Can You Hear The Snow Fall?

January 31, 2023

Rio Fitz Roy, PatagoniaRio Fitz Roy, PatagoniaAs you can see, the weather was overcast. Our group had retired back to the camp a couple of kilometres away for lunch, but I stayed out for a while longer, mesmerised by the 'babbling brook'. There was no wind, no sign of life (human or animal), just the sound of the river as it gurgled across the rocks and stones below. And then it started to snow. Not just a little, but huge flakes silently drifting down. The snow only lasted for a few minutes, but they were some of the most peaceful minutes I can remember.

Rio Fitz Roy, Patagonia, South America
Canon EOS 1Ds Mark II, 24mm TS-E lens 2 minute @ f5.6, ISO 100, tripod, 10x ND filter

Sometimes you visit locations and the light is not optimal. In a perfect world, you’d camp out and wait for the light to appear, but life isn’t as simple as this. Often when travelling, you have only one short opportunity to photograph an area and so you have to take what you can get!

Such was the case with Rio Fitz Roy which sits at the bottom of Cerro Torre. This location can be reached in a day from El Chaltern below, but we camped out for a couple of nights so we’d be in place for the morning and evening light.

As an aside, the weather was like this for most of the day. I spent six hours at this and another location nearby, patiently waiting for the cloud to lift. In the end, I had to walk back to camp for dinner empty-handed, but no sooner had I walked into the mess tent than the sun came out! This location was too far away to return before the sun disappeared behind the mountains, so I made do with what I could see from near the camp. But back to Rio Fitz Roy and the lack of light.

While the original exposure was very flat, just being in this location on my own was very special. This is a photograph with lots of baggage, lots of memories, so even though the light is not great, it was an important image for me. I used a 10x neutral density filter to produce a long, two-minute exposure which blurred the water in the river and, as there was no wind, the surrounding trees remained sharp and blur free.

Wind is often a challenge for long exposures because trees and grasses blur while the shutter is open. The solution is to take two different exposures, one long exposure with the ND filter to blur the water and the clouds, and a second without the ND at a movement-freezing speed like 1/250 or 1/60 second. The two exposures are then merged together using masks in Photoshop.

I took a number of exposures of this scene at different shutter speeds, including two minutes. It was during the two-minute exposure I can remember watching the largest snowflakes I have ever seen drifting down from the heavens above. Apart from the water rushing over the rocks below, there wasn’t a sound to be heard – it was a bit like being in a sound studio with deadened walls. The snow flurry only lasted a few minutes, but the experience is etched in my memory every time I look at this photograph.

As photographers, we have no control over what others think of our work. While from time to time people will enjoy our work and compliment our photographs, the only person we can really please consistently is ourself. I think there comes a time in every photographer’s career when you become comfortable with your technique and so the resulting expressions are complete. I like to think after 40 years I have reached a point where I’m happy with my technique and my expression. Is this arrogance? Or experience?

And one more thing! My wife really wants to clear out the last boxes of The New Tradition we have carefully stored under the stairs at home, so reluctantly I have reduced the price. Previously it was $150 to $180 including postage. It's now just $80 for the book, plus we've worked out postage and packaging ($15 for Australia, $35 for NZ, $80 the rest of the world). So, if you haven't yet purchased a copy of The New Tradition, now is the time. Click here for details.

 


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