Snow is tricky to photograph for a variety of reasons; but several local photographers can tell you why it’s worth the effort.
Mark Allen, of Jefferson, has been taking pictures for 47 years. He learned the basics of film photography from his father and then taught himself, often by trial and error.
According to Allen, cold is one of the major challenges of winter photography. Not just how it impacts the photographer, but how it impacts the camera and the batteries.
Condensation from a transition in temperature may cause spotting on the camera’s sensor or inside the lens. “You need to warm (equipment) up slowly,” he said. And winter temperatures can cause batteries to drain more quickly. It’s a good idea to keep a spare warm in a pocket.
It’s not always easy to capture the effect of a large expanse of white, so Allen looks for subjects with contrast and sets his focus on the contrast instead of on the snow. “It’s very hard to focus on snow.”
As for the joy of winter photography? For Allen, it’s fresh snow first thing in the morning. He likes to go out before sunrise in what’s known to photographers as “the blue hour” and shoot through the golden hour when the sun comes up at the beginning of the day.
Snowy owls are his favorite subject any time of year, and he often heads to York County to capture images of them in their environment. He enjoys shooting landscapes too; the path of the Penobscot River through the snowy trees, or snow-covered blueberry fields and stone walls at Clary Hill in Union. And when he can, he follows the Golden Road up north out of Millinocket toward Canada to photograph moose, lynx and other wildlife in their native habitat.
Bob Bond is a Maine-based photographer who travels widely. He was 14 years old when he “borrowed” the family Kodak Brownie camera to photograph the arrival of the Mayflower II into Plymouth Harbor on June 13, 1957. The experience hooked him and he has kept a camera within reach ever since.
While known for the commercial photography he produces at 40 Federal Studio in Wiscasset, Bond’s passion is about “getting out of the studio and recording what’s going on the streets of planet Earth.”
Bond admitted that cold is not his favorite temperature. But “the light in the snow is fantastic.” On days with full sun Bond uses neutral density or polarizing filters to reduce the glare. If those aren’t available, finding a better angle can help – getting lower, keeping your back to the sun. And if there’s a chance to shoot snow on a warm morning, take it. Fog rising from snow can be beautiful.
One of Bond’s favorite photos is an impromptu shot taken during an evening in Wiscasset. Snow was falling, the town was decorated for the holidays, and a row of streetlights guided his eye toward Red’s Eats, shuttered for the season. He calls the photo “No Line at Red’s.”
Elizabeth Campbell is a photographer based in Midcoast Maine. She is a board member of the Maine Art Gallery in Wiscasset where she recently curated “Our Maine,” an exhibit of fine art photography.
“Until very recently, winter had been a time when I transitioned to other art forms, and looked inward rather than through the lens,” she said in an email. But when an artist she admired suggested she photograph ice, a whole new creative world opened up. “Landscapes are relatively stark and lifeless in the winter, which works for a certain aesthetic. But if you want to explore new worlds of imagined landscapes, you must first look down,” she said.
Campbell likes playing with different times of day and different kinds of weather: comparing cloudy days with days of full sun. She is meticulous with her ice photography. “When your subject matter is very simple, all the technical artistic decisions, such as color and composition, rise to the top.”
For Campbell, photographing ice allowed her “to break out of realism and into the abstract.” She enjoys transforming her images into something “more personally expressive…It’s an exploration of my imagination, and ice is simply where it begins.”
Jan Griesenbrock is an avid hobbyist who enjoys photographing a variety of styles in nature and in the town of Waldoboro where he lives. For him, the absence of color is the most striking aspect of winter photography.
Griesenbrock decreases ISO settings to 100-400 during day shoots. ISO setting controls the camera’s sensitivity to light. Lower ISOs help prevent the light from overwhelming the picture and blowing out the details.
“Look for things that catch your attention. If it appeals to you, it may appeal to others,” he said. Griesenbrock recommends a tripod if the shutter speed is less than 1/30th of a second, and finding a high or low angle to better control the foreground and background and to create more visual interest. “Make it different,” he said.
“Red on white is good,” said Paula Roberts, sports editor and photographer for The Lincoln County News. She likes blue skies or a pop of yellow too. “You need contrast. You need a color in there. Just snow is just snow. It’s boring.”
The abundance of light as the sun reflects off the snow crystals can make overexposure a problem. Roberts recommends shooting low to limit the glare from all that bouncing light. Or shooting on a cloudy day when glare is minimal.
Bracketing photos is another approach – following the camera’s recommended settings then taking a photo one stop lighter and another one stop darker. The photographer can choose the tones of white that satisfy them.
Roberts is known for her sports photography, but she is also a talented nature and landscape photographer. Churches and barns are favorite winter subjects. And she likes to photograph the play of light and shadow within snowdrifts, the way icicles reflect the light as they form on roof lines or farm equipment.
The winter season provides unique opportunities for photographers to explore Lincoln County and to capture it in a different spirit.
There’s the incredible vista on Bunker Hill Road in Jefferson, the overlook of the Damariscotta River from the parking lot behind Renys, the farms of Whitefield and Somerville, the working waterfront in Bremen, and spectacular views of the Medomak River from Waldoboro’s village district. There are snowmobilers, skiers, ice fishermen, rosy-cheeked children building snowmen. There are cardinals and blue jays, foxes, deer, and porcupines.
There are pine forests, bustling village streets, wide vistas. Fort Edgecomb rising over the Sheepscot River. Ice on the rocks at Pemaquid Point.
Snow transforms. Look at the world through a camera, any camera. And see what you can create.
Allen has a presence on SmugMug at markallenphotography.smugmug.com.
Photos by Bond are available at bobbond.com.
Campbell’s work can be viewed on Instagram at the account @elizDSLR.
Jan Griesenbrock is a hobbyist who often posts his photos on his Facebook page.
Photos by Roberts can be found in the pages of The Lincoln County News.