Snowfalls. Some tips about vision and technique

I see myself as a child, in Cortina d’Ampezzo, running in the backyard under a snowfall and countless snowflakes, with my mouth open, tongue out, looking upwards, towards that white sky that gave the greatest of entertainment. Every snowflake that rested on the tongue was a conquest to me. I counted them: ten, a hundred, a thousand. But only mentally, so I wouldn’t lose any.

I was thinking about this, while waiting for the snowfall under which I was, to give me the four conditions that, for me, a snowfall must have, so that it can be told and represented as you really want it: 1. The right snowflake density, 2. the right snowflake descent speed, 3. the right inclination in the direction of descent, 4. the right consistency of the snowflake.

Photographing the snow as it falls is simple, you just have tu push your button. But it is precisely at the moment when you want to give an interpretation that the snowfall must correspond exactly to what you want it to be, to get an interesting, personal result. I mean “your” vision of a snowfall.

Photographing snow is like photographing water: they are two very complicated elements. Both from a technical and authorial point of view. There are countless and suggestive ways of interpretation to crystallize one’s vision. But few, usually, are original. And without going into technical talks about light and exposure (which with water and snow are damned fundamental) to be able to work with and on those two elements there must be conditions "in nature". There are no other possibilities. The elements must be good at the start, you cannot re-create them. Whether it’s water or snow, everything has to be in the right place at the right time.

This story tells of the photograph of a spring snowfall under which I found myself, with some friends, walking towards Malga Dusler (1,782 m.), in the group of Odle. Coming out of the wood,  just above the path to the left, there is a series of perfectly aligned and narrow trees that, in summer, mix together with all the greenery of the landscape that surrounds them. So they don’t attract so much attention. But that day, for us, it was all completely milk-colored. And those dark-looking group of trees definitely stood out on that kind of white-out. The sky was starting to drop a few flakes, a slight transverse wind was blowing.

I thought and hoped that the snow would start to fall more profusely and the wind to reinforce laterally. I already had more or less the photograph in mind, my vision. I had been searching for that situation for a long time. So I stopped, I removed the camera from the casing that repaired it, already mounted on the tripod, and I positioned myself in front of trees. Starting at least to compose, waiting for density, speed, inclination and consistency to reach the right moment to shoot (even if it was not said to happen)

The four elements
While we’re waiting for the right moment… just let’s talk about for a minute of the four concepts list I mentioned above.

1 & 2 | Speed and inclination: to me photographing snow means to search for a graphism, a drawing. The "sign" that the snowflake will leave it’s a combination between the speed with which it descends and the shutter speed that we will have set on the camera to give the movement that kind of stroke that we want snow drawings. As i said, the mix between these two speeds, together with the angle of descent of the snowfall, will determine the type of sign that the snowflake will leave.

3 & 4 | Consistency and density. The type of snowflake we will be photographing will depend on the temperature and humidity conditions at the time of the shooting: from the heaviest and largest snowflake (with a big sign) suitable for a vertical snowfall, slow, soft, up to the driest and smallest one (with a light sign),  perhaps accompanied by a wind that blows sideways. The density between the flakes will then determine how many "strokes" we want to put inside our photograph. The two additional elements that will affect the result will be the light of that moment and our ability to manage exposure, to give that graphism more or less evanescence, more or less presence.

Okay, let’s go back to the snowfall. I waited about fifteen minutes for snow and wind to reinforce and meet my desires and expectations. As this seemed to happen I started to photograph with different types of shutter speed. But I was not satisfied. The descent of the snowflakes was too dense and slow or too vertical. Here you can see two photographs taken at that time, while waiting. As you will notice there were no conditions. I mean "those" conditions. So here we return to the initial concept that "the elements to work on/with must be good at the very start, you cannot re-create it”

I had to wait a few more minutes, no more. By some natural miracle the wind suddenly strengthened, the flakes began to swirl everywhere, and to them joined the snow resting on the ground that, blown by the wind, helped to create that white cloud that all mixed and confuses, so characteristic in snowstorms. I almost couldn’t see the camera, everything was getting wet. But everything was ready and at the right point: density, speed, inclination (angle), consistency. I needed nothing more than that. And that's what happened.

Snowstorm | Odle Group © Alberto Bregani, 2017

I photographed at 1/60 and f/13 with the 30mm I already had on the camera. Shutter speed at 1/60 to have that little of slowness for the stretch to be drawn as I wanted, and f/13 to have the right depth to get to the trees also keeping well in mind the flakes.

This is what I imagined I wanted to photograph. This is what I eventually photographed. And what you’ve read so far is the story :-)

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