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Photographing the 2015 Boston Blizzard: Part 2 The Artistic/Macro approach

I know spring is coming but let’s rewind a little bit to this blizzard we underwent during this winter because it offered very interesting things. So how do you photograph extreme conditions in a way nobody does? It depends on the way you look at it.

Part 1 of this series had a common approach winter photography, mostly from a landscape photography point of view. Here, I wanted to explore the situation with a different eye. I wanted to look at perspectives that people wouldn’t see by themselves. I wanted to look at those tiny things that we would forget, but that the camera lens can make us see differently, thanks to the depth of field and bokeh that our eye cannot reproduce naturally.

 Pure Macro Close-ups

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1 to 1.5 inch for this icicle. The sun gave me this refraction bokeh.

By the way, just imagine one second if we could control our depth of field just with our iris? Wouldn’t that be incredible? Swiss researchers have created the first eye contact lens able to zoom x2.8 just with a blink! Amazing! Anyway, that was the revolutionary high-tech parenthesis.

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1 inch max for these icicles.

Icicles are a good examples. They can be enormous like in the pictures of the first part or tiny like these ones that are actually about 1 to 1.5 inch only(2.5 a 3.8cm). That’s definitely something that you can’t see while walking on the street. The objective here was clearly to get something pure and/or abstract. Macro photography is great to achieve this kind of pictures. For these 3 pictures I used my 90mm f/2.8 macro lens open at maximum aperture (f/2.8). The light was bright, the speed between 1/1200 sec and 1/4000. The depth of field is actually a bit too shallow which can give an impression of blur when seen cropped at 100%. That’s because the surface of the icicles is curved so it goes a little bit out of focus. I should have checked on site but this light was particularly good the day we experienced -24F (-31C) degrees! It wasn’t the best moment to take time and review all the shots one by one unfortunately. Staying warm was trully a challenge and taking care of the camera at these temperatures was another one.

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Here the sunset played a big role in the choice of my composition. I shot against the light on purpose either way to have an abstract form like above or have a suggestion of the sunset in the picture below. My APS-C format camera was pushed to its limit here at 1/4000sec. A full-frame camera would naturally have been better but the results is abstract and that’s what I was looking for. However, since I often shoot in extreme light conditions I’ll uprade to the Sony A7II next month which will literally be a delight in those conditions as well as the dark conditions that I encounter with my butterfly shots at dawn.

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Those 2 last shots could have been shot with an aperture between 3.2 and 4.5 which would have reduced the size of the sun but increased the depth of field that’s too shallow here and then make disappear this impression of blur. This was quite a fun subject to photograph in macro, trying to get an artistic approach.

Playing with Textures: Creating “Landscapes”

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Another interesting exercise is to create “landscapes” from tiny parts of your environment. It has to be at dawn or sunset to have the best light that would emphasize the shadows thanks to the textures. Snow is a constantly moving element thanks to the wind and the temperatures. You will necessarily find somewhere or something interesting that will catch your eye.

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Either try to get something very pure or with a lot of contrasts with the shadows. That’s what I wanted to have with this series. Every irregularity at the surface of the snow can be something interesting. The very little thing coming out of the snow becomes a tree, a forest, or just a plant struggling but it always tells a story. Just know how to catch it by your composition and by catching the light. Try to use original angles, in my case I like to shoot as close as possible to the ground or surface of the snow. That works for most macro shots anyway. Shooting against the light is also something that often yields extraordinary renderings but be careful with your exposure. you can either play with it to have silhouetted shots, high or low key shots. It’s very fun to play with the exposure in these conditions. Use the spot metering mode for that.

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The picture underneath could be a landscape taken in the north pole with huge snow banks created by the wind. The area that is in-focus here is actually a couple of feet wide only.

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Also, snow can get boring in terms of colors after a long series. If you’re doing a series while in town, or close to a town, you can try to use the public lights for bokeh purpose pictures. Some light can appear like the sun setting at the horizon if you manage to get the right perspective. click on the images to see them better.

For animal lovers, don’t forget our friends, squirrels or little birds. They can be great subjects in here. the best is always to take a long focal and hike in desertic places to shoot wildlife like arctic foxes but for those who can’t, you can train on little birds. you could be surprised at what you can get from them, especially if you catch them taking off or landing.

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And finally, don’t forget the magical effect of the wind and the atmosphere that it can provide to your photographs. I think it goes without saying. It either brings a magical effect or mystery or is a witness of the extreme conditions you’re facing. You can also see that in a couple of pictures in the first part of this article here.

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Chris

‘Till next photography adventure.

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