Wednesday, February 9, 2011

See (and Photograph) Snow Like You've Never Imagined Before!

It was a week ago today when much of the Eastern half of the continental United States was buried in one of the largest winter storm systems in the last 50 years, ironically, on Groundhog Day, which marks the half way point (at least astronomically) of winter. Needless to say, for those of us who get snow, February can be one of the snowiest months of the year, which means a lot of opportunities for picture taking.

When one thinks of winter photography, landscapes and pictures of winter fun typically come to mind, not individual snowflakes. Yet, with a macro lens, one can easily reveal all the finest details of each individual flake in just a click.

So, how to go about photographing snow?

First off, you'll need a good background that will serve as good contrast to the snow itself. A piece of black poster board fits the bill nicely as it is not glossy and thus will not cause glare. For someone who wants a real black background, you can always get a piece of plywood or plexiglass and paint it flat black for an even darker, smoother background.

Next, snow melts, which means that your staging material had better be cold. Rather than put your stage outside, just drop your black background into the freezer for about half an hour so that it gets good and cold so the snow won't start to melt on contact.

As the second part of your stage, you'll need a table or to set your staging material on, or, if you don't mind getting cold, you can always just set it on the ground.

Now, the stage set, bring in the “actors” if you will.

To make the snow shooting as easy as possible, you'll want a tripod where it is an easy effort to adjust the height. Why? As in macro photography, it is often easiest to set the lens at 1:1 distance, then move back and forth to get focus. Unfortunately, since you're shooting down, you're going to be restricted to adjusting the tripod's height, instead. So, assuming that your tripod is user-friendly, all you need to do is adjust the height so that focus falls automatically upon the staging material, and thus the snow.

Height and focus found, stop down the lens to f5.6 or f8 (you're shooting flat subjects, so stopping down more really won't do any good).

The complete setup: surprisingly simple, stunningly effective!

Last, be sure to keep your shutter speeds up if you don't have a remote, use the always-effective focal length
equivalency rule (100mm lens on FF, stay over 1/100th second, 100mm on APS-C, stay over 1/150th second) if you don't have a remote. If you have a remote shutter release, knock down the ISO for maximum detail and minimal noise.

One last tip: give yourself a little room to move your staging material around a bit so that you can bring particularly attractive flakes under your lens at full macro magnification.

As always, good luck!

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