Two days on the IAT

Playing in the snow on the Ice Age Trail.

The photos in the Bare Essentials posts, both One and Two, were taken at the same time as these. Landscapes are sometimes more difficult to pull off in winter, but I always give it a try.

One of the first things to jump out at me is how necessary footprints are in most winter trail shots. Unless the path is really distinct and obvious, it can be too obscured to function as a leading line. So sometimes I do more of this kind of thing on the way back to the car. Especially if the light is flat as it was on this first day when it was also snowing on and off.

Perspective is another thing I try to change up when I’m doing these. Trail shots can be really similar (see below) and shaking it up can keep things interesting. For these first two I crouched down quite low – basically sitting and made sure the snow was up nice and close. The curve up and over that little rise was what interested me and the low position enhanced that. After taking the first photo, the long lines of those fallen trees caught my attention and so I made them more prominent in this second one and I feel it’s a much stronger photo with a more deliberate feel to the composition. Probably should clone out that leaf in the immediate foreground though.

These next three illustrate what I mean by trail shots being ‘samey’. I like these, but none is terribly distinctive, at least not when presented together. With each one I tried placing a major element in the frame to move your eye along. In the first one, it’s the cut tree in the back. That has the most visual weight in the image and your eyes naturally go there.

This next one has the nicest light. I think the sun broke through just a tiny bit and so I just stopped to marvel at it. Because there isn’t anything dominating, my footprints snag the eye lead you through to the bend out of sight. I think the out of sight element is important in trail photos. To make the viewer wonder what’s around the bend. It’s part of what keeps us going on a trail – the unfolding mystery.

This one is probably the weakest because the anchor tree is a bit bedraggled and doesn’t make a big statement. At least IMO.

This foreground element makes a statement!

It’s the same cut tree in the photo above where it is placed in the back of the shot. Here it acts like a gateway or a door and says ‘voila’. It’s inviting and has immediate presence. The far end of the trail is shrouded in falling snow and I like how it disappears out of sight.

By the time I turned around it was snowing pretty heavily and I had to stop at this little walkway.

Here’s how it looked on October 1 –

Advance to a few days later on the other end of this same IAT segment. More hills and more sun. White balance was pretty critical here and I did my best to get it right in camera. It was softly glowing and slightly warmer in tone than it was on my first day out. It didn’t snow, but there were clouds up there.

Most of the IAT is very well groomed and maintained, but sometimes the forest takes over. I liked this shot showing a little bit of what I think are raspberries coming into the trail. Does it work as well for you without footprints in the snow? Well, except for the ones the deer made.

Every now and then the sun came through softly, but with enough strength to create shadows. The smooth snow is the star here and so I set up before I walked through. Photoshop came in handy to emphasize the clean canvas quality.

In this case though, it’s the footprints that really add interest to the scene. And I went with a black and white conversion, too. Mostly because the light wasn’t doing anything interesting. With flatter light I tend to want to stretch the dynamic range and pull apart the extreme white and black in the image. As I mentioned in the Bare Essentials 1 post, the sky always reflects in the snow, but when the sky is flat or just plain white from clouds, you really need black and white to pull these off. I use a touch of dehaze in a local adjustment brush to paint in contrast where the footprints are.

I’ve been out a couple times since this, on the days it wasn’t below zero, but didn’t get anything nearly as good. The light has just been too flat, but it works for more intimate scenes so there will be some of those.

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