Black White

Milan under the snow


Place: Milano
Period: beginning of February 2012
Characteristics: landscape, street
Hints: search for the best lighting conditions choosing the right times; wear comfortable gloves, a compact backpack and a tripod if you shoot by night; charge completely your battery or take a spare one with you


Camera: Nikon D5000
Lenses: Nikkor AF-S DX 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR

It looked like this year the snow in Milan just did not want to appear. December was warmer than usual and at Christmas if I recall correctly there was even the sun. In recent years, this event had become regular and on time, but this year it seemed that this regularity should stop. But we only had to wait a few weeks and finally the snow has arrived!

No doubt it brought all the hardships that may result in a big city, but here we are only interested in photographic aspects. If we want to take pictures about this theme we can not certainly be satisfied with a mere sprinkling of a few hours after which no trace remains. Moreover, if you work is not easy to carve out time to make the photos you want, especially for someone like me who needs to observe, think and rethink before taking a picture (and not necessarily the results are satisfactory). In these cases I envy a little bit who is glad about photos taken on the fly with a smart phone. I happened to see someone taking pictures while walking, because he did not even have time to stop for a second :-), or directly from the bus, because it is not as cold as outside. If the photograph is kept on the phone then it is ok, but we want it on our big screen, so if it comes out blurred or if you see the spots of the glass of the bus it is not good...

You will find that among so many people who are not very demanding there are some who are not like that. Take a good look around and I'm sure you will find some clues, a camera bag, tripod, or anything else useful to take photographs.

But now let's move to the practical advices. The first is trivial but important: cover yourself! If you're slow like me then you will not take much time get cold. Cover yourself as much as possible and take a pair gloves, warm but comfortable, so you can easily use the camera and possibly a tripod. About the camera, if you look at the instruction booklet you will find that manufacturers indicate a minimum temperature of 0 degrees, so it is not advisable to go out with very low temperatures. But then how did they do all those wonderful photos at the north pole which can be found on the internet? It is worth noting that the temperature limit is not due to electronics, but to the possibility of condensation occurring inside the camera and in particular on the sensor. From this point of view maybe a compact camera is better since it is probably well isolated due to the fact it does not have an interchangeable lens. Some high-end cameras are equipped with seals to isolate the interior of the camera and prevent moist air from going inside. For those with a camera without these features the main precautions are to avoid changing lens when the air is very cold (or rather enter some shop) and shield the camera as much as possible (keep it in contact with the body or put it in your backpack after taking a picure). Just a little care suffices to avoid problems. Also remember that the batteries last less at low temperature, therefore recharge them completely before you go out and bring a spare battery if you have one.

Before you leave it is good to take account of an important technical aspect. The exposimeter of the digital camera determines exposure by assuming that the subject is average gray. This assumption is valid in most cases, but obviously a landscape covered in snow is an exception. So if you are in this situation and you don't take any precautions you end up with a photo where the snow is gray, or at least less clear than how you see it with your eyes. Thus to fix the camera behavior it is necessary to compensate the exposure... overexposing. Yes, contrary to what you might think you need to overexpose to bring back the white snow, precisely for the reason mentioned above. Generally an overexposure between 1 and 2 stops is all you need to get the desired result.

Ok, now that we are prepared, covered and aware of the behavior of our camera it is time to go out, but ... when? As often happens when photographing landscapes, or more generally outside, the climate/light factor is something we can not choose: we just have to be lucky. It is easy to be struck by an unusual snowy landscape and decide to take a picture even if the light is bad. The inevitable result is that the photo will probably be disappointing. Weather and light are external factors out of our control, but there is something we can do: choose the best time. For example, if we see that plenty of snow falls at night then the next morning might be the right time to go out and take some pictures, maybe hoping for a favorable light (have a look at the weather forecasts!). Obviously, coming out soon you can take advantage of the intact snowpack. If you are not early risers you can do exactly the opposite and wait until it gets dark (given the month of the year you don't have to wait that much) to take advantage of the reflections of artificial light, but in this case the tripod is essential.

As for places to go it depends on the type of photos you would like to shoot. A park (maybe with a pool of smoking water) offers the beauty of nature, the main monuments are unusual and therefore interesting if covered by the snow, people definitely not accustomed to heavy snowfalls in the city can be a good starting point and in this case crowded places may be more appropriate. Although so far we have talked about the snow, in these days and for ten days temperatures should be very rigid, and ice should inevitably join the snow and give us more shooting ideas.

Well, what else to say, I hope that the snow will not melt, at least until Sunday or Saturday morning!

- Feb 2, 2012 -

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