First Snow

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There was a time in my life, before my annus horribilis, when I would brag, to those inclined to listen to such claptrap, that I had lived for a decade or so without suffering through a winter and I intended to keep it that way. I thoroughly dislike cold weather and bronchitis seems only a sneeze away when the sky is grey all day and the snow turns brown in the streets. Ugh!

So, it was with a bit of cautious curiosity that I approached the coming of winter in Arizona. Last Saturday morning we awoke to take a little drive to town and noticed the first snows of the season on the mountains surrounding Sedona. Grace’s amused smile tells the story:

Her amusement centered around my Michelin Man appearance. Two shirts, a sweater and a coat were barely keeping me defrosted. Though there was no snow in Sedona itself, we could see mountainsides only a thousand feet or so higher which were heavily dusted. In Sedona we pulled off the highway to climb the hill to The Church of the Red Rocks to savor the spectacular view. The entire front of the chapel there is glassed. While getting your Sunday morning sermon you can let you mind contemplate this view:

We left Sedona on the Oak Creek Canyon road and began to climb toward Flagstaff. Here the dynamic range of light values was so extreme that I had to abandon normal photography techniques to delve into the mysteries of High Dynamic Range composites. I derived this HDR shot from a “stack” of five exposures moving from very underexposed to very overexposed. The software takes the best exposed areas of each image and adds it to the composite. It takes a bit of fiddling, but it allows one to get reasonable images from impossible situations:

A single exposure would show a bright sky with a nearly black mountain in the foreground, since the mountainside was in the shadow of another higher mountain behind me.

This shot, showing the nearly six inches of snow that fell near 7,000 feet would also have been impossible without the HDR technique. A single exposure would show black trees against the white, nearly featureless snow:

As evening neared, the temperature dropped again and the sky appeared in turmoil with fiery accents from the lowering sun:

The new Canon 5D Mk II performs wonderfully at high ISO values. This was shot at 1600 ISO and had only the slightest bit of noise in the darker areas. A light massage by NoiseNinja Pro cleaned it up nicely.

As we approached Sedona on I17 from the North we paused for this wintery show across the intervening valley looking toward the Mogollon Rim:

The image above is a five frame panorama slapped together by Photoshop. As a photograph it was a flop, so I turned it into art. Sometimes imagination beats reality. I’m recalling to words of the classic Kodachrome from Paul Simon’s There Goes Rhymin’ Simon of 1973.

Kodachrome . . .
You give us those nice bright colors
You give us the greens of summers
Makes you think all the world’s a sunny day, oh yeah!
I got a Nikon camera
I love to take a photograph
So Mama, don’t take my Kodachrome away

Indeed, Kodachrome defined serious color photography for a generation of photographers. For decades major publications would accept photographs on no other media. Recently photographer Steve McCurry trekked through India with the “last roll of Kodachrome” in his camera. The results are far more impressive than any roll of K64 that I ever ran through any of my cameras. I’m glad I didn’t shoot the last roll.

It’s the end of an era, but I’m not looking back. Film is essentially dead, except in the hands of a few quaint eccentrics. The fundamentals of photography have not changed at all, but the media could not be more different. I still think of a digital image file as a “negative”.

How “old school” is that?

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8 Responses to “First Snow”

  1. GlobalCitizen01 Says:

    Hi Jan, I still know a few photogs using film. A couple of Nat Geo shooters I know are still using roll film and an Aussie photo-journalist has stocks of Fuji 35mm Pro Colour film and only uses film.

    I am in Vietnam at the moment and the camera shops are stocked to the rafters with 35mm film, God only knows who is buying it though as every man and his dog has a Digicam

    Stay Warm

  2. Ali Says:

    Gosh, I didn’t realise that if actually snows in Sedona. I thought it would get pretty cold (as deserts do) but snow is something else….WOW it is a very amazing and changing landscape. Lovely pictures BTW.

  3. MadDog Says:

    Justin, wouldn’t it be funny if a few years from now the only way you could get 35mm film was horribly outdated stock from Vietnam? I hope they are protecting their investment by keeping some of it in fridges.

  4. MadDog Says:

    Yes, Ali. Grace says they get a few snows a year here at 4,000 feet. Two days ago we got a light dusting on the ground, but then it rained and melted it. Grace says that up at Flagstaff they are probably praying for snow so that they can open the ski resorts. It is strange to look around at landscape that is obviously desert and see it covered by snow..

  5. Steve Bennett Says:

    Great photos MadDog! But brrrrrrr! Soooo bloody cold! I love the tropics too much for that kind of shenanigans!

  6. MadDog Says:

    Steve, I never planned to be in a cold place again, but I’m certainly glad that I am, considering the circumstances. For everything I’ve lost I’ve gained something new and precious. If I have to shiver a bit once in a while, I’ll do it with a smile.

  7. pvaldes Says:

    hey!, where are the snowmen? …

  8. MadDog Says:

    Not enough snow yet, pvaldes. Maybe when I get back from Madang in January . . .