Photographing in the "Ugly" Season

April 30, 2021

There comes a time when we transition from winter to spring. In the time between the last snow melting and the trees starting to bud, things can be brown. Trash starts to show after a winter of hiding under the snow, decorating highway medians and lake shores. The ground gets muddy. It can be a rather ugly season. For the Anchorage area, this is about half of April. But, there are still plenty of photo opportunities available.

Look for Scenes with no Foliage

When the plants that are normally green in the summer are brown at the end of a long winter, look for scenes where no such plants exist. That avoids the brown and ugly problem. It is also a time to get your composition mindset into the sort of scenes that translate well to black and white photography. That does not mean you need to create B&W images, but you should be looking for scenes that make good B&W images. Look for lines, textures, graphic elements.

April's Patterns
Patterns in the sky and mudflats are accented in early morning light along the Turnagain Arm.
Morning Textures
Morning light coats the landscape along the Turnagain Arm near Bird Point.

Take Advantage of Bare Trees

As the summer progresses, some views may be hard to capture due to trees being filled with leaves. Take advantage of that empty space and explore views that you would not be able to capture once the trees are full of greenery.

Go for the Gold

There are some types of grasses that retain a rich, golden hue in the spring - the color they change into in the autumn. Look for landscapes that have these grasses and explore the opportunities that they can provide for rich color.

Look for Migratory Birds

If you live in areas that are along migratory routes, particularly the Pacific Flyway, this is also the time of year for photographing migratory birds! They will also often be found in the same areas that have the golden grasses, adding an element of color to your photos.

Look to the Night Sky

If the landscape is brown and ugly in the daytime, think of nighttime photo opportunities. For Alaska, this is one of the best opportunities to photograph the Milky Way. While summer is the best time in the Lower 48 for photographing the Milky Way, the nights are too bright in Alaska for photographing it. But, at the margins - April and August - we have good opportunity. It is also still a good time for viewing and photographing the northern lights. Look to areas near you where there is no light pollution that can offer good nighttime compositions.

Double Band in the Sky
The Milky Way and a mild aurora over Twenty Mile River, Chugach National Forest.
Galaxy View
The Milky Way fills the sky over the Chugach Mountains and a frozen Knik River.

The key thing to remember is to never let bad conditions - whether it is the seasons or the weather - to stop you from exploring photo opportunities. Beauty can be found just about everywhere if you look for it. And that is one of the joys of being a photographer - we often get to see and explore things that others miss.

Icebergs near the shoreline in Portage Lake, Chugach National Forest.
Berg Gallery

Icebergs near the shoreline in Portage Lake, Chugach National Forest.