December started like a winter month really should with a few sharp frosts and low temperatures, though as always the British weather usually has other ideas up its sleeve and this soon turned into a cloudy, wet, dull and windy spell bringing an end to the sort of conditions most landscape photographers revel in. A single and very short-lived small amount of snow in the latter part of the month wasn’t enough to re-create those magical conditions for me either. I’ve since been enjoying the low light/high ISO capability of the Nikon Df and this signals new possibilities for me as we turn towards 2015 but in truth I’d much rather be out in an icy dawn landscape with the Warwickshire countryside for company.

Despite thoroughly enjoying shooting something different since the Nikon Df became part of my kit, my favourite images from the month have still been delivered with a conventional landscape approach during the coldest part of December. In particular one early morning in a local spot close by paid dividends… I love picking up images that don’t require the effort of driving, apart from allowing more time on location to focus on photography, it reminds me that some of the best images really are close to home and that if you observe there is a wealth of subject matter all around you.

Some people may be surprised by the photograph I’ve chosen this month (especially given Edge Of The Ravine was taken late on in December) but it was a no-brainer for me. Ice Dance was taken in the first week in December during a particularly cold spell, but it was one of those wonderful mornings when low temperatures and empty skies played into my hands. Like last month’s image it was a scene best captured at telephoto lengths with my 70-200mm f/4:

Ice Dance

Ice Dance

What Really Makes The Photograph Work For Me?

This photograph is all about contrasts absolutely made by the low sun piercing a gap in a hedgerow and highlighting the wonderful frosty details of the long grasses and just as the title suggests there is a feeling of real harmony for me here too.

Here’s why Ice Dance stood out for me this month:

  • It was threatening to be one of those mornings where everything seemed so beautiful but capturing that was going to require some real effort. Empty skies often don’t make for the most interesting of photography and so on days like this I often work at removing the sky from the frame altogether, hopefully for a much better result. I see so many landscape photographers include skies in the frame no matter what, it’s too much of a formulaic approach for me that doesn’t serve you well in the end.
  • It’s a frame of contrasts but I was particularly interested in the more upright patch of stems to the right of the frame with the dark tree behind. The low morning sun was shining through a gap in a hedgerow and it lit the grasses up wonderfully. Using side light creates some nice shadows and a feeling of depth.
  • By electing to use a telephoto length, it was possible to achieve a nice soft background even at f/8. I wanted the field behind to glow in the light but ensure that the focus was very much on the layer towards the bottom of the frame. I think I achieved that here. This is why I love shooting with a 70-200 lens so much in the landscape.
  • The conditions played right into my hands here and the frost has provided a natural highlight which ensures a view with a lot of fantastically sharp details. It’s almost as if each strand of grass at the bottom of the frame has it’s own highlight and I love that.
  • Once again, Ice Dance hopefully demonstrates why sunrises provide such magnetic conditions – you would rarely if ever find conditions like this at sunset in the southern part of the UK. Set your alarm clock early to make the most of this scenery and forget about sunset altogether…
The Technical Setup
  • Taken with the Nikon D800E
  • Nikon 70-200mm f/4 at 160mm
  • f/8, ISO100, 1/80 in bright sunlight at 09:06hrs
  • Lee 105mm Polariser
  • Shot in 14bit RAW, manual white balance
  • Finished with Nik Color Efex Pro 4 and Adobe Photoshop CC
  • No sharpening

This is what winter is all about in the landscape from my point of view. Snow, ice and frost can be such fleeting opportunities at times, even during the coldest months of the season, so being able to capture an image like this so early in December is particularly pleasing.

​This article concludes the last ‘image of the month’ review for 2014 of course and I’m not sure yet whether this series will continue in 2015, perhaps on an ad-hoc basis as I capture something I’m particularly happy with. Should make for an interesting 2014 review anyway!