The chill factor: Tips for capturing Australia’s alpine regions (Part two)
This is a two part series on photographing the Australian high country in winter. You can see part one, from last week, here.
Lines, shapes and patterns
Identifying compositions can be difficult when there is no clear subject matter to work with, particularly in chaotic environments. One technique I have found that helps to identify good compositions is to look for lines, shapes, and patterns in the landscape, and work to incorporate these into your imagery – a telephoto lens can be great for this as it allows you to isolate points of interest.
This technique can be used in almost all photography, from close-ups to the grander landscape. Just remember that when framing up a composition using lines or shapes in the landscape, it’s important to consider how you balance those elements within the frame. If you are placing one or more elements, either lines or shapes, on one side of the composition, try to have a similar number of the same elements on the other side to balance out the scene.
For example, shooting snow gums can be difficult due to their dense surroundings, but elements like small bushes or smaller, less dominant trees on either side of your ‘hero’ can help create balance in an otherwise chaotic setting.
Strip it back
If you find yourself struggling to find compelling compositions and it’s snowing, consider a minimalistic approach. A drop in visibility when you have the combination of snow and fog can help simplify a scene down to its bare bones. Look for solitary subjects such as a lone tree or even a twig or leaf in the snow and consider how you can use negative space to frame it.
Fog can work in the same way – use it to eliminate distracting backgrounds or bring a sense of mystery to your image by revealing and concealing the subject.
Watch your step
Being the first to a location that has a completely untouched layering of snow is a stunning sight to see, but it does bring challenges. When scouting winter scenes in the snow, take care to consider your composition before moving too far into a scene. The number of times I have been scouting locations and found something I want to shoot, only to realise I have left footprints everywhere has happened more times than I wish to remember!
The key is to work your compositions from a few metres back and then get a rough idea of how and where you will shoot. Then, as you start to refine the composition in your head, you can move a little closer each time without disturbing the fresh snow.
Finally, unlike many other forms of photography, the right preparation is key when photographing the Alpine region. Ensure you have the right clothing, gear and accessories to ensure you and your camera gear stay dry.
Cameras can fail in wet and freezing conditions, and as soon as a part of your body becomes wet in the cold it gets very hard to continue for long, especially in negative temperatures. Be prepared and tell someone where you’re going.
Be prepared with the right gear
During the winter months, particularly if you are out shooting in snow or the rain, you will need to carry a few extra items which you may not always carry on your regular photo shoots. This is what I take whenever I head out in harsh conditions:
- Warm protective (waterproof) clothing and footwear
- A handful of lens cloths
- A small towel
- Hand / Toe warmers (these have been a lifesaver)
- A rain cover for your camera (a shower cap is an effective and inexpensive option)
- A beanie
- Photography gloves – ones that have openings for a few fingers to control dials.
These items should ensure you and your camera gear remain warm and dry in cold and wet conditions – you don’t want to be out in the field and need to unexpectedly pack up or miss out on a great composition because your clothing or gear has let you down.
Australia’s high country is a truly special place, so take your time to explore it. There may be a bit more work required in finding new and interesting compositions, however, if you approach it with an open mind and truly experience what the High Country has to offer, you will come away with some beautiful and meaningful images, I promise. ❂