Landscape by Keith Ratcliffe © 2007
The softening snow
Even from my bed I can usually tell when we have had an overnight fall of snow. In the first moments of consciousness the sound is the first signal. A silent stillness outdoors provides the initial indication. Distant sounds of traffic on the motorway are absent and as a car drives past our house it rumbles on tyres that make a distinctive crumpling noise and the engine noise is muffled by the layer of snow on the road.
On opening my eyes the second indication is the brightness – all that white light penetrates the curtains or spills through gaps to fill the room with a diffused glow. Pulling back the drapes reveals the white blanket of fresh snow that has been laid over the land while I slept.
The transformation of light by snow produces a tremendous range of different effects. The pure blinding reflection of sunlight off a snowy landscape is harsh and difficult to manage for the photographer – it easily renders as dull grey unless you expose carefully. The multiple reflections off several objects and surfaces delivers a sparkle that is equally difficult to reproduce in an image.
Light also reveals the texture in snow and the forms that it produces – blue grey shadows from mounds constructed on tussocks of grass – pinpoint rays of light revealing the minute structure of the frozen water particles. There is also its softening mood. Diffuse light from overcast skies on a line of leafless trees after a fresh fall of snow reduces the scene to the two components of the monochrome image. This simplification process lowers the key to a minor level and has a calming effect on the viewing eye.
Snow softens the landscape too. On a grand scale the whole shape of the land is evened out into a rolling mass of white humps and dips. On a minor level the textures of grass and rock are lost to a bleached uniform surface with rounded objects set in it. There are occasional bursts of high contrast – when a half covered boulder reveals its dark side or a black rock in a stream is capped with a whirl of ice cream topping.
I love the effect of wind blown snow on tree trunks which creates those vertical strips of dark & light reminiscent of liquorice allsorts. I always note that they seem pure black & white even though the trunk is probably grey-green and the snow slightly blue. Is this the monochrome photographers eye at work?
If we look closer at the snow crystals themselves we see a strange paradox. These jagged hexagonal composites of infinite variety join together in their millions to manufacture one of nature’s smoothest artforms – the snowy landscape – a multitude of sharp clear crystals transformed into a smooth blanket of uniform white.
© Keith Ratcliffe
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