We have had our first snap of winter with snow throughout the UK. For the outdoor photographer the arrival of a winter with snow is something of a blessing for the portfolio.
Many of us have the opportunity to grab the occasional image of the glowing sunset and sunrise, the autumnal colours of the trees are guaranteed every year and the summer will always deliver (even if in limited numbers) days of bright sunshine, but the winter wonderland has always been considered as illusive.
I have been recalling the fabulous snow of last year. I remember seeing the weather forecast with announcements of snow and thought little of it. That was until it actually arrived. I was stunned. And after it arrived it certainly did not want to leave! I had the fortunate opportunity to head out to two locations that winter and both rewarded with very different offering. The first location was close to my home in Lancashire and the second was an arduous trip over Rannoch Moor into Glen Coe, a place I certainly love to be with a camera.
Photographing in snow and harsh winter conditions sets new challenges for the outdoor photographer. The landscape itself is totally transformed by one simple fall of snow. On of the greatest challenges in outdoor and landscape photography is simplifying the chaos that is nature. Snow does a great job of this in one main way. It almost makes everything monochrome just revealing shape and form, which is something I seek out as a predominately black and white photographer.
Besides it being difficult under foot and cold, operating your equipment can be a major challenge. When I went out close to home I worked with a DSLR and quickly noticed that I was far from acclimatised to the conditions. I just grabbed my kit, jumped into my warm car and headed down the country lanes where I was faced with a vast array of opportunities. When I left the car I soon discovered that after about an hour the cold rendered my hands pretty much useless and the camera controls where close to impossible to use. This was immensely frustrating as my mind was telling me, 'You wont get this opportunity again for years!' but the excitement pushed me on and I made a series of images that were worth every moment of numb fingers and thumbs.
Glen Coe and Rannoch Moor where totally different challenges all together! Firstly the usual six-hour drive took about eight because of slow motorways and closures. (This was my commute nightmare!) Secondly, it is colder up there. Sounds like a simple statement but believe me it really is! I made it over a snowy Rannock Moor and checked into the Kings House Hotel. It began to snow and blizzard did not stop for two days! I was in awe of the place. Well what I could see of it! It was a total white out. During the two days I had very small pockets of time in which to get out with a camera. I must admit that without my Land Rover this would have been impossible which could only just navigate its way along the roads which where only identifiable by 'pole-markers' on the roadside.
On the last full day the weather did break and the road was once again passable. I managed to get out onto Rannoch Moor and onto the edge of Loch Ba and Lochan nah Achlaise. The snow was up to my waist and the going was incredibly tough. With a 40 kilogram pack on my back and tripod in hand I simply sunk down the entire depth of the drifted snow. By the time I had picked my way to the edge of the frozen water I was exhausted and my main concerns was that I could not actually be sure if I was suspended on the frozen ice of the Lochan or stood on solid ground. I tentatively exposed a number of sheets of film during those few hours and the wind and light changed at all times. In some places I could see cracks in the ice that I was standing on and the bubbles moving beneath constantly reminded of the fact that if I was to fall through the ice I would almost certainly not get out again.
It is worth bearing in mind that snow is never actually white. Our eyes and brain do a good job telling us ti is but this is not actually the case at all. Snow is made of millions of individual crystals of ice, like mini-lenses,
Those experiences in Scotland and near to home last winter have certainly whetted my appetite for more winter photography. There is something unique about the cold, the wind and the self-control needed to persevere in such conditions, certainly with a large format camera and regardless of the long drive and the long wait for the blizzard to clear, each time I look at the images they remind me of one of my most memorable trips with my camera.
Looking out of the window now I am thinking that I may have the same opportunities again. Now, where is my thermos?
© Paul Gallagher