Winter Wonderland vs Christmas Camera

That new, beautiful camera you found under the tree is still in its box. You’re a little frightened because of all the controls and hieroglyphics placed all over the thing. You know in your heart that it has the capability of taking photos worthy of National Geographic, but in its box, at least it’s safe.

It’s time to leave your comfort zone. The camera too. You see, if you don’t PLAY with it, you will never get GOOD at it. So it’s now play time.

We have so many beautiful spots locally, and even more in winter. Ice and water can be some of the coolest subjects. Pun intended.

monroe_Dawn's Frosty Arrival 2
Dawn’s Frosty Arrival

Here is the obligatory warning label. Don’t be stupid. These last couple below zero days remind me of a beautiful sunrise I just HAD to capture. 8 below, slippers and jammies on, sliding down the lane to the barn. As the wind began to penetrate the fleece jammies, I began to realize the “oopsie” I had just done, but I was going to tough it out.

Finding the perfect spot at the perfect moment, I got the shot. And lost a slipper in the snow. In trying to get the missing slipper on one foot, the other slid out from under me and I ended up face first in below zero snow, both slippers now missing and thoroughly frozen. I DID, however, save the camera at the expense of my back and shoulder.

My point? Dress for the foray into the cold. I could have spent those few moments dressing properly and putting boots on, and the image would still have been as good. It makes a funny story, but I wasn’t feeling very humorous when I got back to the house to find I had locked the door on my way out… The look on Janet’s face is a great subject for an entirely different story…

Second warning label. Don’t be in a hurry. Plan ahead when you can. Glass has this nasty habit of fogging up when you come in from the cold – you know this from the way your eyeglasses fog after taking the dogs out. Your camera is no different, except for the mass of the glass involved. It takes a WHOLE lot longer for the camera lenses to warm up from outside to inside than your eyeglasses do. My suggestion? Take a few minutes to warm up the car before driving to the beautiful iced waterfall.

Remember, good judgement comes from experience, and experience comes from POOR judgement. I drove from home to a portrait job in an ice-cold car – and when I got to the warm location, the camera was essentially useless until it warmed up and the fog on (and inside) the lenses evaporated. If the family had been in a hurry, it wouldn’t have ended well.

Taughannock Falls is a great thing to photograph in the winter. The ice formations around the top of the falls look rather like the teeth of a prehistoric monster and the thicker ice has the hint of a beautiful blue hue. For this example (on how to do it correctly), remember to warm up the car first. Keep the camera in its bag in the car and near the heater. Don’t cook it, but keep it warm.

We’re finally there. It’s a fair walk to the base of the falls but worth it. Today is overcast – the perfect weather for Taughannock. When the sky is blue and the sun is harsh, the shadow line cuts the gorge like a knife, and it’s fair impossible to get a good photograph.

It’s time to plan the shot. Momonroe_In Winter Actionst people say it’s beautiful, snap the photo and get back to where it’s warm – but not you. You have a new fancy camera, and damn it, you’re going to take a new fancy photograph.

Ok, pay attention now, I’m going to give you the core secret of excellent photography. Ready? Ok, here goes.

monroe_Winter Taughannock-
Taughannock Falls in January

“To get the image nobody else can get, you have to DO what nobody else is willing to DO.”

I find myself clambering down the bank of Taughannock Creek on to the ice, and set the tripod as low as it can go, maybe 10” off the ice. I sense the ice cracking and I can hear the burbling of the water underneath my prone body.

I squeeze the shutter slowly and I’ve got it. Well ok, I stayed and got a lot of images without moving. I didn’t dare move until I was completely done. Carefully, slowly, I edged back to the bank and struggled up the steep incline.

Here’s the last piece of advice I have for you today. When you get back to the car, your camera will be just about frozen. DO NOT put it next to the heater. Put it in the way back or at least on the back seat, in its bag. Let it warm slowly to keep it from fogging up again. You can, however, put yourself next to the heater. I’m sure you will be about frozen too.

And you won’t fog up. At least I hope you won’t.

Even with all I’ve told you about photography, visit the local falls anyway. Even the tiniest waterways are beautiful this time of year.

Enjoy our region. It’s beautiful, and it’s all within reach.

Then visit a Finger Lakes winery.

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