Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The degree of excitement in your images may be related to the colors in your snow

From his home in Olympia, Washington, outdoor photographer Kevin McNeal has visited many of the nation's natural wonders; this winter he chose Grand Tetons National Park. "Ever since I started this journey into digital photography," says Kevin, "certain images have stuck in my mind. One of those has been photographing the Grand Tetons in the wintertime. Several times over the last few years, I have tried to make the trip, but the conditions were never right. Ideal weather can be very rare in winter, but finally the time was right. This meant a twenty-hour drive through snowstorms, black ice, and whiteouts to get there -- but it was really worth it! The snow was still on the trees, wildlife was abundant, and the larger-than-life Grand Tetons were surrounded by a winter wonderland.

"Photography in winter can be a most challenging experience in many ways. Too often people associate winter photography with neutral white colors. By injecting color into your winter images you have the ability to create visual excitement that will really stand out.

"One of the best times to capture the magic of winter is at sunrise or sunset when the light transforms the white snow into a dazzling burst of warmth and color. To provide this color, I like to use the LB ColorCombo to maximize the warmer tones of the light. A good example is the alpenglow which is found on mountain peaks during sunrise and sunset. To really make my winter images stand out, I want the most exciting color I can get in each one. The LB ColorCombo with its built-in warming polarizer and color intensifier helped bring out the full range of color in my images. I spent three mornings in a row trying to capture the pinnacle of light, and on the last morning I got the image I had always been looking for.

"One of the advantages to winter photography is when an accumulation of snow transforms the landscape into a completely new scene. It takes on new characteristics and shapes. The challenge is to emphasize these shapes, textures, and forms while also providing visual depth in the image. To achieve this depth, I try to include as many layers in composition as possible. The inclusion of a background element such as the sky invites the viewer on a visual journey into the image. The LB ColorCombo polarizer gives the sky a saturated boost of color that makes any winter scene look better. When you include the added interest of depth, you create a cohesiveness between warmer and cooler tones. Once again, the polarizer injects the necessary color into the image.

"The LB ColorCombo has another way of enhancing my winter images. Snow can be a very difficult subject to photograph in terms of exposure. If you underexpose the snow it becomes a dull gray. However, if you overexpose the snow, you blow out the details and lose its textural interest. By using the polarizer when exposing for the snow, I can reduce the glare reflecting off the snow to allow more details and textures to come through. When trying to make a winter landscape stand out, one of my goals is to highlight the snow crystals in the foreground. While the textures and luminosity highlight the foreground, the saturated color in the sky ties the image together.

"When shooting winter scenes I look for ways to inject color into the areas of white. I also want the foreground subject to complement the scene rather then compete for attention. Finding a balance between the two creates a more cohesive image. Look for subjects of warmth to inject into the scene to contrast with the cool tones of snow.

In this image, I used the LB ColorCombo’s ability to warm up images to bring out as much of the color in the barn while allowing the snow to remain cool. To add visual strength to a winter image, I frame it so that warmer tones are adjacent to cooler tones and then try to emphasize any patterns or shapes that can add depth to the image. This is why it is essential to have the LB ColorCombo that can bring out the best color in my images.

"As mentioned earlier, the magical hours of light early in the day and late afternoon provide the best opportunities to inject color into a winter scene. The LB ColorCombo's built-in color intensifier and the reflective snow combine to add the necessary warm tones.

"In this image, I wanted to capture the color reflected off the water and mirror what was happening with the rest of the scene. I rotated the ColorCombo's polarizer to the point where I could minimize the glare and at the same time bring out even more saturation in the water. The polarizer allowed me to use a longer shutter speed, which gave the water a more silky look. With the combination of the longer shutter speed and the boost in color, I was able to create a mood within the image. When evaluating a scene for color, I always try to pre-visualize where the color will stand out most and how that will affect the secondary subjects.

"Another key to winter images is trying to create a softer glow that gives a painterly feel to the image. With the subject of snow and warm light, it is easy to take this one more step. The added warmth to the image from the LB ColorCombo -- combined with the longer exposure -- creates a dichotomy of mood for the viewer. The two extremes of exposure and warmer tones work to complement each other by creating tension in the image, and thus injecting more impact into the scene.

"Using the LB ColorCombo," says Kevin, "allows me to maximize the colors in my subjects and bring an exciting mood to my winter images that would otherwise be lacking." To learn more about Kevin and keep up with his current projects, be sure to stop by his website and do some exploring.

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