"Hard Times" - A Snow-Covered Dolly Sods, West Virginia

Last month as winter was just beginning to pick up here and there, I made my way to West Virginia to photograph during a day of light snow showers. Surprisingly, the snow, as well as some ice, had begun to accumulate in the higher elevations of Dolly Sods. To get to the top of the plateau requires a drive up a steep dirt forest road, or, in snowier conditions, a hike with snowshoes. I decided to make the attempt to drive up. The snow began to pile up as I gained elevation. A dusting turned into an inch. An inch turned into a few inches. Traction was iffy but doable, as long as I didn't stop. I was committed! Eventually reaching the top, I was greeted with stiff winds and freezing temperatures. It was brutal, but I donned my parka and hopped out of the car. The beauty overcame most of the discomfort, and how beautiful it was. As clouds whipped overhead, sunlight penetrated and darted across the distant mountain ridges. Every rock and crevice was coated in a thick layer of ice. Snow dust whipped and whirled around. Satisfied with my images, I headed back to the car to brew some hot coffee and cook some Ramen.

"Hard Times" - A snow-covered Dolly Sods, West Virginia.

About the Image: In the field, I decided to take multiple exposures of this composition. One image was exposed brighter for a proper exposure of the foreground, and the other a bit darker for the sky. This is standard practice for me when shooting landscapes with a wide dynamic range. Once home, I layer both images together in Photoshop and then mask out the sky to merge the two images together while keeping the best parts of both. This accomplishes the same thing as a graduated neutral density filter, but I like that I have more control over the process and can achieve a seamless transition along the horizon. As I began processing this image, however, I realized that the clouds were moving so quickly that the sunbeam had moved quite a bit in the few seconds between my two exposures. I didn't want the light on the land to be in a different area than the sunbeam stretching into the sky, so I had to figure out another way to process the image. I achieved that by creating a copy of one of the files, and then pushing the exposure of that copy by a stop and a half. Then, bringing both the copy with the brighter exposure, and the original into Photoshop, I was able to blend as I normally would have if I had two exposures. Perhaps a graduated neutral density would have been better in this case with the fast moving clouds, but this method also worked just fine. It's all about having the right tools in your toolbox!

"Hopeful Moment" - Backlit Snow Showers on a Winter Hillside, Monongahela National Forest, West Virginia

I learned a valuable lesson while taking this image. I travelled all the way to the mountains of West Virginia with the hopes of photographing intimate ice patterns. However, the previous days had not been quite cold enough to form much ice. The weather forecast called for partly cloudy, and without any ice to photograph, subjects were hard to come by. I didn't let that tamper my mood. I decided to continue exploring and just have some fun. To be in the moment. As I drove down a gravel road I discovered the scene in the photograph. A beautiful snow shower and winter pines backlit by a mid-afternoon sun. The lesson? Forget the weather forecast. Forget having an itinerary of what to photograph that is set in stone. If I had known that there would be no ice, I very likely would have never driven three hours to get to West Virginia in the first place, and that would be a damn shame. When photographing, try to remember what it was like when you first picked up your camera. Remember the time before you became just a little jaded. It's a hard lesson to follow, and one that I will likely relearn over and over throughout my life. I look forward to it.

"Hopeful Moment" - Backlit snow showers and winter pines on a hillside in Monongahela National Forest, West Virginia.

About the Image: I utilized my 70-200 to zoom in on the hillside while still providing a sense of scale and to include many snowflakes in the image. A longer lens might have looked nice to show off the pines, but I would have lost the oppossing diagonals as well as the nice gradient of light from bright in the upper right and darker in the shadows elsewhere. Additionally, I made sure to use a high enough shutter speed to freeze the motion of the snow.

Techs: Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon 70-200 f/4 @ 113mm. 1/1000th second, f/5.6., ISO 400. Tripod.

"Winter Kaleidoscope" - Ice Patterns with Reflected Sunset Light

Forget about "Snowzilla", I was more excited for the single digit lows a few days before the big storm hit us. I ended up exploring two new locations, Theodore Roosevelt Island, and Rock Creek Park, in search of exciting ice patterns. I don't know how, but every year I stay jazzed up about Capturing new images of ice. It's a bit like a treasure hunt, you never know what you're going to find. 

"Winter Kaleidoscope" - Ice Patterns with Reflected Sunset Light, Rock Creek Park, Washington D.C.

About the Image: I've photographed this particular flavor of ice a few times before. Always from above. Always in shadow. The shapes are cool enough, and make for a decent image of repeating triangles. I strive to move forward creatively, though, and photographing these patterns from the top in flat light just wasn't cutting it. As I moved around the scene photographing other bits of ice, I noticed that the warm light of sunset on a distant hillside was casting some lovely, lively, light onto the ice. Especially so when I placed the camera very low to pick up the reflections. It looked beautiful to my eye, but how could I record this with my camera and keep the depth of field large enough to render the entire scene in focus from such a sharp angle? Not even f/32 resulted in a sharp image, so I decided to do a focus blend. With my lens at f/11, I changed focus slightly over the course of 8 images, from front to back. Later, I utilized Photoshop's focus stacking tool to piece them together into one sharp, perfectly focused frame.

Techs: Canon 7D, Canon 70-200 f/4 + 500D Closeup Filter. 0.3 seconds, f/11, ISO 100. Focus Blend. Tripod.

"Skyward Gaze" - Wintry sunset, Bear Rocks, Dolly Sods, West Virginia

I'm going back through the archives this afternoon and found a gem that I never got around to processing. It was early winter when I managed to drive my Toyota Rav4 up a snowy and muddy forest road to the top of Dolly Sods. I knew I might be in for a treat with the sunset, but in West Virginia the light can change very quickly and often ends in a blocked out sun. Nevertheless, I managed to get some truly beautiful light with a wonderful beam rising towards the sky. If you look closely at the potholes in the foreground, you will notice that they are the same ice formations that I photographed for the image "Celadon", seen here: http://www.chriskayler.com/blog/celadon-cracked-blue-ice-atop-dolly-sods-west-virginia ... Thanks for looking, as always!

"Skyward Gaze" - Wintry sunset atop Bear Rocks, Dolly Sods, Monongahela National Forest, West Virginia.

Techs: Canon 7D, Canon 10-22 @ 10mm. 1 second, f/13, ISO 100. Tripod. Blend of two exposures.