A Hiking Photo Experience
A Snow Hike
A Snow Hike

A Snow Hike

At the end of January, we decided to try hiking a summit that we hiked already in summer. The experience during summer was pretty nice so that we wanted to try another path up and see the peak in winter. The weather forecast was stable and cloudy. It hadn’t snowed for quite a while, so I thought chances are high that some people where already at the summit before us and made up the track already. Especially in winter this is pretty preferable as walking in fresh snow is not just quite exhausting, but also a little challenge to navigation as all the paths are hidden under the snow.

Long story short: off we went! We packed our backpacks, prepared for the cold and drove to the starting location of our tour. Right there, temperature was definitely “quite fresh”. But we didn’t hesitate long, got ourselves ready and started our tour on a frozen forest road. Little later we turned to a small path through the forest and upwards. I quickly realized that there had been far less people before us on the track than I assumed during planning the trip. The track was clearly visible – but even in the forest there was considerable amount of snow and I knew that we were to cross some glades later. – And that there would be much more snow there.

The decision had to be made when we came to the junction on the glade where the track splits: upwards, towards the summit or straight ahead around the mountain and stay in lower altitude. Long story short: The decision was easy: up to half a meter snow and no visible track leading upwards. It would have simply been a stupid decision to even try it.

Photography wise l first saw nothing but snow. Just as I took a moment to settle, I realized the track as a leading line from the foreground to my wife as a colorful eyecatcher within all the gray in the midground. The midground having some soft curves is quite minimalistic and should have a counterpart somewhere in the photo. The background is limited by the small bushes in the top left and trees on the hill side. The big tree on the right is a good counterweight to the diagonal of the hill side. Otherwise, the whole photo might want feel like falling to the right. In the foreground, I find the track strong enough to counterbalance the empty space in the midground. It also anchors the eye of the viewer to a starting point. I show both, landscape and portrait formats, as I want to leave it up to you which one is nicer.

Regarding the light on location and the RAW there was obviously something to do here. For example,

some global adjustments like increasing contrast, sharpness and contrast, heavily lowering the lights & increasing the depth, raising the white point to get a white-snow-impression and lowering the dark point so that the trees and bushes in the back almost turn black. Also decreasing the saturation to get even closer to black & white. Additionally some split toning to shift the shadows into a colder blue tone.

The person itself was brightened up and saturation increased again to have a real eye catcher. A diagonal ellipse is centered at the hiker for a vignetting that focuses to the center. The snow track received more contrast and dehaze via some brushing. Finally, the sky was dodged a little and the foreground received a linear gradient with additional contrast and some burning.

The portrait shot is almost similarly processed except that in the sky a circular gradient is used to dodge the area of the sun in order to avoid a totally flat and uniform sky.

Back to the hike! Alas, no summit today. The sky was grey throughout without any contours – not exactly what you want for beautiful photos. But changing the weather is out of my reach, so make the best out of it and continue the path. In some places the wind had blown away most of the snow just to pile it up at the next slope where we found ourselves crawling through hips deep snow. Luckily, it was powdery, so it wasn’t totally exhausting go on.

After passing a bridge over a little creek I looked back and was attracted by the composition that just popped into my eyes. Yet I wasn’t fully convinced if I would find a proper crop as there was just too much and too much chaos in the scene. As we were just hiking on, I didn’t have a lot of time to find a “proper” composition and I just had to follow my intuition. I preferred choosing a shorter focal length and thus would have the ability to crop something off the borders. I did a couple of test shots to get a feeling about where I wanted the track to enter the photo and finally decided to step a bit off the track and let it enter more from the side (in contrast to the centered approach in the shots above). The centered composition was just heavily unbalanced and simply wasn’t appealing to me.

The first issue was to find a crop so that the whole image wasn’t cluttered all over! I tried a couple of crops and ended up with a quite large crop on the left. Same as in the shots above, Exposure and Contrast were raised a little. Lights heavily decreased, blacks medium increased and the white and black points adjusted. I quite increased structure and decreased clarity quite generously. Split toning finally gave the photo this extra blue touch. Regarding local adjustments, I brushed the path to increase clarity back, make a nice vignette and tune the sky. The sky was burned a bit, received quite some reduced clarity and enhanced contrast.

After catching up to my wife and passing a hut where we took a little break for a light meal, we started our way back through the nice soft snow scape. There was still no sun and thus almost no contours in the landscape so that I almost wanted to pack my camera into the backpack as I didn’t expect anything photo-worthy for the rest of the trip. Then after being half ways over a large alpine meadow, I noticed that shadows became stringer and everything around me became brighter. I turned around and just in that moment, the sun almost broke through! The clouds didn’t cover up completely – but far enough so that I could witness this magical scene of light and snow. With the clouds moving rather fast, I knew I had to be fast as well! No time for evaluating composition or tuning camera settings, just handle the situation intuitively and be quick!

This moment was the absolute highlight of the whole tour! This sudden change from flat gray sky to this amazing scene of snow, light, soft curves combined with the total silence and the certainty of the ephemerality of this moment that would just last for a very short time … It’s hard to describe this moment as it was quite emotional.

Not only was this moment very emotional, but it is indeed one of the best photos that I made in this winter season! Therefore, I will dedicate this photo a separate post.

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