Winter's Veil

Cropped version:

The forecast called for a healthy snowstorm over the weekend, so I spent much of last week daydreaming about some fantastic image I could make that captured the essence of winter on the prairie. I made my way to one of The Nature Conservancy’s preserves a few hours west of the Twin Cities, where the hardwood forests start grading into prairie savanna. It was snowing hard and windy, and while I had great visions of amazing compositions in my mind, I really struggled to capture something good given the conditions. I ended up with this one, and while I wasn’t very excited about it at first, it is starting to grow on me.

Sadly, an hour or so later, trying to pull off the road to examine another scene, I managed to get my Outback stuck in a snowdrift. I shoveled and shoveled but made little progress, and finally gave up to wait for another vehicle to pass to which I could attach my tow-strap. Outbacks (without aftermarket hitches) don’t have good attachment points for tow-straps, and my hacked attempt ended up bending the entire frame of the vehicle. It drives fine, but I can’t completely close the back hatch. This may end up being the most expensive image I’ve every made.

Type of Critique Requested

  • Aesthetic: Feedback on the overall visual appeal of the image, including its color, lighting, cropping, and composition.
  • Conceptual: Feedback on the message and story conveyed by the image.
  • Emotional: Feedback on the emotional impact and artistic value of the image.
  • Technical: Feedback on the technical aspects of the image, such as exposure, color, focus and reproduction of colors and details, post-processing, and print quality.

Specific Feedback and Self-Critique

Somewhere there is a perfect winter prairie landscape, filled with fluffy flakes and dramatic rays of light, that captures the splendor of this place and this season. This one isn’t it! However, I hope it does capture some of the feel of what it is like to wander the Minnesota prairie when a winter storm descends. I’d love to hear your suggestions for alternative compositions and processing decisions.

I do wish that the shrubbery in the foreground had been more sparse so that the rolling hills were a bit less visually busy, but such is the way of the prairie/woodland interface.

Technical Details

376 mm f/16 at ISO 100 for 1/125 sec. It needed to be fast enough to freeze the branches in the stout breeze, but I wanted to still keep the sense of motion in the falling snow.

I did end up processing this as black and white (Nik Silver Efex Pro), but the original was so monotone that it didn’t make too much of a difference. Doing so just shifted some of the mute browns of the foreground shrubbery to grey.


Hi Jeff,
thanks for adding your story behind the image. I hope the repair won’t be too expensive. I wonder, were you lucky that another car passed at all? I can imagine that there is not much traffic during a heavy snowstorm.

Your image looks great. You caught the mood of the snowstorm very well in my opinion. I like these diagonals created by the rolling hills. I even like the shrubbery in the foreground, it adds some interest to it. Maybe the spot where the diagonals cross is a little too dense. But that’s nothing you can change.

I wonder how the image would look if you had left a little bit more space on the left edge and you cropped the image on the right side slightly. Maybe that would improve the balance a bit.

But the overall mood is awesome. This looks like a drawing. Well done.

This is awesome Jeff.
I tried this crop out as it was really the only thing I could think of that might improve the image. Let me know what you think. I like the balance as-is but maybe this gives it a bit more tension.


Jeff, live in Minnesota and also have an Outback. I certainly relate to such winter scenes. I would have stayed home, fearing the weather on the roads. Glad you got out of the ditch. I like the comp here a lot. The small hills and foreground grasses and bushes set up the tree and the image up well. I would crop a tad from the left side and top, but I’d leave the tree centered. I suggest you might shoot at a higher resolution than 72, more like 300 or 240 at the least. You have captured the blowing snow well, and the high key look here creates a perfect winter mood. I’d be inclined to experiment with contrast on the main tree and surround to see if any contrast could be added without losing the nice snowy look you have here. A tad of extra dehaze might be another alternative, but scrap these ideas if they negatively affect the mood you have created. Nice image - stay warm. It’s still winter, eh?

