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Friday, March 7, 2014

Snow At Night

I want to pause a bit here and post a couple photos of the snow we just had here in North Carolina a few weeks ago. I will show you how I took them using only the manual controls on my camera as well.

I love the snow, I feel like a kid again when I see it start to fall, don't you? That first couple of hours of a nice little snowstorm makes you feel all warm inside (provided that you are actually inside). Now...I know all the trouble that comes with snow--traffic accidents, power outages, kids are out of school, work is uncertain, etc. But all that stuff aside, for those brief moments in the beginning, I just feel wonderful. Can't describe it. 

Whenever I think of that good feeling, I revert back to one of my favorite childhood movies "A Christmas Story". I think of that part at the end of the movie when Ralphie's mom and dad are sipping on a glass of wine late at night with only the lights of the Christmas tree dimly lighting the room...then it starts to snow outside. It seems to take their breath away. All is right with the world at that moment in time. 

shot at 170mm, ISO 1600, 1/30 sec, f/5.6
Okay, lets get down to some photos here. It was about 7pm at night and it started...

After the first couple of minutes of snow had to grab my camera, of course! Click...first couple of shots--too dark, couldn't see anything but a little glow of the parking lot light. 

Next, I paid a little attention to my settings. I was so quick to get a photo I didn't bother to even look at my ISO, aperture, shutter, and so on. I had my ISO way too low and my shutter way to fast. I had cut out all the light. So, I adjusted the ISO sensitivity all the way up to 1600. Normally I do not like to shoot above 800 because of how "grainy" the picture looks (when you blow it up), but sometimes you don't have a choice if you want to capture the image. I set my aperture almost as wide as I could (f/5.6 at that zoomed-in position) to let in as much light as possible. Then I set my shutter at a 30th of a second. Click...a little better. See above.

But how could I make this image better? I mean, it's OKAY. The snow is highlighted by the  parking lot lamp (which IS neat) and I almost managed to 'stop' the snow with my relatively high shutter speed...but blah, I'm not satisfied. Something's not right.

I wanted a little more dramatic effect. So here's what I did... [And remember what I have said about trial and error in the past? That is the way to get to your final image. Ole T&E is your best friend...and I relied on him that night as well.]

shot at 170mm, ISO 800, 1/3 sec, f/5
First things first...I had an idea of what I wanted this image to look like stuck in my head. Now I just had to make it happen. (Try if you can to start with an idea, then work to achieve it.) 

I wanted a good quality picture, so I set my ISO back to 'my limit' of 800 to see just how good I could do at that level. So that's where I started...if I had to change it back to 1600, no big thing. 

Next, I knew that "stopping the snow" is not what I wanted. I wanted to blur the snow, making each wind-driven snowflake draw out in my photo. So, I knew a slow shutter speed was the key to all this. This would work in my favor, because I was working with extremely low light anyway. So after a few shots--each one coming down on my shutter speed a little more and a little more--a was satisfied with a 3rd of a second. That's about as slow as I can hand-hold my camera without bracing it in some way and still keep everything in focus. After opening up my lens all the way to f/5 to let in just a little more ambient, I was satisfied. The parking lot light is overexposed, but I like it. See above. Now compare the two images...they are like night and day.

Now what do you feel when you look at that last photo? I feel cold! When I look at the snow being driven almost sideways behind the barren branches of that tree, all I want to do is wrap up with the wife and and get a big ole cup of hot chocolate.

I love the snow, especially when I'm all warm inside my home, peering out the window at its beauty.

There is still a little winter left this year, so be ready to grab that camera of yours and have a little fun the next time a few flakes fall.

Thanks for reading!


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