Aspens in the Snow

Aspens and pines in an autumn snowstorm, Toiyabe NF, CA, USA

Aspens and pines in an autumn snowstorm, Toiyabe NF, CA, USA; 1/8 sec at f/22, ISO 50

In October I fulfilled a long-time dream: to photograph autumn aspens in the snow. I posted one photograph from that snowy day here, and two more from the following morning here. But I made a lot of other images during that storm, and now finally have a chance to show you some of them.

On that snowy October day it was a challenge to keep my camera dry, keep snow and water drops off the lens, and stay warm myself. But it was a rare opportunity, and I didn’t want to wait until the snow stopped, because the falling snow itself gave the photographs an ethereal quality, almost like fog.

For almost every composition I tried a variety of shutter speeds. Fast shutter speeds, like 1/125th of a second and above, rendered the falling snowflakes as little white dots, giving the photographs a pointillistic look. Slow shutter speeds, like 1/8 of a second and below, would make the flakes disappear and turn the atmosphere into a thin fog, especially if it wasn’t dumping too hard. In-between speeds (in the 1/30th- to 1/60th-of-a-second range) turned the snowflakes into streaks.

It was impossible to photograph into the wind, as water drops would quickly cover the lens. Even when looking away from the wind a long lens hood was necessary to keep the front element dry. That meant that I used my 70-200mm zoom exclusively, but that wasn’t a problem, as it was the perfect lens for these more intimate landscapes. There are many commercially-available camera rain covers, but I just threw an extra rain jacket over the camera. No matter how careful you are, however, under these conditions it’s inevitable that the camera will get some water on it, so I was thankful to have a well-sealed camera body.

This was such a fun day, despite the cold and damp. As I said before, I was like a kid in a candy store. The only problem was that it was hard to pick out the best images later! So if you have a favorite from this group let me know.

— Michael Frye

Aspens in an autumn snowstorm, Conway Summit, Toiyable NF, CA, USA

Aspens and blowing snow, Toiyable NF, CA, USA; 1/45 sec. at f/11, ISO 3200

Aspens in an autumn snowstorm, Conway Summit, Toiyable NF, CA, USA

Aspens in an autumn snowstorm, Toiyable NF, CA, USA; 1/180 sec. at f/11, ISO 3200

Aspens in an autumn snowstorm, Conway Summit, Toiyable NF, CA, USA

Pointillistic aspens, Toiyable NF, CA, USA; 1/180 sec. at f/11, ISO 1600

Aspens with a dusting of snow, Conway Summit, Inyo NF, CA, USA

Aspens with a dusting of snow, Toiyabe NF, CA, USA; 1/180 sec. at f/11, ISO 1600

Aspens and pines in an autumn snowstorm, Toiyabe NF, CA, USA

Aspens and pines, Toiyabe NF, CA, USA 1/8 sec. at f/22, ISO 50

Aspens line a watercourse during an autumn snowstorm, Inyo NF, CA, USA

Aspens line a watercourse during an autumn snowstorm, Inyo NF, CA, USA; 1/10 sec. at f/22, ISO 100

Related Posts: Autumn Snow; A Landscape Transformed; Dealing With Bad Weather; A Rainy, Misty Day in Yosemite Valley, and a Quick Fall Color Report

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Michael Frye is a professional photographer specializing in landscapes and nature. He is the author or principal photographer of The Photographer’s Guide to YosemiteYosemite Meditations, Yosemite Meditations for Women, and Digital Landscape Photography: In the Footsteps of Ansel Adams and the Great Masters. He has also written three eBooks: Light & Land: Landscapes in the Digital Darkroom, Exposure for Outdoor Photography, and Landscapes in Lightroom 5: The Essential Step-by-Step Guide. Michael written numerous magazine articles on the art and technique of photography, and his images have been published in over thirty countries around the world. Michael has lived either in or near Yosemite National Park since 1983, currently residing just outside the park in Mariposa, California.

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34 Responses to “Aspens in the Snow”

  1. Wow, as usual I like them all! But my favorite is the single tree “Aspens with a dusting of snow”. The colors are beautiful, and it looks like a painting. Gorgeous. It’s very “simplistic” and I really like the composition. What a great opportunity that doesn’t happen too often. I think the best images are usually the ones we have to work for. And weather is the key to a good image to me.

  2. Patti says:

    Stunning set of photos, Michael!! Thanx for sharing!!

