Most folks head for cover when a blizzard bears down, but photographers—like meteorologists—view the slippery scenario differently, as an opportunity, and often set out amidst the flurries to capture the dramatic scenery in its fresh, unsullied, and at times dangerous glory.
Fearing neither wind, nor ice, nor sleet, nor snow, out into the elements, does the intrepid photographer, go.
We asked four of our freelance photographers — Dan Cutrona, Stacey Hedman, Alison Shaw, and Luke Simpson — to offer their thoughts, tips, memories, and a favorite photo from years of capturing images in the winter months. So, grab your coffee, grab a blanket, and enjoy the scenery!
FREEZING THE ACTION – Luke Simpson
“It is not difficult to capture the serenity/loneliness of the Cape’s landscapes in the winter,” Luke Simpson says, “but those types of images get pretty boring after a while. Ideally, I like to capture action—or some interesting event—taking place amidst the otherwise empty winter landscape.”
An Eastham resident, Luke works as a freelance photographer for Cape Cod LIFE, as well as for Outside, Surfer, and espn.com. He says his favorite place to shoot is the Cape Cod National Seashore and he hopes to visit Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket to capture some winter images on the islands.
“I spend a lot of time shooting waves and surfers,” he says, “and the surf is best in the winter. The ocean is flat and boring in the summer; it is so much more dynamic in the off-season. The beach looks different every time you visit in the winter.”
The winter light is also very different, he adds. “With the sun so low in the sky, the light is more direct and more interesting. There are so many master artists and photographers who spend the summer here creating work, and they leave right after Labor Day. They are missing out.”
Does he use any special techniques in the winter months? “Not really,” says Luke. “The biggest difference in the winter is getting used to working with your equipment in the cold so you can stay out in the elements making images. Batteries drain very quickly in the cold, so I keep extra batteries in a pocket close to my body. If it is really freezing, I wrap one of those chemical hand warmers around them. Shooting in the water, when it is cold, presents a whole bunch of issues; finding wetsuit gloves that are warm enough but still allow you to operate the camera is always difficult.”
OUT IN THE ELEMENTS – AND HAVING A BLAST – Alison Shaw
I love photographing storms, snow, ice—anything that radically transforms the landscape that we so associate with the summer ‘vacation’ months on the Cape and Islands,” says Alison Shaw. “I’ve been photographing the Vineyard since going to work for the Vineyard Gazette in the summer of 1975. That’s a lot of years of photographing a relatively static landscape. When changes—such as a blanket of new-fallen snow—happen to that familiar landscape, I drop whatever I may be doing and head out with my camera.”
A resident of Oak Bluffs, Alison shoots for Cape Cod LIFE and for her own company, Alison Shaw Photography, Gallery & Workshop. She enjoys shooting wintry scenes at Ocean Park in Oak Bluffs, and capturing the sledding action at Sweetened Water Farm, Tashmoo Overlook, and other Vineyard locales.
Alison says she enjoys the “sheer physicality” of dealing with adverse weather. “In one of the past year’s storms a wind gust ripped a hinge off one of my car doors,” Alison says, “and I lost my prescription glasses in the surf at South Beach. In winter storm Nemo, my ‘invincible’ Toyota 4-Runner had to be lifted out of a snowdrift by a good Samaritan driving an earth excavator.”
Choosing the correct camera settings, Alison says, is especially important when it is snowing. “I like to photograph at a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the motion of most of the falling snow, and also to prevent any blur from camera shake that might occur due to strong wind gusts.” To minimize the blur of snowflakes closest to her camera, Alison uses a wide angle lens.
To protect her camera lens, she uses a skylight filter, and wipes any moisture from the filter and other equipment with a handy cotton t-shirt. In her car, she dries and de-fogs her camera, glasses, and gloves on the dashboard with the defroster blasting away.
LOOKING FOR LOVE AND PERSONALITY – Stacey Hedman
Stacey Hedman describes herself as a “people and personality” photographer—regardless of the season. “I love having someone in every photograph that I take,” she says. “So for me, photographing in winter is less about the scenery and more about capturing the enthusiasm and vibrance of people in an otherwise white and gray season. I like to prove that winter is lively, and not nearly as dreadful and reclusive as we sometimes make it out to be.”
A resident of Barnstable, Stacey shoots for Cape Cod LIFE and has her own business, Stacey Hedman Photography and Cold Nose Photo. Winter weddings and snowy engagement shoots are among her treasured assignments. “The interactions between a couple in love are my favorite,” she says. “There is something so fun, spirited, and unique about celebrating in the quiet months of Cape Cod! And having started my roots as a dog photographer, I have a blast being on the beach in the snow with our two rescue mutts as well.”
Stacey shoots with Kodak color film and Ilford black and white film, primarily, and often uses a light meter to gauge her settings. “Because my light meter gives me an incident meter reading (measuring at the exact subject) instead of a reflective meter reading (measuring the reflecting light back toward the camera) off the bright snow, I do not need to make any changes to my process. Film also allows me to overexpose the snow and still capture intricate details within it. Snow is definitely a valuable learning opportunity in turning your camera dial off program mode and into manual settings to achieve the best look: i.e., white snow!”
Stacey recalls a wedding she photographed at Spohr Gardens in Falmouth, and speculated the site would be a sweet spot for winter images. “It was incredibly romantic,” she says. “It was beautiful the way the trees enveloped the paths, an old bench stood alone, and several large black anchors adorned the edge of Oyster Pond. Of course,” she adds, “it wouldn’t be complete to me without bringing people along to photograph in this backdrop too.”
VIEWING ‘SNOW DAYS’ DIFFERENTLY – Dan Cutrona
The best part about shooting in the winter,” photographer Dan Cutrona says, “is that I actually have much more time to myself where I can go out and just shoot for the fun of it.” Dan shoots for Cape Cod LIFE and has his own business, Dan Cutrona Photography, which is based in Mashpee Commons. “The business of the summer leads me from assignment to assignment, leaving me little time to do personal work. When it snows, most shoots are cancelled anyway, so then I can go out and have fun!”
Dan described one of his favorite winter photos, shot in Bourne in 2005. “It was after a really cold streak and many of the bays had frozen over completely,” he says. “That morning was warm, and with that comes beautiful fog over the water. The fog was thick at first, but it broke as the morning went on. This photo shows all the ice cracks, the fog, and the blue sky trying to come in. This particular pier was completely destroyed in a storm a few years later.”
Dan says the winter allows him to enjoy the “serenity side of photography.” “For me, it’s a natural fit,” he says. “The place I keep going back to again and again is Quisset Harbor in Falmouth. It is surrounded by trees, and when it is cold enough the harbor freezes, then breaks into millions of these floating ice chunks, and I feel like that happens more often there than anywhere I’ve seen.”
In winter, Dan shoots with a polarizing filter, which exaggerates the blue sky and cuts down the glare. “This is important, especially with snow and ice,” he says. “But you don’t always want to kill the glare completely, so with a circular polarizer you can spin it around, and ‘dial in’ just the right amount. After that, the most important piece of equipment in the winter is your snow tires.”