Project:52, sparkly ice (week 4)

miniature ice landscape

I can't get over how magical and surreal a tiny patch of ice can become with the right perspective, perfect sunlight and a simple close-up filter.

Yesterday morning it was cold.  Cold enough to cancel my regularly scheduled morning walk with a friend, cold enough that the snow makes hard crunchy noises underfoot and your breath makes huge clouds around your face, cold enough for most normal people to avoid the outdoors whenever possible.  So why is it, when I looked out the window that morning that I bundled on extra layers of clothing and ran outside into the parking lot?  Well, clearly, because I am a photographer.  (You could probably safely substitute ‘crazy’ for ‘photographer’ in a multitude of cases … this one included!)

But honestly, how could I resist?  The morning sun was just coming up over the rooftops, and that extra-cold snow sparkled all kinds of awesome when the light hit it.  Since Erin and I decided that our weekly photo challenge this week was to bring some sparkle to the snow, I figured that this was the perfect opportunity and not to be missed!  Such are the trials of a photographer really.  We’re always chasing moments, and trying to capture the perfect light.  So who am I to stay cozy inside when that perfect light is sparkling just outside my window?

In fact on this very chilly morning, I actually had to make 2 trips outside to satisfy the photographer bug in me.  When I first saw that gorgeous golden sun kissing the snow, I was just a bit too slow pulling on my winter gear and made it outside just as the sun faded behind a thin layer of clouds.  I was able to get a couple decent shots before my extremities began to chill, but nothing truly sparkly and epic.  Of course, not 15 minutes after I was back inside, the sun broke out of the clouds again … so back out I went.  This time, I noticed the lovely little patch of ice next to our walkway.  Frozen drips from the last warm day had left a bubbly impression on the surrounding snow, and the light was hitting it just perfectly.  What’s a photographer to do but lie down on the concrete and start shooting?  I had one of my close-up filters screwed onto my 50mm 1.4 lens in order to get nice and close to the tiny hills of ice.  Usually I like to keep the lens wide open to blur the background, but with the close-up filter I needed to give myself a bit of extra depth of field in order to capture the sparkly bokeh as the sun reflected off the ice and snow, so I opted for an aperture of 3.5.

Because I was back and forth between inside and out, my white balance inadvertently got left on tungsten.  However, when I checked my screen after the first couple of shots, I really liked the look, so I didn’t bother to switch it to a more accurate setting.  One of the bonuses of shooting files in RAW is that I can always change it back to ‘normal’ later while editing, and I did test it, but in the end the blue was just too cool.  As far as post-processing goes, there was really very little to do:  I increased the contrast with a curves adjustment, de-saturated the blue just a touch, and removed a couple tiny flecks of black seeds that were caught in the ice.  The final image reminds me of some amazing bug photography here … I almost wish I had a teeny figure to include in the scene.  Alas, this morning’s snow has hidden that ice world from view – I’ll have to see if I can get myself a teeny tiny little model (of the non-bug variety, preferably!) before I find the next frozen miniature landscape.



night photography … the wrong(ish) way.

This photo required a lot more post-processing than I normally do on an image, mostly because I have this dreamy, idealized vision of what a snowy city night looks like and I really wanted to re-create that in this photo.  But, another reason I had to be extra particular with this picture is because *sigh* I don’t practice what I preach.

Every time I teach a photography course I explain how vital a tripod is:  how crazy you will make yourself trying to get tack-sharp photos in low light conditions without one, and how much better your image quality will be if you can leave your ISO nice and low instead of cranking it up to avoid camera shake.  I didn’t have a tripod with me this particular evening.  I’ll beg a bit of understanding because I was on my way home from work, and, while I love to carry my camera with me everywhere to catch that perfect moment it’s a lot harder to force myself to also carry a tripod.  Eventually I do plan on adding a gorilla-pod to my gear arsenal, and then I will no longer have excuses.  But, in the meantime, I am forced to do things the hard/stupid way.  Which means shooting 8 – 12 frames of every composition with the shutter on continuous, holding my breath and trying to balance against a tree-trunk … just praying that 1 frame will come out clear enough to use.  So believe me when I tell you:  tripods are a must for an enjoyable night photography experience.  (But, if you’re as stubborn and determined as I am, you can make it work … although it’s not nearly as efficient!)

One of the trickiest things about this photograph was matching the colour to my mind’s memory.  When I see a city on a winter’s night, particularly when it’s snowing, the sky seems almost purple to me.  Of course, when you photograph the scene, odds are, you’re going to get something more like this:

City lights are often an overwhelming oxide orange and completely kill any other colour that you might see in the scene.

A more “accurate” white balance leaves the photo looking like this:

We’ve got white snow, but none of the magical orangey-purple contrast that I imagine.

In order to combine the two images, I opened them both in Photoshop and then placed one image on top of the other.  I used the luminosity (brightness) of the image to mask out darker areas of the orange image so that the blue sky would show through.  After tweaking the saturation and curves, I have an image that more closely fits the night as I remember it.

My favourite part about this image is the background:  the ice on the tree across the street was reflecting the street lights and it created some magical bokeh when pulled out of focus.  Definitely waiting for the next snowy night to go on another photo walk … this time WITH my tripod.