-assembled camera made by Nikon, and was produced from 1970-1980. Certainly one could not ask for a nicer all-mechanical body. Without the big metering prism (typically a DP-1), it's fairly compact. With winter shooting, I just go by sunny-16, and set the shutter speed and f-stops accordingly. No tiny buttons or thumbwheels to adjust. Manual focus, of course. I also use a tripod in the snow, with a quick-release bracket. That makes landscape photography much easier, keeps the camera steady, and another tip - it's easier to change lenses, since the camera is sitting on the sturdy tripod, and cold hands are less likely to be dropping things.

One of my favorite places to shoot locally is at Matthaei Botanical Gardens -- the trails that follow Fleming Creek offer access to some nice winter scenes that are usually pretty undisturbed.

The bridge over the pond that leads to the trails. Tamron 90mm lens.

The eye in the ice
The eye in the ice.

little worlds
I love the contrast of snow and water and the various states of ice formation.

Try some winter photography -- go all-manual with a twin-lens reflex, a 35mm SLR or even a Holga. Leave the DSLR at home.


Anonymous said...

Nice winter photos. I confess I have never seen an F2 with a meterless prism.

Anonymous said...

Well written piece on one of the finest 35mm cameras ever made. If Nikon manufactured one today the cost would be astronomical! Other than that, you said it all, Mark. Very nice photos, too!