Temperatures were into the 50s this January day after several weeks of accumulated snow. So, I decided the subject of our One Picture a Day effort was going to be something melting, somewhere.
I caught this moment suspended in time from the edge of a shed with blanket of snow sagging over the edge. Rather than your standard smooth icicles, this was a ragged edge that was more snow than ice.
The first challenge was the distance. I had gone out with my Micro-Nikkor 60mm F2.8 AF; I was too far from the roof line to fill the frame with my subject on this lens. I hurried back in for the Nikkor 70-300mm VR telephoto zoom–I knew the light was not going to last. I extended it out to 300mm, and thus able to keep my feet comfortable on the ground while getting closer to the subject. (I did end up cropping for the final product.) The next challenge was the backlight. Half the frame was lit from behind; the upper part of the frame was beneath the overhang. It wasn’t bad, but I thought there might be room for improvement. I tried several approaches. One, I tried a split neutral density filter. I’ve had the filter for a year and have not used it. Two, I tried adding one or two stops exposure. Finally, I tried the flash to fill.
The split neutral density (half clear, half 0.9 ND) did not seem to add anything. Bracketing the exposure did not seem to make much difference; the version I chose had no bias. The filter flash gave nice sparkly highlights, and, as often happens with direct flash, you could tell a flash was used. I only had the onboard Nikon D90 flash, so bouncing or diffusing were not available. A diffuser might have been nice in retrospect.
Ultimately what made the shot was I shifted so the background was a pine tree, reducing the brightness of the background. Also, by zooming in tight to the ice, I was able to use the edge where light was able to penetrate the snow. The shadowy areas are out of the frame. I have the camera set on “vivid” saturation. That really helped pick up the subtle colors. The green of the tree added a nice contrast to the bright white and blues of the snow.
In post-processing I let Aperture do its standard enhance script. I found that the pine tree in the background as captured had a rather muddy green look. I reduced the reds slightly to bring back the brighter green that was evident when I was taking the picture. If you look at the water droplet about to fall, you’ll see the tree that was forming the background. The sunny blue sky found its way into the shot by traveling through the ice itself for a nice effect. I did crop the picture, preserving the original aspect. It helped emphasize the most compelling part of the shot. I had dialed down the ISO to 200, so I had some room to crop without loosing quality.