Why: Creating Photographs with Snow – Part 2
Why: Photographing Scenes with Snow
The technique for photographing snowy scenes is an important point to master. But the essential point is to ask yourself why you should use this natural element in your photographs.
Snow makes it possible to add a very dreamlike dimension to your photographic compositions.
Few people in the world have ever seen snow. You must remember that it is a privilege. By creating photographs with snowy scenes, you will be able to think of all those individuals who have not experienced such beauty.
The snow is the element par excellence to create clean and minimalist scenes.
Snow as an Artistic Element
For us, snow is an extraordinary element to include when composing artistic photographs. It allows us to evoke a multitude of emotions and sensations that are difficult to translate in scenes without snow.
First of all, snow evokes dreams of vast expanses, silence, solitude, and emptiness.
It also evokes purity because of its bright whiteness.
But it can also mean death and suffering, because when it snows, it can be extremely cold.
Everything depends on your state of mind in the moment.
For example, snow is synonymous with our childhood in a small village in northern France. We built snowmen with our friends as children. There was laughter, shouts of joy during snowball battles, and carelessness.
The light, graceful snow evokes tranquility, serenity, and time that freezes. Its whiteness blankets the beautiful and the unsightly, creating a landscape where only the essential structures are visible.
The snow is also the sound of footsteps in an absolute calm. Nothing can disturb us. The body is soothed despite the surrounding cold.
But I also like to consider the snow as a natural rebirth, because it shrouds nature during winter, and reveals it in the spring. New life will be reborn. It's very symbolic but that's how I conceive snowy landscapes.
The Symbolism of the Snow
Invariably, snow is associated with winter. It evokes muffled and padded sounds when steps fall upon its icy crystals.
The snow evokes the color white, as landscapes and vast expanses are blanketed in its whiteness. With snow, everything has disappeared: trees, plants, stones, and earth. It is as if a crazy painter washed everything in a pristine white to better revive nature after an expiatory period.
The snow also brings suffering for those who have no roof to shelter under from the cold. It numbs both the body and the soul.
When the snow falls, everything is silent. This is quite different from rainfall, which can be very noisy. Regardless of their number, the flakes dance to the earth in silence. They elegantly wrap all the shapes of nature, erasing any horrors of the world. It can sublimate a landscape by covering it with a heavy white coat.
The snow evokes silence, calmness, loneliness, renewal, mystery, beauty, purity, and serenity. It also reminds some people of bitterness, hardship, and pain.
But there is a term that I love above all when I think of snow, which is virginity. When I look at snowy landscapes, I feel that everything is pristine without noise, odors, unnecessary cacophony. It seems possible to begin again with a fresh start.
I like the feeling of timelessness and calm, although these emotions are temporary when temperatures increase. The snow does not change the amount of time, but simply seems to suspend it. This is a period of introspection, allowing us to contemplate the directions to take in life.
Snow is a natural element which makes it possible to create scenes of dreamlike nature that enable us to escape into another world.
Snow is Only the Negative Space of a Nature Photo
What is paradoxical with the snow is that you may have the impression with my explanations that the snow itself is the main subject of your photographs. However, this is not the case. As I had mentioned in this article, it is only the negative space of a photo’s compositions.
In a landscape of snowy nature, you capture trees, vegetation, a lake, mountains, etc.
In an animal photograph you portray a mammal, a bird, or any other living being.
The animals are the center of interest. The snow is only present to support them in standing out from the background. The animals constitute the essential part of your photographs, and the photographer must use the snow to highlight them.
You have to find the right balance and the right placement in your compositions even if they are minimalist photos.
I advise you not to forget the animals when you compose a photo with snow.
Black and White or Color
The big question you will inevitably ask yourself is whether you will develop your photographs in color or in black and white. There is no automatic answer.
This decision depends on your photographic identity as I described in this article, and it depends on what you want to convey to viewers.
If you want to create an illustrative photograph for your friends, a magazine, or a tourist brochure, I recommend color. You must stay in the purely descriptive register and display the landscapes or the animals as they exist naturally. You must be as faithful as possible to reality. In color development, it is important to remain neutral, by not accentuating whiteness or details too much.
If you want to create an artistic photographic because you wish to express emotions as I had described in this article, I suggest color or black and white. In this case, you can emphasize whiteness, shadows, or details. Both modes are perfect for artistic expression.
The Best Time of the Day
If you choose color, the ideal time to photograph is early in the morning or at the end of the day. If you are lucky, the sun will be visible, and it will allow you to capture color shades that are not present later in the day when the sun is at the highest point.
The contrast of scenes at the beginning or end of the day is much better for color photographs. When the scenes are strongly contrasted, the details are more easily apparent in the textures of flowers, leaves, fur, feathers, etc.
Photos taken in the middle of the day are more suited to black and white developments.
Photographing early in the morning or late in the afternoon is a very important benefit. Indeed, the temperatures are colder. The air seems more clean and clear. During these moments, it is easier to photograph snow crystals that shine because of the skimming sun.
Personally, I prefer the black and white that corresponds more to my state of mind and my way of transmitting emotions. However, this is a personal choice. You must define your own style and venture as far as possible in your approach.
The choice of the time of day to make photographs depends on what you want to show and which emotions you wish to transmit. Personally, I spend all day on the field. With my snowshoes, I can walk miles in search of an animal or a particular scene. As the days are generally quite short in winter, the time spent on the field does not exceed a few hours.
Step Out of Your Comfort Zone
I recommend you shoot snowy scenes only if you are comfortable with the cold. Photographing in the cold requires appropriate clothing and special gloves to access the different controls on the camera. Leaving equipment in these conditions for several hours can be dangerous.
Do not try to venture in the snow without taking many precautions. The trip should be experienced, and you must have a more specific purpose than just wanting to create different pictures.
You must prepare as best as you can. From experience, I can tell you that even with preparations, you will encounter an unfortunate event.
As I said in this article, it is important that you step out of your comfort zone to create different and interesting photographs. Your state of mind is essential. You should never risk your physical safety. Creating a photograph, as extraordinary as it is, is not worth putting your life on the line.
I think that snow is a major asset to creating cozy, dreamlike, and timeless atmospheres. Snow erases all impurities and creates mysteries in the photographed scenes. However, be careful. The experience can be dangerous if you are not well prepared.
I recommend you prepare for your photographic sessions in the snow in two ways. You must first check your equipment and practice techniques. You must then practice identifying your artistic perspective. It is imperative that you understand why you are tempted by the snow and how you truly want to utilize it.