Being out in a snowstorm isn’t the most inviting phenomenon. Most of us would rather enjoy the snow through a window while curled up next to the fireplace with a cup of cocoa. Not many photographers would see a freezing blizzard as a photo-op, but true snowtographers know the value of a winter storm. When they see white in the forecast, they get their cameras ready. We caught up with two people bringing winter wonderlands to life through their lenses, to find out how to take that perfect snowscape shot.
On the morning of January 23, 2016, New York City was as sleepy as it may ever be. Michele Palazzo woke up at 6 am and leaped out of bed, but the City That Never Sleeps had hit the snooze button. Jonas, the winter storm that dumped more snow on NYC than almost any other in history, brought high winds and heavy snowfall to the Big Apple on January 22nd. By Saturday morning the city was all but shut down.
While most of the New York City’s 8.5 million people stayed inside, and roads, subways, and shops closed their doors, Palazzo couldn’t wait to capture the unfamiliar scene. “My girlfriend was sleepy, looking at me with one eye open. She asked where I was going so early and I replied: ‘Sleep, I’ll be back soon!’”
Palazzo, who goes by the moniker Street Fauna, captures city life, and his photos center around people. His portfolio includes candid human shots in the series Beautiful strangers, and a dark, one-woman collection called Jennie and the pool. The Italian-born street photographer from the seaside town of Ravenna, east of Bologna, came to New York in 2010 for a three-month vacation and decided to live and work in one of the world’s most densely populated cities. “I’m interested on [sic] those little quirks that connect us as humans,” his website reads.
But today New York was empty.
The day prior, Palazzo had sold his main camera—a Fujifilm XT-1—so he could put the money towards his next piece of equipment, an X-Pro2. But he hadn’t bought that one yet. He remembered a 2009 Chase Jarvis book called The Best Camera is the One That’s With You. So he slipped on his boots and jacket and hit the streets with his backup camera, a compact Ricoh GR. That camera never took another photo after that day, having been ruined by the snow—but it would go out a legend.
“New York is never empty. But that morning, very few people were around. Walking through the heart of the city with no cars, no subway, and no pedestrians was weird.”
Palazzo wandered down to the iconic Flatiron Building at 23 street and 5th Avenue, just blocks from his apartment.
“There are so many photos of the Flatiron, it’s hard to be original. Normally photographers attempt to capture the whole building. But because it’s about 20 stories tall, you either have to stand really far away or tilt your lens upwards, which distorts the image. Instead, I focused on the lower level.” That decision changed his life. The image below of the Flatiron Building went viral among art fans on social media and was compared frequently to an impressionist painting. That wasn’t the only great shot he took that day, but it is the most famous. Here are three great Palazzo shots from Storm Jonas 2016.“I pass it every day and have seen it in every kind of weather. The wind that day was unbelievable. What’s special about this shot is that it looks like it’s suspended in time. The cloudy atmosphere and gusty winds create patterns that appear uncannily like brush strokes.”
Pro Tip: “Get out and shoot in the bad weather; shooting in the sun can be done by anyone. These conditions create very moody and dreamy landscapes.”
“That morning I walked around my neighborhood taking many shots. I guess I like this one because of the perspective and the absence of cars. Park Avenue is always busy and seeing the street in these conditions is not something that happens every day.”
Pro Tip: “Use a wide angle lens so you don’t have to look in the viewfinder, which can easily become foggy in the cold. It can also be complicated using the camera wearing gloves, so the less you have to do, the better.”
“On my way back home I started to meet people that were already plowing snow. The amount of snow that was already on the streets was crazy. I like this shot because it shows a human presence and because of that contrasted red in a landscape that suddenly became black and white.”
Pro Tip: “Look for colors or lighting to break the monotony of the white, and include a human presence if you can.”
