New England has a tendency to have inclement weather that’s, in a word, unforgiving. Those like me who reside within its boundaries deal with hot, sticky summers, soggy springs, and often merciless winters. Honestly, if you’re ever in the mood to visit this part of the world, visit in autumn, the only time of year when it’s actually pleasant.
Yet despite the callous cruelty of three of the four seasons, they each do bring their own specific beauty. Spring is known for its blossoming Magnolias, summer for its ballpark spirit and fun on the open water, and winter for its magical ice.
As is well known, this last winter has been more sadistic than we’ve seen in recent years. It started snowing in November, the world froze over, and except for a couple of weeks where the temperature took a surprising jump into the mid-forties, it pretty much stayed frozen. For most of it I stayed inside, sipping tea and longing for the sun. But for part of it, I mustered up the motivation to explore.
I left the urban confines of greater Boston, and took a trip to the Green Mountains in Vermont for a weekend of serenity. When I began to drive, the weather was miserable, but not impassable. The further north I sojourned, however, matters became more unwieldy.
Within ten miles of my destination, visibility fell to dangerous lows. Instead of pulling over, which might have been wise, I decided to press on slowly and see what happened. Not long after making this decision, I was forcibly detoured into the woods by firefighters attempting to put out a raging inferno in a barn, and the wind was not being kind to them. Nor were the elements being kind to me. Forty-five minutes of heart-wrenching, near-blind washboard dirt road maneuvering later, I finally arrived at my temporary home and collapsed into bed.
What I woke up to the next morning was miraculous.
Like a figurine in a snow globe, I had found myself in an ice world. The trees were completely encased in icicle cocoons, the air was crisp and sweet, and everything was a perfect white. I knew I had to capture it, but at the moment I had no idea how to photograph ice.
Focus on the details
When I stepped out of the front door of the small house in the mountains and took in the sight before me, I knew immediately that there was no way that I could properly record the scope of all that I saw. No image would do it justice. Yet, I decided, that just like small elements can be laced together make up a story, photographs of the details could come together make a much greater impression then a single image ever would. single image ever would.
Find the light
It’s no great secret that sunlight has a magical effect when refracted through ice. Like a prism, ice catches the warmth of the light and sends it shimmering in a thousand directions, causing it to sparkle like reflected starlight on a calm and open sea. Using an 85mm prime, I opened up my aperture to ƒ/2.2 and attempted to capture individual branches encased in ice, letting the light of the sun work its wonder in the background.
Shift your perspective
I’ve seen hundreds of postcards featuring winter scenes, each showing an open landscape with endless pine trees that looks like the snowy wonderland of our young Christmas hopes. Although lovely, these images leave no real impression on my imagination; they don’t force me, as a viewer, to think differently; they don’t fill me with wonder. I had no wish to recreate these trite images, and so my desires forced me to shift my perspective in search of something new, something intriguing.
No matter what you’re photographing, when you set up your shot, one of the first things you should decide is how you’re going to compose the shot. Proper composition is key because it makes your photographs memorable, makes them stand out from the millions of others. Although there are some basic guidelines about how to do this well (i.e. rule of thirds, filling the frame, using leading lines, etc.), there are no set rules. What’s more important is capturing your chosen subject in such a way that will leave a lasting impression on the viewer.
One of the best things about nature and landscape photography is that you don’t always have to fly to far-off destinations to find a subject that’s worthy of capturing. You can go to a region in your own backyard, like Vermont is for me, and discover a world that’s both mysterious and awe-inspiring. All you need is an appreciation for beauty, a sense of wonder, and a well-crafted camera to help you capture what you’ve discovered.