Jan 21 2017

Exposing Snow: Tips for Winter Photographers by Tamia Nelson

Ever wish you could discover a new world? Do you think those days are over, at least here on Planet Earth? Well, I’ve got news for you. Every winter storm remakes the world, if only for a little while. Just be the first person out the door and down the trail after a fresh snowfall, and you’ll be sure to make a few discoveries. Of course you won’t get your name in the history books, but you can get some great photos. It’s not quite as simple as pointing and shooting, though. All that fresh, white stuff on the ground can easily throw your camera’s sensors off. The result? One of two polar extremes: Your shots will either be blown out (overexposed, or too bright), or—and this is more likely—they’ll be a dull, dispiriting, uniform dark gray (underexposed).

OK. That’s the problem. What’s the cure? Unfortunately, there’s no magic formula. Most automatic cameras have a “Snow Scene” setting. Often these work. But sometimes they don’t. Then you have to rely on trial and error. Needless to say, this is a lot easier than it used to be back in the Age of Film, when you had to wait for your prints or slides to come back from the lab before you could see how the shots turned out. Today it’s as simple as hitting the Playback button. Now here are some tips to make the process even easier:

Start With a Test Shot  Then study it carefully in your camera’s LCD screen. Your eyes will tell you if it’s too light or too dark, and the image’s histogram—the camera’s manual should show you how to interpret it—will tell you even more. Once you’ve analyzed the test shot, you’re ready to…

Adjust the Exposure Value (EV)  Most cameras let you set this to ±2.0, usually in 0.3- or 0.5-stop increments. I typically begin by setting EV at +0.5 for snow scenes, and I’d suggest that you do the same. Then take a second test shot. Too dark? Up the EV by half a stop and try again. And again. Until it’s right. Too bright? Back off half a stop (to 0.0, say, if you started at +0.5) and shoot a test shot. Still too bright? Back off another half stop and shoot another. And so forth. Till it’s spot on. Then you’re good to go.

Or are you? The tiny LCD screen on most cameras isn’t big enough (or bright enough) to display images to best advantage. What looks good in the field may look less so on your desktop monitor. Which is why it pays to…

Bracket Your Photos  This just means shooting a succession of photos at EV numbers above and below the EV value you arrived at through trial and error. Don’t get carried away. It’s usually enough to bracket one full stop up and down, in half-stop increments.

 

So far, so good. Care in choosing the EV should give you what you want in most instances, and bracketing will take care of most of the rest. But super-bright conditions—full sun on a high-altitude snowfield, for example—warrant special measures, like…

Mounting a Polarizing Filter  These common aftermarket accessories subdue highlights and reduce reflections, preventing “wash out.” They can also reveal hidden textures in superficially uniform surfaces. But be warned: If a landscape includes areas of shade or shadow, a polarizer will further limit what can be seen in those dark places. Here’s an example:

Snowy River

The polarizer brings out the fine detail in the expanse of snow, but the forest beyond is now preternaturally dark. (To see larger images in new windows, right-click on this photo and those that follow.) Now here’s a similar scene. It was shot with the same lens, but I left the polarizer off:

Snow Mounds on the River

Spot the difference? The forest fringe looks less gloomy—and you can see individual branches, too—but there’s a price to be paid. The granularity of the snow isn’t as pronounced. Note, too, that I’ve tweaked both photos in my electronic darkroom, by…

Using Post-Processing Software  Darkroom magic is no longer a game that only big-name pros with big-time budgets can play. It’s now open to anyone with a digital camera and a computer. And no, it’s not cheating. Photographers—famous and unknown alike—have been spending long hours in the darkroom to make their work look its best since the mid-19th century. Now you can, too. With a few adjustments to saturation, levels, and contrast, you can bring out details you thought were lost in shadow, take some of the dazzle out of distracting highlights, and work other minor miracles. But no amount of post-processing can make a bad picture into a good one. So always do your best in field, where the effort counts most.

