I am referring to the *optical* inversion often forced by snow.

Typically, in a work of the visual arts, the main subject is highly illuminated and the rest of the frame gets progressively darker as we move toward the edges. Our eyes tend to follow the light, so visual artists have traditionally used this simple illumination technique, ‘putting a spotlight’ on the subject, so to speak, to draw our attention to whatever they may want to highlight. This is clearly seen in the works of e.g. the Dutch Masters

Back to Camas, Washington, my home town. This little creek and waterfalls is a popular sightseeing spot, but frustratingly difficult to photograph ‘in context.’ One can zoom in to the actual falls or the creek above them, or the forest, but trying to include all three of these elements in a single frame presents major technical difficulties. The forest shades the creek and the falls reflect most of the light, creating a huge disparity in tonal values. It is the classic “High Dynamic Range” problem, further compounded by the fact that the falls also require a fast enough shutter speed to get any detail in the running water… But a high shutter speed further darkens the already shaded creek. A real exposure challenge.

Could we use artificial lighting?  From the main vantage point for these falls using flash or reflectors is an exercise in futility since the creek starts more than 100ft away and fades out of sight several hundred yards beyond that. Thankfully, image processing software has now given us the ability to locally and selectively adjust the light, in a very similar fashion to that used by painters. Working on the computer, after the field shooting session, we can literally “paint the light” exactly where we want it in any given scene.

Using such digital processing techniques a few years ago, I created this image of the falls in …”Dutch master” lighting style. Moving forward a few years, our recent snow day gave me a chance to try something different again. A deliberate inversion of light; let the snow brighten up the edges and encase the subject in a bright ‘frame’ while keeping the creek dark, but still visible. It breaks all the lighting conventions, but, somehow, it works.

Or… at least I think it does.