Buffalo gardens have been covered with white, fluffy snow pretty much all winter, and more snow is on the way. Put the snow shovel aside for a few minutes and pick up your camera instead. This is an opportunity to capture the beauty of your Buffalo garden through photography.
If you don’t see beauty in your garden during winter, take a look at Buffalo through a newcomer’s eyes.
Natividad Lopez, originally from Yuma, AZ, is a personnel specialist in the U.S. Navy and has been stationed at the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station since 2007. He contributed several of the photos in this article, including the one at left.
“As an active duty sailor, I have traveled extensively around the world and seen many amazing things,” Lopez said, “but I’m still in awe about Western New York.”
Lopez knows that many Western New Yorkers don’t want this area to be associated with cold and snow, but he thinks that’s the wrong attitude.
“I say, ‘Embrace it!’,” Lopez said enthusiastically. “This part of the world astonishingly beautiful!”
Discover our year-round beauty by venturing out into your garden in the snowy weather, camera in hand.
Here are some tips for taking beautiful pictures of winter gardens.
Learn from others. I’ve gotten wonderful assistance from members of the Buffalo Photography Meetup Group, including Lopez. I attended a meetup with the group recently at Niagara Falls State Park, and some of the members’ photos are used in this article.
There is also a WNY Photographers Meetup Group. Both groups will be meeting up at 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 10 for Night Lights at the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens, 2655 South Park Ave., Buffalo. Go to the web page for either group to find out more information about those groups.
Know your camera. If you have an automatic digital camera, check out what features it offers. You may have a “snow” setting or “back lighting” setting that can come in handy when taking pictures outdoors in the winter. If your digital camera has manual options, learn how to use them.
Lighting is everything. This rule goes for photos of any kind, and it’s especially important for winter garden photos.
Western New York provides good light throughout most of the winter since it is usually cloudy, Lopez said. That kind of lighting is desired by professional photographers.
Take advantage of the light at sunrise or sunset, Lopez suggested. He took the photo above at sunset. Notice the beautiful pinkish cast to the light pole and the contrast it provides to the ice encrusted trees.
Snow pictures can be tricky. If you use manual settings, take a shot that you think is correctly exposed, then take a shot that is slightly underexposed and one that is slightly overexposed to ensure that you get one that’s just right.
If you want to capture snow shots on bright and sunny days, you may want to use a “snow” or “beach” setting to cut down on glare.
Look for spots of color. Don Martin of the Buffalo Photography Meetup Group capitalized on the contrast between the red of the berries and the white of the snow in the photo above left. The reddish leaves in Lopez’s photo below are another example.
Get close up. Don’t be afraid to get close up and capture the most interesting part of your garden, Lopez suggested.
A common mistake is to capture too much in an image. That’s the mistake I made when I tried to take a photo of this tree with reddish leaves speckled with ice. I took photos of whole branches of leaves, but the photos came out muddled and boring.
Lopez took a photo of the same tree, above left, but he focused in on just a few leaves, resulting in a very appealing photo.
I learned my lesson. When the sun came out one day recently, it melted the snow on our roof, but the air was cold enough to quickly form the water into icicles. I moved in close and was able to capture the iridescence of the sun as it glittered off the ice in the photo at right.
So get up close to capture detail and texture to emphasize what makes your garden attractive. A good example of texture is Lopez’s photo at the beginning of this article, where you can practically feel the sharp crystals of snow and the coarse seed grains on the grass.
Add interest with shadows. In summer, the landscape is generally green, and the different varieties of plants offer many shades of green. In winter, the landscape is generally white, and there’s only one kind of snow to provide the white. Add shades of blue to your photos by capturing shadows, as I did in this photo of my back yard above right.
When you don’t have vibrant color, look for graceful lines. Heavily falling snow made the landscape at left appear nearly monochromatic. A monochromatic color scheme can be beautiful in its own way, but working with only shades of white can quickly become boring. What keeps this Niagara Falls landscape interesting is the undulating lines of the rows of trees and shrubs. (Perking up the color a bit in a Photoshop, a photo editing program, helped, too.)
Mute the light from your flash. When the light is dim, you may choose to use your flash, or your camera may automatically use the flash. However, sometimes the result is very harsh. For better results, mute the flash, Lopez suggested.
Cover the flash with a paper napkin or similar item that will allow some of the light to leak onto your subject. Fold the napkin as many times as needed to mute the flash for the desired result. The objective is not to wash out any details, but to capture them.
For a more creative use of your flash, use a red napkin that was left over from the winter holidays to give your image a reddish color cast, he said. A yellow napkin will add a warmer feeling to your image and a blue napkin will accent the cool sensation.
Look up. Sometimes the most vibrant color we have during winter is in the blue sky. Make use of that rich blue by capturing tree branches reaching upward. Clouds and the sun can add wonderful effects. I did no editing to the photo at right of the sun behind a neighbor’s tree. I was excited to have captured the sun with a stellated effect. (Of course, don’t damage your eyes by looking directly into the sun!)
Choose inanimate objects as subjects. A bench looks beautiful coated with snow in the photo at left by David Bishop, another member of the Buffalo Photography Meetup Group. There are probably many inanimate objects in your garden that look great in the snow. You may have statues, boulders, stumps, bird baths, trellises, arbors or even sheds. If you have nothing now, perhaps you should add a few items to your garden.
Choose animals as subjects. Do you have plants with seeds that attract the birds to your garden in the winter? Try to capture some of those garden visitors in photos. I took the photo at right at Tifft Nature Preserve in Buffalo. If you have pets, it can be fun to photograph them in the snow, too!
Capture falling snow. Small, fine flakes of snow will be hard to capture. We can see them with our naked eye, but they will be too small to show up in a photo.
Look for big, fat flakes. Using a point-and-shoot camera, you might try a “sports” setting to capture the movement.
Bishop was able to capture falling snow in the photo above. He used aperature priority mode rather than manual mode. He said he was shooting wide open with an aperture of f1.8 and an ISO100. He estimates his shutter speed was in the 1/2000 to 1/3000 range.
Also, make sure you have a dark background for the snow. Notice that the flakes are visible against the dark backdrop of the tree branches, but they blend into the carpet of the snow on the ground.
Now that you have some ideas, grab your camera and go out into your garden to see what kind of photos you can get.
“You can’t go wrong with anything you try,” Lopez said. “Have fun and enjoy your garden during the winter.”
If you’d like to share your photos with our readers, please send them as an attachment to an e-mail addressed to me at Connie@Buffalo-NiagaraGardening.com. I’d like to post them on our Your Photos page.