Camera Icon

Are you ready to discover new worlds? You’re in luck. Or at least you are if you live where it snows. Just wait for the next storm to blow through. And while you’re waiting, get your photo outfit ready. Then head out the door and start shooting snow scenes. Each storm remakes the world, creating new landscapes to be explored. But only for a little while. It will be summer before you know it. There’s not a moment to be lost!

Shadows

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Jan 19 2017

The Sweet of the Year: It’s Almost Maple Syrup Time!
by Tamia Nelson

Article by Tamia Nelson

Have you noticed? The days are getting longer. Spring will soon be in the air — though if you’ve just spent a frantic quarter‑hour scraping ice from you car’s windscreen, you may find this hard to believe. No matter. The wheel of the year spins round unceasingly, and it won’t be long before the roads dry up and your favorite stream sheds its frosty mantle. And while you’re waiting impatiently for this happy state of affairs, why not have something to eat? Something sweetened with maple syrup, perhaps. After all, no condiment says spring like maple syrup, and folks will soon be tramping throughout the North Woods, inspecting lines and marking trees for tapping. In short, it’s almost sugar season… Read more…

Published in full at Paddling.com on 17 January 2017

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Jan 16 2017

Nashbar’s Stand By Me: Compact, Inexpensive, and Durable by Tamia Nelson

If you have a bike, then you should include a bike stand to your tool kit, even if all the mechanical work you do is to oil the chain. The stand doesn’t have to be large nor expensive. My first stand cost less than USD20 and can hide in a corner of the closet. It’s called the Nashbar Stand By Me. Here it is:

Stand By Me is built of tubular steel, with an asymmetrical X-shaped base, a vertical shaft perforated to allow a pair of hooks to be placed in such a way as to suit your bike’s geometry. This is a basic stand which can be used for bike storage, or—and this is how mine is used—for suspending the bike’s rear wheel off the ground far enough to allow the wheel to freely spin. This speeds up lubing the chain, adjusting brakes, or maintaining the drivetrain. (A Tip Brace the front wheel when using the Stand By Me, because if the front wheel rotates, the bike may become unstable and topple.) One thing to note is that some owners have had to bend the hooks, adjusting their shape to accommodate their bikes’ frames, but these have required no modification to fit my Surly Long Haul Trucker or Schwinn Sierra and Traveler.

When new, the hooks are covered with a textured rubber sleeve, and the Stand’s structural members are painted black. My 2008 model has had hard use, and while it’s still going strong, there is some rust, and the rubber sleeve on one hook cracked and fell away. The rust is my fault, caused by my failure to clean away salty slush while using the Stand to wash bikes after winter rides. A bit of elbow grease with Flitz along with some touch-up paint will take care of that, and the bare hook is now padded with a length of aquarium tubing. One last modification was made to cover bare metal hook ends with plastic caps recycled from eye-drop medicine bottles, to avoid gouging the bikes.

In practice, the Stand By Me is handy to use, and once you decide on the hooks’ placement, it shouldn’t take long to position them on your bike frame’s off-side triangle. You will have to get down low to work on the drivetrain when using the Stand By Me, to be sure, but if you don’t have a home shop with a full-sized stand ready to receive a bike, it’s so much easier to retrieve this compact stand from storage than to set up shop with a full-sized stand. And if your knees complain when you kneel or if your back balks when bending over, sit on a step stool to bring you closer to your work.

The bottom line? While my Nashbar Stand By Me shows its age and is marked by blemishes, it’s still going strong after more than eight years’ use. It’s easy to store, easy to retrieve, and not too fussy to set up. Despite our owning three other stands—two of them full-sized shop stands—this is the one that gets chosen most often. I’d buy one again. And because Nashbar is stocking the Stand By Me once more, you can buy one, too.

 

Concerned about my objectivity? Don’t worry. I’ve not been paid by Nashbar to write this article. Read our Product Evaluations Policy here.

Questions? Comments? Just click here!

 


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