Depth of Field:The Story Behind the Image "Pine Needles on Snow”

By: Chris Murray

Volume 14, Issue 3, March 2019

Exposure Data: 1/160 sec, f/16, ISO 200.

Nikon D800E camera, Nikkor 28-70mm lens at 60mm

"Pine Needles on Snow" by Chris Murray []
"Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought." ~ Albert Szent-Gyorgyi

I made this photograph the afternoon of the spring equinox two years ago as I explored the Macsherry Trail. It was a sunny yet unseasonably cold day. I came across an area of fallen pine needles on snow below a large pine tree and was immediately captivated. They may have been pine needles, but what captured my attention was the pattern of randomly oriented lines. The excitement began to grow in me as I knew I had stumbled upon something special.

Landscape photography is largely a matter of problem solving, and this photo was no exception. It hadn’t snowed for days; consequently the snow below the needles was crusty and uneven. Further complicating matters was the sunlight streaming through the tree, casting highlights and shadows across the scene. I knew the image I wanted would be best served in even light. I had an idea. Once I identified the section I wished to photograph I set the camera on the tripod with it aligned parallel to the ground, composed the picture, and set the timer for ten seconds. I clicked the shutter and immediately moved opposite the camera with my back to the sun. I opened my jacket and spread my arms up a la Batman, blocking the sun and casting a shadow over the scene.

A few days later from the comfort of my home I worked to further implement my vision. In processing I converted the scene to black-and-white to increase the contrast between the snow and needles. I then lightened the snow to remove the uneven, crusty texture. I wanted all of the viewer’s attention on the needles. The elimination of all texture and detail resulted in an abstract image; some who have viewed it are not sure what they are looking at. The end result is quite possibly my favorite photograph.

By Chris Murray

Chris Murray is a full-time photographer, instructor, and writer. His work has appeared in several magazines including Popular Photography, Shutterbug, Adirondack Life, Life in the Finger Lakes, and New York State Conservationist, among others. Chris teaches classes at the Thousand Islands Arts Center in Clayton and at Jefferson Community College. He is a staff instructor with the Adirondack Photography Institute. API’s 2019 workshop schedule is now available at For more of Chris’ work visit

Posted in: Volume 14, Issue 3, March 2019, Photography

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