photography from the ground up

Winter On The Burn

We have had two major wildfires here in the Jemez Mountains over the last four years. Each destroyed well over 100,000 acres leaving large tracts of forest scarred with the burned skeletons of once majestic conifer trees. After a while, you get used to the desolation. It can even have its own kind of harsh beauty.


The East Fork of the Jemez River flows through Las Conchas where the 2011 Las Conchas wildfire started.

Winter can be especially beautiful in a burn. The tonal contrast between the white snow and the black, charred trees is striking. The textural contrast between the trees on a burned ridge and a lowering storm cloud provide strong elements and tell a story of loss reconciled by time and weather. We can use such conditions to make more compelling images.


Mixed conifers which were burned in the Las Conchas wildfire in 2011 coated in a layer of hoarfrost

When conditions are right, the bones of the dead trees become coated with hoarfrost and are transformed into fragile, crystalline structures. You can almost hear the tinkling of their branches as they sag under the weight of the frost.


Conifer skeletons left over from the 2011 Las Conchas wildfire dressed in a fragile coating of hoarfrost

When the sun breaks through a low-hanging bank of clouds, the light is transformed; it becomes, in a way, magical. The shadows and the mist of the clouds create a kind of frame that surround and isolate the area which is lit, making it the focal point of the composition.


Cerro La Jara in the Valle Grande is illuminated by the sun through a break in the low hanging clouds that cover Redondo Peak which burned in the 2013 Thompson Ridge wildfire.

Otherwise unremarkable elements of the landscape become worthy of attention when they are enhanced by a coat of frost.


Mixed conifers that survived the Cerro Grande wildfire in 2000 stand covered in a thick coat of hoarfrost

They come front and center when the rest of the scene is obscured by cloud cover. Such conditions reduce the clutter that would, under normal conditions, draw our attention away from them.


Mixed conifer trees that survived the Cerro Grande wildfire in 2000, their needles covered in a thick coating of hoarfrost

The last two images are successful only because of the low clouds which block the view of a conifer covered hillside. If we could see the entire scene, the trees in the foreground would become lost in the background of similar shapes and patterns. By using the softness and the simplicity of winter conditions, we can imbue otherwise unattractive or unworkable scenes with qualities that make them stand out, and render them more recognizable and appealing to the eye of a viewer.







13 responses

  1. Jim Streeter

    these might make some interesting black and white photos


    March 14, 2015 at 11:50 am

  2. Ambienteubv's blog

    Reblogged this on miplanetabonito.


    March 14, 2015 at 12:07 pm

  3. Beautiful images, wonderful photography!!


    March 14, 2015 at 12:26 pm

  4. I was just talking about the cool blues, greys and golden tones of the winter landscape in Iceland Jim and here they are again, in the US, beautifully captured I might say. Fabulous photographs.


    March 14, 2015 at 12:29 pm

  5. Really nice set, Jim! The first and the Cerro la Jara shot stand out, but all are very nice. The Jemez are really beautiful in winter, burned or not.


    March 14, 2015 at 1:55 pm

    • Thanks Jackson. It’s an amazing place. I’ve lived here for nearly forty years and never tire of the scenery.


      March 17, 2015 at 9:18 am

  6. Why white snow on dark trees are always appeling?


    March 16, 2015 at 11:50 am

  7. K'lee L.

    Fantastic photos!


    March 17, 2015 at 4:24 pm

  8. Wonderful images. I live in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia, Canada and we experience the dramatic and destructive ravages of wildfires too. It is a very stressful time as the raging inferno creeps ever closer to one’s home and the final evacuation order is anticipated with a moment’s notice. The destruction is a constant reminder of the risks of life in our region…as a graveyard expanse lined with towering spindles of scorched cedar and pine that will stand in stark reminder for years to come.

    The snow is indeed beautiful blanketing the trees, as an artist’s painting on canvas.


    March 18, 2015 at 1:37 am

  9. These are wonderful Jim. I’d call it making lemonade out of lemons. Very beautiful captures.


    March 18, 2015 at 8:12 pm

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