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Winter Blanket, Cook's Meadow, Yosemite

Posted by
Gary Hart (California, United States) on 4 January 2010 in Landscape & Rural and Portfolio.

Here's the third in what I guess has become a Yosemite winter series. In this image Half Dome peeks through the clouds to find Cook's Meadow decorated in white by a departing winter storm (look closely and you can see the snow is still falling).

I thought I'd try to get a few words in before the photography police haul me away for breaking "the rule of thirds," which says (among other things), "Thou shalt not split your scene in the middle." But honestly, like many pros I'm a serial offender of this and many other photography "rules." The truth is, I've yet to find a rule in photography that couldn't be broken, and sometimes (don't tell anyone) consider these rules a personal challenge.

Photography requires a difficult synergy of the right (creative) and left (analytical) brains. The left brain keeps track of "the rules," guides your fingers to the correct dials and buttons on your camera, and helps you understand why something does or doesn't work--pretty much everything to take you right up to the shot. The more you can make that stuff second nature, the better your results will be, because ultimately you're an artist (really!) and not a scientist, and the thinking part of your brain interferes with your creative process. In other words, when you're in the field searching for and capturing evocative scenes of nature you need to tell your left brain to shut up.

Imagine a golfer who works and works on his swing, over and over practicing the coordination of legs, hips, arms, hands, and head until it becomes second nature. All of that repetition is absolutely essential to his success, but he can't think about any of it during competition--when the chips are down he turns off all conscious thought and does what feels right.

As a photographer you need to get out with your camera as much as possible, play with the controls, take lots of pictures, experiment, evaluate everything and try to understand what does and doesn't work. Look at the work of others with the same critical eye, and create shots in your mind even when you don't have a camera. But when Mother Nature delivers the magic, be ready to turn off your brain and shoot with your heart.

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Thanks for visiting. Even if I don't respond, your comments are always read and appreciated.

AR.Tara from Tehran, Iran

Wow! Here, in my city we haven't any heavy snow from 2 years ago.

4 Jan 2010 5:41am

@AR.Tara: Where I live I haven't seen snow in 25 years. Fortunately I only have to drive about 45 minutes to see all the snow I want. And Yosemite is about a 3 1/2 hour drive for me.

Joan Felix from Jakarta, Indonesia

WOW... WOW again.. perfect color,perfect composition, perfect angle.. EXCELLENT

4 Jan 2010 7:51am

Dulcie from Danville, CA, United States

Half Dome is magnificent, again, but the real star here is the unusual texture of snow. Wonderful evocative image.

4 Jan 2010 7:54am

Babzy from Besançon, France

really amazing shot :)

4 Jan 2010 8:01am

Tamara from Aarschot, Belgium

Wow if the landscape wasn't present on this shot (trees and mountains) you could think it's on another planet ! Strange how the snow looks on the ground here. Well done :)

4 Jan 2010 9:01am

Daniel from Kenmare, United States

amazing snow formations.

4 Jan 2010 1:10pm

Shahryar from Isfahan, Iran

superb :)

4 Jan 2010 2:10pm

Don Smith from California, United States

I love the last line of your narrative Gary - perfectly stated!

4 Jan 2010 2:58pm

@Don Smith: Thanks, Don.

Tracy from La Selva Beach, United States

Fantastic! OK, so I can see a couple of broken rules- the rule of thirds, that you mentioned, and also the fact that the tree is smack- dab in the middle of the frame....So I am asking myself why DOES this work for me?
The answer seems multi-faceted, and not easy to articulate....The image may be split half & half, but it doesn't feel like it is. There seems to be more visual weight on the top half. But the fact that you've taken it from such a low angle, to make the snow larger than the other elements balances it out. Then there's the color in the top and white in the bottom, making the snow a place to lead me in along the textured bumps but not get stuck there...My eye lands at the tree, then follows the outward branching to all the other elements around it.
Bottom line- I can tell this comes from the heart, and that's what I can feel here, and what makes it ultimately work for me, rules or not.
Guess that's just a long-winded way to say "I love it!"

4 Jan 2010 4:35pm

@Tracy: Thanks for your thoughts, Tracy. What strikes me is the roundness theme throughout the image--the snow, tree, Half Dome, and even the clouds. I wasn't conscious of that as I composed, but it seems so clear now. That's the real paradox of photography--creating a composition that works requires turning off the very analysis that helps us understand why it works. Fortunately we can analyze the image later, like this. I really believe that if we do more of this kind of analysis when we're away from the camera, and less when we're behind the camera, the more success we'll have.