  3. Kevin Reilly says:

    They’re all gorgeous. I like “aspens and pines” for the comp, “aspens and blowing snow” for its cool mood, but my eye keeps going back to “aspens with a dusting of snow”. I don’t know if it’s because of the three layers of color, but it just feels like eye candy to me.

  4. Enrico says:

    I like the Aspen and Snow Blowing picture ( 1/45 sec. at f/11, ISO 3200).

  5. Michael Frye says:

    Thanks Nancy, Patti, Kevin, and Enrico — I appreciate all of you chiming in!

  6. Greg Vaughn says:

    Great set of photos, Michael! My favorites are Aspens and a dusting of snow, Aspens and pines, and Aspens in an autumn snowstorm. I think the last one in particular would look really nice as a large wall print.

  7. John C says:

    Hi Michael,

    I like them all but aspen and pines in an autumn snow storm is my favorite. I really like that you included the exif data. I’d love to see that on all the photo you post. It’s helpful to some of us amateurs who struggle with that on generally high contrast shots. :-)

    I’m curious why you shot some of them with high ISO even though the noise is probably pretty unnoticeable in a snowstorm. Others seem to be slow shutter speeds at normal ISO, any specific reason for the exceptions?

    • Michael Frye says:

      Thanks John! I included the shutter speed, aperture, and ISO information here because I talked about different shutter speeds in the text. And I also explain why I sometimes used high ISOs in the text, at least indirectly — in order to get a faster shutter speed and freeze the motion of the falling snow.

  8. John C says:

    Yeah, I guess you did. I need to pay better attention. :-)

    Thanks Michael.

  9. Yvonne Butler says:

    These photos are very striking; composition, color and simplicity.

  10. Jack Kirchert says:

    You just never know when you will be able to get the shot you been waiting for. I am happy for you. Also it is a pleasure to see the results. The question I have is, on the ISO, did you manually switch it or did you let your camera set it after you set your shutter speed and aperture? I am assuming you manually set the ISO.

  11. John Caplis says:

    Congrats on turning your dream into reality. I myself like the pictures of the fir trees mixed in with the aspens in the frame. Thanks again for sharing your shooting data and techniques for benefit of your readers and their growth as photographers.


  12. Sameer Gauria says:

    Loved all of them, but I found the last 2 especially striking.
    Thank you!

  13. “Aspens line a watercourse..” is just stunning Michael.

  14. AP says:

    I vote for Aspens and Blowing Snow!

  15. Hi Michael,
    For me, it’s Aspens line a watercourse. It’s a stunning photograph with a great line for the eye. With the lying snow, the image almost looks monochrome on either side.

    I also really like Aspens and pines, the yellows are fantastic.

  16. Vivienne says:

    Hi Michael,

    It’s very hard to pick a favorite! “Aspens lining a watercourse” jumps out at me for the lines and the pop of color the trees bring. It’s like Mother Nature did some selective coloring for you. I also like “Aspen and pines” for the layering of colors and textures. Really nice series. They all invite one to come back and take a closer look.

  17. Thanks for sharing these awesome images, Michael! I think that “Aspens in an autumn snowstorm” is my fav, but hard to choose.

    When using 1600 or 3200 ISO, do you ever use Noise Reduction software beyond how you use Lightroom as described in you Lightroom 5 ebook?

    • Michael Frye says:

      Thanks Bill — I’m glad you like these images! I typically just use Lightroom for noise reduction. I’ve actually been experimenting lately with different noise-reduction solutions for an image I made at 12,800 ISO with the Nikon D800e. I tried Photo Ninja, Capture One, Topaz DeNoise, and Lightroom, and ended up liking the results I got with Lightroom the best. It took some work to get the most out of Lightroom though. Of course there are a lot of other noise-reduction tools out there, so this was by no means a comprehensive test. I’ll try some other tools at some point I’m sure — in my abundant free time. :)

      • Enrico says:

        Have you tried DxO Optics Pro 9 (Elite)? I’ve heard they have a good noise reduction engine. They offer trial version. I’m curious if that gives you better results at your image.

        With ISO 12800 you have to do extensive noise reduction and even manually clone out bright pixel. High ISO performance is great in the recent DSLR and mirrorlens cameras but you still sacrificing image quality. Higher ISO not only is more noise but also reduces the dynamic range.

  18. Thanks for this info! FYI, I’ve been using Noiseware for many years and have found it very helpful in the few situations where LR or PS don’t do the trick… esp when prepping images for large output.

  19. Kirk Keeler says:

    Aspens and Blowing Snow. It has a painterly, abstract quality that I really like.

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