Winter weather changes even the most familiar landscapes. Learn from the pros what it takes to capture the eerie beauty of a snow-covered city.
Snow has the ability to turn even the most gritty of cities into impressionistic dreamlands. The great pictorialist photographer Alfred Stieglitz understood this when he photographed a busy 5th Avenue in the winter of 1893. Otto Bettmann knew it in 1958 when he photographed a group of five children running through a snow-covered Central Park. And Saul Leiter realized it in 1960 when he photographed the figure of an unknown man behind a frosty window.
Snow is every city’s best friend and worst enemy, making everything at once utterly beautiful and terribly inconvenient. But while most people are tucked safely at home beside the fireplace, photographers are out and about in the bitter cold searching for magic. We asked eight of them to tell us about their most memorable, snowiest shoots ever.
1. “New York City is a very special place during a snowstorm. The city noise becomes muffled, public places remain deserted, and things get quiet and calm while the skyscrapers turn into shadows.”
Image by Francois Roux. Gear: Canon 1Ds Mark I.II camera, Canon EF24-70mm F2.8L II. Settings: Exposure 1/10 sec; f8; ISO 100. [5 vertical images stitched together]
What’s the story behind this photo?
It was mid-February. They had announced a snowstorm that would start in the middle of the night and last until the middle of the next day with twenty to thirty inches of snow and high winds. A blizzard was on its way.
In these conditions, most people usually choose to keep warm at home, but for me, it triggered something totally different. I had to be there! At 5:00 AM, the alarm clock went off, and I stepped onto the balcony to make sure the conditions were right and was welcomed by a big snowstorm with ten inches on the ground already.
Barely taking enough time for a coffee, I packed my camera and gear, covered myself heavily, and set out to Central Park and headed for Bow Bridge. I was glad to be familiar with the area because with twenty inches of snow on the ground, almost no light, and such a strong wind, it was almost impossible to know where to tread.
The storm was too strong, and visibility was almost null. The only thing I could see was a part of Bow Bridge but nothing behind it. All the ideas I had in mind were not going to work. Still, I tried a couple of images.
Three hours later, I was getting tired and cold, so I decided to go back home, taking the path leading me to the Gapstow Bridge on the other side of the park. That’s precisely when it happened.
The storm lowered in intensity; the wind started to drop, and for the first time, I could see beyond fifty feet. I decided to wait a little, and slowly, right in front of me, the lake, the bridge, and the first skyscrapers in the distance started to appear. I barely had the time to take a couple of shots and enjoy the view. Just a few minutes later, visibility was down again, and the snow turned into rain. It was over, and it was time for me to go home to a warm coffee.