Now that we (finally) have some snow in New England I thought I’d share some of my personal views and observations about the opportunities and challenges that snow presents to the aircraft photographer. Generally speaking, snow on the ground changes the lighting conditions as it reflects sunlight and often creates a wonderful environment of all-around diffuse light. Not only do we avoid sharp shadows (like on overcast days), but also the undersides of aircraft easily receive more light.
The picture of PSA’s CRJ200, above, is a good example of how the reflected light illuminates the undersides of a landing aircraft. Similarly, the landing Southwest 737s look quite different from one another: One was shot on an overcast spring day (with no snow), the other in bright sunlight but with snow underneath (note the reflection of the aircraft’s shadow in the snow, visible on the fuselage). On a snowy day, even when you have direct sunlight, you can often avoid sharp shadows that otherwise make photography in direct sunlight a challenge. Without snow, the diffuse lighting of the overcast day helps, but even with modest editing there is not as much light to illuminate the underside of the aircraft.
The other aspect of snow is that on overcast days you get the effect of almost completely monochromatic pictures. XOJET’s Citation X, above, was photographed on a gloomy February day, and while the picture at first appears black-and-white, it is not (take a close look at the navigation lights and the windshield). It is one of my favorite aircraft pictures.
The other Citation picture, I felt, was representative of New England winters with the trees and the church steeple. As for editing, I slightly increased the contrast in the part of the photo where the trees are, just to make them stand out a bit more. Again, this is not a black-and-white picture despite how it appears.
While snow is mostly something that, in my opinion, enhances my aircraft photos, it also presents some challenges. Very easily snow can appear completely white, “burnt out”, if care is not taken with exposure and editing. It is also very easy to “lose” the demarcation between the aircraft itself and its background, something I always try to pay attention to. The Grumman Albatross, in the aftermath of winter storm “Stella” last spring, is surrounded by lots of snow and a bleak, light gray sky. Careful editing, with reduced highlights, brought out some tonal differences in the snow and the sky, and made the picture more interesting and more pleasing to the eye.