Hey Jeff,
I took this into Lightroom briefly and tried having a play with it but I didn’t come up with anything that I thought was significantly better than what you have posted. So, I will simply say that I’m enjoying this image and the drama that the flying snow brings to it and for all intents and purposes, I think you came away with what you intended in your minds eye. Maybe not the 10 that you hoped for but pretty darn close.
Sorry to hear about your Subi getting stuck and bending the frame. At least you’ll have a memory associated with image the rest of your life.


Such a wonderful winter image - Great choice/combo of shutter speed; I think you nailed the shutter speed to capture almost blizzard-like conditions - while keeping things relatively sharp and detailed. This really captures the essence of a cold, winter storm/blizzard.

I think the comp you framed is great as presented. I also really like Matt’s crop too. I feel the lines and diagonals are much more pronounced and the composition balanced nicely with the crop. Your original post? Works perfectly as presented.

I enjoyed the story of your “adventure” - Maybe I shouldn’t say “enjoyed” since I’m sure that wasn’t the case for you! Glad you were safe and it all worked out. Reminded me though, of my one and only photography “accident” - way back in 1999 - chasing winter similar to your. Traveling a little too fast on a country road trying to get to a destination, come up over a rise only to discover a stop sign… that I proceeded to slide right thru in to the ditch. Fortunately a farmer near by was able to pull me out with his tractor… Slow down peeps! :slight_smile:

Great call on converting this winter wonderland to B&W. While I am really enjoying this as presented, I do like the cropped repost that @Matt_Payne came up with as I think that adds a little visual tension and better balances those FG grasses IMO. Sorry about the Subaru, that is a real bummer. This almost looks like a pencil drawing.

Thank you for the suggestions and overall very positive feedback, @Jens_Ober, @Matt_Payne, @Larry_Greenbaum, @David_Haynes, @Lon_Overacker, and @Ed_Lowe. You are all very kind.

The crop question has been on my mind @Matt_Payne. I think in my ideal scenario, I would have an equal amount of space on the left as I do on the right. Given that this is a prairie savanna landscape, giving the trees a feel of surrounding empty space seems more appropriate than taking the trees to both edges. Unfortunately, the landscape didn’t provide that opportunity here, at least with a foreground of such nice diagonals. I like your idea of trimming some to the right, but the remaining space on the left makes the image seem more unbalanced to me. You don’t think so? I’ve posted an alternative crop that eliminates the space on the left completely and removes most of what you cropped off the right to increase that tension. This eliminates any sense of edge space, but it does make the scene more symmetrical. Thoughts on this approach?

@Larry_Greenbaum, the original raw is captured at 64 MP, so there’s plenty of resolution. The jpeg posted here is just sized down to 2048 pixels wide at 90% quality to keep the file to around 1 mb. Thanks for your other suggestions re: contrast and dehaze. I did experiment with both in my original processing and added a tough of both, but it was easy to take it too far. Especially with the dehaze, doing so takes away the sense of heavy snow veiling the trees a bit.

Thanks all for the commiseration about the Sube. In fairness @Lon_Overacker, I only got stuck when I stopped! There was a drift across the pullout entrance that I couldn’t see in the flat light, which caused me to get stuck to begin with. I dug myself out of there, but in the process of trying to back out onto the highway, managed to get the right wheels caught in the deep snow along the verge of the roadbed. And that was that. Initial visual guess by the body shop was “well, it could be a few hundred, or it could be thousands”. Insurance claim submitted. Now just have to wait my turn to find out.

@Jens_Ober, two or three cars passed while I was in the process of trying to dig myself out; once I decided that a pull would be necessary, it was probably another 20 minutes before someone came by. Not much traffic out, but it was a state highway on a Saturday afternoon, and Minnesotans have to get out and about even on snowy days, so I wasn’t worried. For what it’s worth, I always pack a shovel, sleeping bag, extra food, and a backpacking stove on these winter road trips, just in case. Didn’t even need the sleeping bag or stove on this one!


Yeah I think your crop works! =)

Love your image, especially the crop, but sure sorry to hear about the Outback. I think your goal of keeping motion in the snow worked well, and it gives an interesting effect.