Snow and Sunbeams

Unlike my previous snowy excursion, this was a big picture day. My most recent lens purchase was in 2010 (I’ve been abstaining largely because I’m a recent, and therefore broke, college graduate).  I bought a Tamron 11-18, and to break it in I decided to go for a stroll through the snowy pines that surround my house, in search of a memory. When I was little, I used to run gleefully through the woods, from one radiant, sunlit, shaft of falling snow to the next, and I desperately wanted to create and image that would encapsulate this memory. To my joy, I succeeded, and although I was extremely pleased with the results at the time, I’ve had an urge to revisit the concept, so I’ve been waiting for suitable conditions.  A glance out of the window yesterday brought good news: the glow deep in the woods in this shot is what I was waiting for.  It doesn’t look very impressive from a distance, but it was a sure sign that I’d have a decent chance of getting a shot of the icy sunbeams I’ve always adored.

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The light beckons. . .

Unfortunately, there is a lot of snow.  This picture will give you a slight idea, but you have to keep in mind that much of the snow has already fallen off the roof and the cars, so there’s even more than there appears to be.  The base level is up to the middle of my thighs, and in the deeper sections the snow comes up to my waist! Going would be tough anyway, but since I had surgery on one of my knees in October, I was also contending with one very, very weak leg. I’m tough, though, so I was more than willing to trudge through the snow in an attempt to get the shot I had in mind.  Besides, walking through waist deep snow is great exercise for a weak leg.

Yes. Snow.

Yes. Snow.

The walk to the woods was a bit more difficult than I had anticipated, but I made it there unscathed.  Once I was a suitable distance inside the forest, I had to rely on a virtue that I have some difficulty with: patience.  It was a matter of facing the sun, waiting for the snow to fall, and hoping that I was in an advantageous location.  Things had been a bit easier the last time I attempted to get a shot of this sort; last time, I had been able to run and position myself, but with waist-deep snow and fallen tries that was no longer an option.  As a result, I stood in place and hoped for the best – a far cry from my joyous childhood romps through the woods.

Unsurprisingly, this approach proved to be frustrating  As this shot shows, there was a constant, small glow from drifting snow, but I kept failing miserably in my attempts to find a good location. I’d move to where the last snowfall had been, then the next time snow would drop where I had previously been standing.  I’d walk deeper into the woods, and then the snow would fall behind me. The snow was much more spiteful than it was in my memories.

Close, but not quite what I was going for.

After about twenty minutes of this game of tag, I was getting truly discouraged.  It was cold. The snow was way too deep. My camera was wet. I was wet. It was boring. I’d gotten a few interesting shots, such as this one that I’ve included in the gallery at the end of this post, but I still hadn’t gotten the type of image I was hoping for. I was even considering heading back inside, calling the (fairly acceptable) shots I’d already gotten good, and trying again another day.  Then, the snow fell. It wasn’t in a location where it would be likely to produce visible sunbeams, but it was well-lt, so I started shooting.

A bit more promising.

As I shot, the snow kept falling. Usually the snowfall would disappear within two or three seconds, but this time was different. Soon, a huge swath of the forest was full of glowing, scintillant snow. I was pleased.  It wasn’t what I had been hoping for, but it was absolutely gorgeous; as much as I believe in the power of an image, nothing can quite capture what it’s like to be enveloped in a mass of candescent snow. The light was so warm and enveloping that it was easy to forget that the gleaming particles were frigid ice crystals.

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And then the wind picked up, bringing the floating blanket of snow in the direction that I had originally hoped for. This wasn’t the simple column of light that I had been searching for. It was thick, nearly opaque, and was stunning. All I could see was an intense glow, so I shot blindly. I love the resulting image; it doesn’t accurately reflect what I saw at the time, but still has a wonderful sense of being comfortably wrapped in a whirl of snow.

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Although you can’t tell from this shot, I was actually shooting blind – there was enough blowing snow that, to my eye, I was standing in a whiteout.

After the snow finally settled, I was content. I hadn’t necessarily captured my childhood memory, but I had created a new, and truly wonderful, one. That’s one of the things I love most about photography; although I may not always find what I set out in search of, I’m sure to discover something else equally, if not more, delightful. So, thinking that I had gotten the shot I wanted, and still basking in the literal glow of my new experience, I decided to experiment a bit. I’ve been making it a point to get out of my comfort zone;  things such as leaving my favorite lenses behind, adopting a different style than usual, or focusing on details that I would normally find uninspiring. In this case, I intentionally included lens flare.  And blown out highlights!  Crazy, I know. It’s not a style I favor, but I’m not entirely displeased with the result.

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I proudly present: Lens flare! Call me, J.J. Abrams.

Besides, this little experiment led to one of the highlights of my day. I was using my tripod, since the shot of the snow-covered leaves didn’t require the mobility I needed when I was attempting to capture a sunbeam, but had taken my camera off the tripod when I was distracted by some more snowfalls. I was a bit to the left of my tripod when an ominous creak warned me that the large pine above me was about to let its snow loose to my right. And I still really wanted a magical sunbeam shot. So I ran over my tripod. The first of the resulting images can be seen if you click through, and the one below is the second shot.

I was once again ecstatic, albeit fairly bruised.  This time, I had created the image that I had set out to capture. These are the childhood memories that I used to chase so enthusiastically. I was extremely fortunate to be able to record this image, as well to document my fantastic new experience with the forest-encompassing cloud of snow.

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Although these may not be the most striking images I’ve ever created, they have considerable personal significance, which isn’t true for all of my work. The process was fun, although it proved a bit challenging at times, but that makes the reward even greater. Between my surgery and the cold weather, I haven’t been particularly inclined to go outside, and I’m so fortunate that photography or, in this case, my desire to chase a memory, is a powerful enough incentive to lure me out of my slump. I get an incredible sense of satisfaction when I manage to capture exactly what I set out to create, and I get even more joy when something unexpected yet amazing presents an additional opportunity, as well as a new experience.

In addition to the images in the main post, the gallery below contains several other shots from the day – they’re good shots, they just didn’t serve my narrative as well as the ones in the main post. I recommend at least looking at the last image; it’s one of my favorites from the day!

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