Posted by: kerryl29 | January 24, 2011

Midwest Landscapes in Winter

Truth be known, I’m not a big fan of cold weather. While I enjoy looking at winter landscapes, I’d be lying if I said I spend an inordinate amount of time out photographing them.  Ordinarily I’ve become very cold very quickly when out in the snow, ice and cold winds and creativity typically takes a nosedive when discomfort sets in.

But last year I found something that made a big difference to preserving some degree of warmth and convenience when out in snowy climes–a (severely discounted at time of purchase) pair of Neos overshoes.  Suddenly, my feet could stay warm, making it possible for me to keep my entire body relatively comfortable and thereby finding it conceivable to stay out in the cold for hours at a time.  That was, previously, out of the question.

Hemlock Hill Black & White, Morton Arboretum, Illinois

The ability to push the cold aside meant it was easier to focus on the artful side of winter landscape photography.  Virtually all of my winter shooting is done close to my bases of operation in northeast Illinois and central Indiana.  Generally speaking, as I have noted in earlier entries, these aren’t among the most exciting locales for landscape imagery but after a fresh snow, they’re transformed into something almost entirely unrecognizable and, by extension, tinged with a nuanced bit of pseudo-exotica.

The Midwest winter landscape, immediately after a fresh snow, is transformed into a world largely devoid of color.  In my little corner of reality, fresh snow and blue skies are virtually oxymoronic; the presence of one all but precludes the existence of the other.  It’s not that blue skies never appear here in the winter; it merely seems that way.  But within a day of a fresh snow?  Almost literally never.  And thus, the largest source of likely color–other than white, gray and brown–is dispensed with.

Fresh Snow on Mature Firs Black & White, Eagle Creek Park, Indiana

As a result of this truism, I tend to look for one of two sets of things in this generally monochromatic environment–1 ) shapes/patterns that stand out in what often appears to be a grayscale world; and 2) the rare, noteworthy presence of other colors.

Evergreen in Winter Intimate, Morton Arboretum, Illinois

I convert a lot of winter scenes to black and white because of the aforementioned lack of color, and this typically allows strong patterns and forms to stand out in even bolder relief.  Boosting contrast in the final monochromatic processing will frequently offer these features an even greater prominence than they’d otherwise achieve.  The bold vertical lines of dark tree trunks take on a heightened importance when juxtaposed with the bright white of a fresh (preferably wet and heavy, rather than dry and powedery) snow.

West Side Trees Black & White, Morton Arboretum, Illinois

Many of these naturally monochrome winter scenes take on an abstract appeal as well, and that’s another dimension of imagery I invariably find myself attracted to when meandering around during winter shooting sessions.  Ice can be a wonderful source of such images, as can comparatively intimate perspectives on snow scenes.  Occasionally the two merge, often with enchanting results.

Ice, Snow & Water Patterns Black & White, Eagle Creek Park, Indiana

If colorless winter scenes pop when converted to a contrast-enhanced black and white presentation, scenes with colors other than the usual white, brown and gray have, arguably, an even more gripping impact.  Much like a scene where only a tiny element is rendered sharp in a sea of blur, scenes with a colorful element in a monochromatic environment grab the viewer’s eye and won’t let go.  A red barn in a snowscape; a colorful fall leaf in a shroud of snow; even a colorfully dressed person in a winter wonderland; all of these examples–and others, of course–reflect the powerful effectiveness of a minimalist use of color.

Clash of Seasons, Eagle Creek Park, Indiana

After the next snowfall, take a trip outside and let your eyes wash over the natural appeal of the winterscape.  Be prepared to view things differently than you would at other times of the year.

Late Winter Fog Black & White, Ft. Harrison State Park, Indiana

As an addendum, a form of effective winter photography that doesn’t depend on fresh snow can come with a decent snow cover and a warm, damp day, because such conditions often result in the great equalizer in landscape photography–thick fog.  I’ll blog on the merits of fog in general on landscape photography at some point in the (hopefully near) future, but for now, simply consider the appeal of fog as it might pertain to otherwise appealing winter scenes.  The conditions don’t occur especially frequently, but I try to be prepared when they do because the imagery in such circumstances can be magical.



  1. I’m happy to see you address the winter landscape, Kerry. IMO, far too many amateur photographers avoid this season when it can produce very dramatic photos composed for texture, pattern, abstracts, as well as classic landscapes and B/W’s.

    In my favorite WV Highlands locations winter snows begin late October and the season doesn’t let up until late March. Aside from the singularly unique beauty and variety of winter subjects–fresh snow or not–that’s a long time to go without the mandatory practice in the field that is required to keep field skills fresh. Another benefit is the refinement of discipline, honing of technique, and focus on creative vision that is afforded by forcing concentration on the subject.

    There’s old wisdom regarding woodcraft that is applicable here: if you can stay warm and dry and nourished, you will enjoy the back-country regardless of season or weather. Keeping the feet warm as you have noted is one key to enjoying this crisp season. Another is keeping the head warm as most heat loss occurs there.

    As an aside, I really like “Clash of Seasons” for its startling simplicity and voice, and the sharply defined texture of “Evergreen in Winter Intimate”.

    • Jim, thanks for weighing in. Plenty to chew on, as always.

  2. Kerry, thank you for this very helpful, very inspiring post, and beautiful photos to boot! 🙂

    • Thanks very much, Tim.

  3. […] Midwestern winters, as I suggested in my most recent blog entry, ideal conditions frequently revolve around the immediate aftermathvof fresh snowfalls.  (Again, […]

  4. Few good eyes could compare with yours…

    • Thank you very much; that’s high praise indeed.

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