The first snow in the mountains
That moment in early winter when the first snow falls: everyone knows it, (almost) everyone loves it – and then comes the moment when, within hours, everything melts again and turns into a murky, slushy slush. The previously so attractive winter world is gone, leaving behind a depressing mixture of not-anymore-autumn and not-yet-winter. But what does our mountain stream have to do with it?
It is the day directly after the first, larger snowfall. The question of skis or snowshoes does not arise at all – too clearly there is still far too little snow on the mountains, as these winter sports equipment would be worthwhile. My goal, a small mountain lake in central Switzerland at 1825 m altitude, I therefore aim on foot. Wrapped in rain gear and equipped with various camera equipment, I start my ascent in the pouring rain, which will only turn into snow and slush after a few meters of altitude.
A freshly snowed mountain stream
The air is cold, the view cloudy and the path slippery. Again and again I have to watch out that the thin snow under my shoes does not become a slippery slope, in places the one step in front of one step back tactic is quite exhausting. But it goes forward and on scarcely 1600 m height I cross a splashing mountain brook, which looks for its way by masses of snow-covered stones into the valley. The steel-blue water, the still flowing rain and the white dots on the stones make a picture that I do not want to miss.
Fortunately, I have a light tripod with me and can thus also consider a long exposure. Whereby long time is still relative – basically I just want the raindrops to be visible on the picture as thin threads and the water in the river to take on this slightly curved shape that makes the viewer think it’s flowing.
Pragmatic photo technique for a mountain stream photo
I try out different motifs: with mountains in the background, without mountains, “frozen” water movement, long exposure. In the end I stick with the variant with an already relatively slow shutter speed of 1/13 seconds, strongly closed aperture and the full focus on the stream bed of the mountain stream without further scenery in the background.
Why the closed aperture? Well, actually, even with the highest-quality lenses, problems with so-called diffraction blur arise when the aperture is too large. This diffraction blur blurs the image, especially in the peripheral areas. However, since I don’t have a neutral density filter with me to enable a long exposure time with this darkening filter, I have to resort to a closed aperture in this situation. Pragmatism on the mountain, so to speak. We remember: a closed aperture means that only a little light reaches the camera’s sensor. So in order not to get an underexposed photo, I have to take a correspondingly longer exposure – and in doing so I achieve exactly the effect I want to get: the raindrops and the water in the stream blur into elongated streaks.
But I’m completely satisfied with the result, the gray mood and the funny splashing of this mountain stream come together with the twine rain to good effect. And I am reassured anew about the weather robustness of the camera including lens. Even under these weather conditions, where the equipment is dripping wet and the ambient temperatures are cold, the camera dutifully does its job – precisely this outdoor suitability is one of the reasons why I use Canon’s L-series, because the cameras and lenses offer a certain degree of splash water protection.
After rain comes sun
This mountain stream photo was taken in the ascent and my way leads me even further up, to said small mountain lake. While I pay this small body of water at the source of the Sihl still a visit, the clouds slowly tear more and more and gradually the sun comes to light. A beautiful atmosphere in a remote mountain valley, which I have today completely for myself and now presents itself in a glistening light with freshly snow-covered mountain peaks. Once again proves true:
Even if the weather forecast is bad: in case of doubt you should just go and be surprised what the day will bring.
Especially in the mountains, the chances are not so bad that a few rays of sunlight find their way through the clouds. And isn’t it exactly this light and these situations that create breathtaking landscape photos at the end of the day?