Sean McCormack from Galway, Ireland

The foreground shapes in the snow act as a lead ins to the rest of the scene, which is why it works. If there were little shadow, the foreground would lose definition and then the composition would fall apart. But there is shadow and so it works.
The tree isn't bang smack in the middle. It's off to one side, and the shape of the top matches that of Half Dome in the clouds, bringing a balance to the top half of the image.
I appreciate that rules are there to bring harmony to a photo, but the thing is, there isn't just one rule. Ultimately they are there to help train our eye, which in turn allows us to create images that don't require the rules.
I think I'll go and warm my feet, because they're a tad cold from being immersed in the foreground of this wonderful photo ;)

4 Jan 2010 5:31pm

@Sean McCormack: Thanks, Sean. Many photographers use "rules" as a security blanket to guard their insecurity. I think it's important to understand the rules not just to know when and how to apply them, but also so we can feel more comfortable breaking them.

Self-Indulgence from Chicagoland, United States

I love the quilting of the snow.. its amazing! You also have managed to keep the high and lows of the white of the snow.. retaining texture. Adding the fluffy clouds.. I see a 5 in this. Perfect!

4 Jan 2010 5:34pm

@Self-Indulgence: Thanks, Kristen--I'll accept "perfect." :) Seriously, thanks for your comments. As you know, snow exposure is tough. I find that metering on the sunlit snow and setting my exposure at 2 gives me the most consistent results (of course cameras' meters can easily vary 2/3 of a stop and sometimes more, so everyone needs to find the setting that works best for them). In general, I prefer metering on the brightest part of the scene, since that's the surest way to avoid blown highlights (the most unrecoverable metering mistake).

john4jack from Corvallis, Oregon, United States

I love the way the clouds have settled down. That tree in front is magnificent. Fabulous photograph. "turn off your brain and shoot with your heart" - consider that stolen.

4 Jan 2010 6:11pm

@john4jack: No problem, Jack--just give me credit as you accept your Pulitzer. :)

dobbino from Cape Town, South Africa

Completely agree with what you say - and this shot would not have been nearly as effective without it being framed exactly as it is. Happy New Year, Gary.

4 Jan 2010 6:31pm

Vitor Martins from Lisboa, Portugal

Beautiful composition and landscape. The foreground textures are amaizing as well as the POV

4 Jan 2010 8:09pm

Marie from FRESNES, France

magnifique premier plan.

4 Jan 2010 9:56pm

Freddie Kelvin from Indianapolis, United States

What an extraordinary image, conveying deep winter and its awesome beauty. I love the way your foreground softly complements the forbidding backcloth.

Thanks for an incredible Yosemite experience, Gary. You're the best !! Please say "hi" to Doug.

Happy New Year


4 Jan 2010 9:56pm

@Freddie Kelvin: Thanks, Freddie--it's great to hear from you.

Judy from Brooksville, Florida, United States

This is definitely a heart-driven photo, for all the reasons you've stated on breaking the 'rules'.

5 Jan 2010 12:11am

Lambspun from Madison, Maine, United States

Wow .....your heart did speak in this one Gary....very invigorating :)

5 Jan 2010 1:45am

Didier DE ZAN from somewhere, France

Very beautiful shot - Happy new year

5 Jan 2010 5:49am

Kruti Desai from Ahmedabad, India

Beautiful shot!! And completely agree with your commentary as well

5 Jan 2010 5:03pm

Tracy from La Selva Beach, United States

"Many photographers use rules as a security blanket to guard their insecurity" Great thought! This gives me much to ponder about my own photography!

5 Jan 2010 5:07pm

Scott F. Schilling from San Martin, United States

Wonderful sky and I like your use of the foreground elements in this - very low point of view! Great image Gary!

5 Jan 2010 8:38pm

Stefan from Thiersee, Austria

Great, well done!

5 Jan 2010 9:12pm

KriKridesign from Cully, Switzerland

Oh my god, this is just faboulous!!!!

5 Jan 2010 9:33pm

DarkElf from Perth, Australia

amazing composition - from the stunning foreground to the clouds and mountains in the background - what i like about your photos is that there is always a good progression from one part of the frame to another - everything is very well balanced - just like it is here!

6 Jan 2010 5:34am

Julie from Easton, United States

What an amazing photo! I really like the angle you took this picture at, everything about it just catches your eye!

9 Jan 2010 2:00am

Kathy from Westerville, United States

I love that you consider the Rules a personal challenge. I can't help it myself sometimes and its nice to know others do also.

16 Jan 2010 8:28pm

@Kathy: Rules are too confining. They're a great foundation and important to know, but if your goal is to capture unique images, you need to break some rules.