Snow and a spruce tree

Black and white photo of a snow covered spruce tree in winter, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, Alaska.

A lone spruce tree sits above the forest, drenched after a snowfall

I laugh when I see this image today. Really, I chuckle every time. I’d forever seen so many great photos of this kind of thing, a single tree on a hillside somewhere, dripping with fresh snow, laden to the hilt, and standing in a soup of fresh, pristine powder. And I wanted that photo, or one like it. I had no idea how many obstacles there are that sneak into the way of making such a photo.

Yes, I thought it’d be rather easy to grab dozens of shots like this my first winter in the park, my first winter in Alaska. Silly me. The first winter in Alaska I made not a single image like this at all. Why? Because so many factors have to come together, just right to make it work. The snow dump has to be pretty solid, and in interior Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, the snow doesn’t typically dump, but flurries down a 1/4 inch at a time. It’s a very dry snow, and blows away at the slightest breeze. So after a good dumping of snow, you then need a clearing weather pattern to come in, with some nice light, and have zero wind at all. And up high, where this kind of image is made, the wind tends to blow regularly.

So once all those factors come together, you then have to “be there”; and if you’re not here until tomorrow, you’re too late. I know this well, as I returned to this scene the following day, and not a single branch of this young spruce tree held snow. Not one.

On top of all that, you can’t traverse around the tree and find too many different angles, tracking the snow up as you go. You have to stand back, watch and find your image and composition, carefully make your photos, and then move along.

So I chuckle at my naivety. To make these kinds of images aren’t made all day, every day, all winter long. I’ve learned a lot in this place.

Black and white photo of a snow covered spruce tree in winter, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska.

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