"Eye & Hand: Draw, Photograph, Paint, Write" Archives

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!


Questions? Comments? Just click here!

Mar 14 2015

Photoelasticity — Showing Plastic in Its True Light

Are you tired of winter? Has cabin fever set in? Then if you’re a shutterbug who enjoys experimenting, chart a course to my recent Pentax Forums post on using your camera, a polarizing filter, and an LCD display to see some of your plastic possessions in a whole new light.

Check out the compass plate below:

Taking a Bearing on Birefringencesu

The subtle rainbow bands are an example of photoelasticity, also known as plastic birefringence. And you’ll see them in all manner of transparent plastic products. So put on your specs and start shooting!

Take a Look

Questions? Comments? Just click here!

Feb 05 2015

Eye and Hand: The Artist in Winter

The Artist in Winter

Winter can be a trying time for cold country trekkers. There are compensations, of course. Suitably shod — either claw‑ or web‑footed, as conditions dictate, with sturdy stick or pole in hand — hardy winter wanderers enjoy a freedom of the hills denied walkers in more temperate seasons, when hobbling undergrowth and swarms of biting flies conspire to make any deviation from the beaten track both sweaty and painful. A rucksack charged with the Ten Essentials is now your passport to a backcountry without bounds or borders, where off‑trail travel is the norm. And this winter I’m also leaving my camera at home from time to time, in order to do some “batteries not included” exploring, recording the stark beauty of the winter landscape with pencil in hand.

That’s my intention, at any rate. But my first attempt proved frustrating. In fact, you could say it was a comedy of errors … Read more…

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Dec 09 2014

Manzella Silkweight Windstopper Gloves: My First Line of Defense Against Cold Hands

I like to keep active through the winter. If I didn’t, I’d emerge in the spring ready for the beach—and I’d be the beach ball. So I motivate myself to get out even in rotten weather by making every trip a photo safari, whether I go forth on two wheels or on two feet. But baby, it’s cold out there! So I keep the cold at arm’s length by bundling up in layers of wool and synthetic (not cotton). My hands are a trouble spot. They get cold. Very cold. So to keep my hands warm on winter photo safari, I follow the same principle as when outfitting my body. I layer. And my first line of defense are Manzella Silkweight Windstopper gloves:

Keeping Cold At Bay

They have textured palms and fingers, a soft fleecy interior, reflective accents, and they fit my hands perfectly. Unlike thick gloves or mittens, Windstoppers allow me to work the camera controls without impediment (they’re not so bad for changing a flat tire, either). I also appreciate the D-ring and snap-link that join the gloves together for times when I stow them inside my pack. Another feature I like are webbing loops sewn into the cuffs. A long lanyard connecting the two gloves and threaded through the sleeves of my jacket insures that I won’t drop one along the trail.

Of course, the Windstoppers alone aren’t enough in really cold temperatures. When the mercury drops below 45 degrees or so, I pull a pair of thick fleece gloves right over them. Then, when I need to free my fingers for fiddly work—using a camera, say, or scrolling through the menus on my GPS—the heavy fleece gloves come off again. But the Windstoppers stay put. And they live up to their name. Provided I do what needs to be done quickly, my fingers remain comfortably warm.

So far, so good. But one of the unhappy consequences of accelerated product development cycles—not to mention manufacturers’ growing tendency to confuse fashion with function—is the short shelf-life of many products. By the time I’ve bought something and used it long enough to form an opinion about it, it disappears from the stores. Imagine my delight, then, when I discovered that Windstoppers are still available from some sources even though I got my pair six years ago. Now that‘s something to celebrate.

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