Sunday, May 03, 2009

End Of A Kananaskis Winter

I suspected that this would be my last time out in Kananaskis Country for that last taste of winter. It seems as though winter has been here forever and would never leave. However, having said that, I could not pass up one last visit to Kananaskis Country where a fresh dump of snow was forcasted to blanket the landscape. The forecast had called for snow along the front ranges of the Rockies, and that included Kananaskis Country. I was up early, and with a fresh brewed cup of coffee in the cup holder, I headed out towards Bragg Creek. I had plans for later in the afternoon, and being that I could not get to far from home, I decided a drive west of Bragg Creek along highway 66 towards Elbow Falls would do nicely. I would not be able to travel beyond Elbow Falls due to the fact that the winter-gate is still keeping highway 66 closed beyond that point. The countryside from Calgary west to Bragg Creek was totally without snow other that remnants of snow here and there. I was beginning to wonder as to whether or not I was going to see any snow, when it was as if I threw a switch. Just a few kilometers west of Bragg Creek, I ran in to a winter wonderland. Better yet, not only was there fresh snow, but with those warm spring temperatures, the snow had stuck to everything including the trees, creating beautiful scenes in all directions. The skies were still overcast, although the snow had stopped falling sometime overnight. Before long I was happily setting up my tripod and camera for my first photo. The main problem with snow is that its brilliant and its highly reflective tones fool the camera's metering system. All cameras have built in metering systems that are designed to deliver a perfect picture assuming the contrast range is normal. This is fine when the subject has a wide tonal range with everything from black to white being present, but when the subject is predominantly white, such as snow, the camera underexposes so that the white becomes grey. All you need to do is override the camera's automatic setting using the exposure compensation setting on a full auto camera or by going to manual on a more advanced camera or DSLR. If you set the exposure compensation to either plus 1 and 2 stops depending on the amount of snow in the picture, your results will be much better. If your camera has an exposure lock, usually set by half pressure on the shutter button, point it at a mid tone to lock the exposure before recomposing and taking the photograph. The palm of the hand usually gives a good result. Using a digital camera, it's a simple matter to take a photo, look at the histogram and then gradually adjust the exposure compensation, taking a photo at each step until the highlights are just inside the right end. That gives a point to start from. If possible, shoot in RAW as colour casts can be a problem with significant blue hues in the shadows. This can be made less intrusive by altering the colour temperature when opening the RAW file. It is also quite easy to go too far to the right and burn out the detail in the snow so its an idea to turn on the highlight alert function which makes burnt out areas blink on the LCD to alert you to the problem. This isn't such a problem if you are shooting raws as exposure can be corrected at the conversion stage but you need to be very careful if you are shooting jpegs, as burnt out highlights are next to impossible to recover in post processing. Snow scenes lend themselves well to experimentation and the very nature of the tricky exposure can often result in some very beautiful surprises. Try overexposing several frames by two or three stops to give them that blizzardy washed out look. Another fun thing to try is a soft focus filter. The effect is a dreamy ethereal look to the photo. Within a few hours of my arrival in K Country, the snow had fallen from the trees and it was time for me to head back, but not before stopping in Bragg Creek for a Chai Tea Latte at the Boardwalk Cafe. So, leaving Kananaskis Country and knowing this was would be the last photos of winter was somewhat sad, however my thoughts were on the days ahead, hiking the Kananaskis back-country, and fly-fishing for cutthroat trout in its high-country lakes and streams. Gotta love it.

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