Seeing the Familiar in a Different Way
Before we get started, on Friday February 26, at 7pm, I’ll be the featured presenter at the Pinelands Preservation Alliance’s Lenses on the Pinelands online event. At the event I’ll be presenting the the work of some of the amazing photographers who photograph the New Jersey Pinelands. Learn more and register here.
Snow in the New Jersey Pine Barrens isn’t common, so with three straight days of it comes photographic opportunities. Although the accumulation in the Pines was light compared to surrounding areas, it still turned the Pine Barrens into a different landscape. Below are the results of getting to see the familiar in a little different way.
Day 1 – Snow Falling On Cedars
Sorry for the movie/book reference. With the snow falling, I headed to a favorite Cedar Swamp. Usually snow barely makes it to the ground in these swamps because of the thick tree canopy. What does happen is the ground and trees will get glazed with snow, especially the trees at the edge of a swamp.
Day 2 – Still Snowing
The second day of the storm continued with high winds and a mix of snow, sleet and freezing rain. My wife and I originally had an idea where we wanted to go, but as we got closer the rain was outpacing the snow. Knowing an area means being able to come up with a Plan B on the fly. Plan B was heading to Pakim Pond in Brendan Byrne State Forest. This state forest is known for many things. One is the cute little Pakim Pond which is as close as the Pine Barrens landscape gets to being called cute.
The Pond looked very different that day. The storm made for a less genteel scene. I’ve never noticed this composition before. The misty precipitation created a series of nice layers along the shoreline of the pond. It was also interesting to see how the Pine Barrens’ tea colored water was absorbed into the ice creating a nice subtle color variation.
Another interesting place in Brendan Byrne State Forest is the White Pine forest. White Pines are not native to the area. They were planted in a couple of locations during the depression era probably under the notion that a pine tree is a pine tree. Native or not, these trees can be very photogenic. Here a small White Pine is flanked by two native Pitch Pine trees.
Day 3 – A Sun Pillar Finale
When my friend Rafal asked me to join him on a sunset shoot, I almost turned him down. After two days of photographing snow in cold, wet and windy conditions, staying home in a warm house seem like a great idea. However the forecast looked like there could be some nice light at sunset, so off I went. We spent a cloudy afternoon wandering around the Whitesbog area watching the sky hoping for conditions to change enough for a nice sunset. We were not disappointed.
As the sun went below the horizon, a beam of light shot up in the sky. This phenomena is called a Sun Pillar. It happens when sunlight passes through ice crystals in the atmosphere.
Surprise! – Another Snow Day
A few days after the three day storm, as I was writing this post, we had another short, but intense snow storm. Here is what we found wandering around the Pine Barrens during that one.
Here are some pointers for photographing snow:
- Shoot while it is still snowing – falling snow makes nice textures in the landscape. Whether you use a longer shutter speed to blur the snow flakes or a fast one to freeze them in place, the resulting textures can be great.
- Photograph before the snow falls off the trees – Usually wind and higher temperatures after a snowfall will cause the snow to melt off or fall off tree branches causing the snowy landscape to lose some of its charm.
- Make sure your lens is clear – It is always important to protect your gear from the elements. Snow flakes or raindrops on your front lens element probably won’t break your camera, but it can ruin your photographs. Take your time. Check and clean the front of your lens frequently between shots, especially when shooting into the wind.
- The longer you wait, the less pristine the landscape – After a day or two, snow will start to get a lived in look. It becomes dirty, full of both animal and human footprints, melts, and will no longer have that beautiful pristine look of fresh fallen snow.
- Be Careful!!!! – If you drive or hike during a snow storm, make sure you and your vehicle can handle it. 4-wheel drive is an aid, not a cure to slippery roads. Driving skills and experience help gauge if travel is possible. If you hike, the deeper the snow, the slower you will go, especially carrying camera gear. Knowing what you can and cannot handle is the best skill you can bring to a bad weather photoshoot.
Counter Point – An Old Snow Opportunity
Several days after the last storm, I went for an exploratory hike and wasn’t intending to photograph anything. Normally I would have left my camera gear at home, but a new backpack has been a game changer for me. It turned out having a camera was a good thing. Commercial time, sorry, but I really like this backpack. It’s a MindShift PhotoCross 13 by ThinkTank. It is small, very adjustable for comfort and light. That day I was carrying a camera, two lenses, tripod and other gear on hike and bushwhack through a cedar swamp. The best thing is that the pack is designed so you don’t have to take it off to get your equipment out. This is ideal for wet, muddy, dirty and/or other locations where you don’t want to put your pack down.
While exploring I came upon a deer trail. Deer make trails to places they want to go and they are usually tight and very meandering. This one however was a literal deer highway. This web resolution version of the photograph may not show it clearly, but all the footprints on this path, and there are a lot, are deer hoofs. This trail ran for several hundred yards making it a rare straight path through a swamp. Although I just advised against photographing when snow gets old, here was an opportunity to show some interesting wildlife behavior.
Speaking of backpacks, I was just asked to be an Ambassador for ThinkTank. They make great ways to carry camera gear and other photo accessories. I have recently become a huge fan their MindShift line of Backpacks and now own two. Check out Mindshift here. If you buy anything from this link or the one above, you get free shipping on orders over $50 and a free accessory for your purchase.
I hope you enjoyed this post. Please feel free to leave a comment below. Enjoy!
Great article, looking for more snow this week, I hope. Looking forward to your presentation.
Very nice article, Rich. This is why I had wanted to visit the Pine Barrens last summer. Too far for me to drive in the Winter with bad weather. I WILL make it there, yet!
Not surprised at the beauty you depicted! You do amazing work! I enjoy your narrative and even your advice on “Photographing Snow” and your “Old Snow Opportunity” Well done my friend!
An unforgettable Sun Pillar and a wonderful time shooting together that day. I think I already wrote on FB that “Whiteout” deserves to be printed.
Good info, awesome pics! Thank you!