Getting published for the first time isn’t easy for most photographers, but for Mikey Gribbin, it was. He had set two goals for himself when starting out: display his work at an art show, and get it published. For his first local art show, he printed Big Four Ice Caves for the display. Then, moving onto his second goal, he emailed that photo out to several different magazines and quickly heard from the outdoors-focused publication, Outside. They wanted his picture.
Flashback to November 2016: Gribbin and his girlfriend Emily Ericksen were taking a weekend trip to Seattle from their home of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Their motive was a Jon Bellion concert, but Gribbin couldn’t resist stopping along the way to snap some photos. The Big Four Ice Caves in Granite Falls, WA, is a staple of their Seattle trips, 70 miles northeast of the city, and just like every other time, they planned to stop there.
After a few minutes of exploring one of the caves, Ericksen got cold and made her way out from under the snowy roof. Once she reached the edge of the cave, Gribbin, still in search of the perfect shot, was stunned at how his girlfriend’s silhouette gave perspective to the size of the cave. That, mixed with the texture of the ceiling’s ice formations and the juxtaposition of the snow and grass just outside, intrigued Gribbin enough to make him start snapping.
“You don’t really appreciate it unless you’re there,” Gribbin recalls. “In the moment you can see all the intricate details and you can explore the depth with your eyes. But being able to transfer that into a photo can be hard and I was having trouble doing that until I took that photo. When I saw it, I knew that was the money shot.”
“[Getting published] was was inspiring because I didn’t think it would be that easy, frankly,” Gribbin explains. “The fact this magazine wanted to show off my work inspired me to wonder: What else can I do? I think that’s a really cool feeling for an amateur photographer.”
EXCITING!! I had the privilege of being featured in this months issue of Outside Magazine, one of the biggest outdoor magazines around!! One of my goals for this year was to get published in a magazine and I was able to get there with a little persistence and a well timed photo. Seeing my photo in print for so many other people to enjoy is astounding and inspiring. I want to continue getting my work published and maybe make it into @natgeo some day. If you wanna see my photo, check out my story or grab the Jan/Feb issue of Outside Magazine and turn to the “Exposure” section on page 8. And while you’re there, consider buying the issue to help support an awesome magazine that inspires amateur photographers like myself to be better! What are your guys’ goals for 2018?? Would love to hear what you’re reaching for!
Big Four Ice Caves “This photo is really special because the caves melt and reform every year, which means it’s never going to look exactly like that again.”
Pro Tip: “I always say the more you shoot, the better you’re going to get. Even if you just go into your backyard and there’s snow on the ground, just take a picture, look at the picture, and determine what you need to change. Then adjust your settings and keep shooting.”
Big Four Ice Caves isn’t the only great winter shot Gribbin has in his portfolio. His Forest Treehouse is an inviting shot welcoming the viewer into the small mountain town of Sandpoint, Idaho. This is where Gribbin’s close friend Ethan Schlussler grew up, and just outside his childhood home, Schlussler built this treehouse from scratch. Its coolest feature is a “bicycle elevator” that you sit on and pedal to pull yourself up into the treehouse.
“It’s very quiet and tranquil in that area. With a fresh dump of snow, it’s especially serene; it’s so quiet you can hear the snow falling from the trees.”
Forest Treehouse “Snow photography can be tricky because of the contrast and the light—but you can also use those things to your advantage.”
In the first days of 2018, Gribbin had a new target. Bald eagles were beginning to fly south from Canada, but not before passing through Gribbin’s cozy Idaho town. At Lake Coeur d’Alene, the eagles congregate and take turns plucking fish out of the water. This particular bird, perched on a tree waiting his turn, was hanging abnormally close to the crowd. Gribbin was able to get within 20 feet. “He was only there for a few minutes before he got spooked by all the people, but I was able to get a good picture before everybody scared him away.”
Bald Eagle at Lake Coeur d’Alene
Pro Tip: “When shooting birds, get the longest lens possible. Have a tripod with a fluid head so you can track them while they’re flying. But mostly, keep your eyes open and your shutter speed fast to avoid blur while they fly.”