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Saturday, March 31, 2012

High Dynamic Range (HDR) - Overdone Technique

If there is one overdone photography technique these days, it's High Dynamic Range photography. One can go to any photo-site and see garishly lit up landscapes, and street photography. I guess for some photographers it's a great photography. But to me, it all looks rather artificial.

I'm not a fan of the nuclear winter, radioactively luminescent looks of those overdone HDR photographs. Last I heard, Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the only cities that were nuked. So throwing up the "nuclear winter-HDR" look on the streets of Philadelphia, just doesn't work for me.

I know that I should put up an example of overdone HDR photography, But I loathe the result so much, I've sworn off "nuclear-winter-HDR" entirely. I will not waste 4-6 frames on my camera to achieve such a result.

When I want HDR, I want HDR as natural looking a photograph as possible, capturing the "dynamic range" of the photos. High Dynamic range is a set of techniques that allows a greater dynamic range between the lightest and darkest areas of an image than current standard digital imaging techniques or photographic methods. This wide dynamic range allows HDR images to represent more accurately the range of intensity levels found in real scenes, ranging from direct sunlight to faint starlight, and is often captured by way of a plurality of differently exposed pictures of the same subject matter. - Wikipedia

2 exposure HDR - done on the iPhone 4s - note that it accurately represents the sunset scene just as my eyes saw it last evening

Note the statement "represent more accurately the range of intensity levels found in real scenes"! The best way to explain this is "how your eyes work". When you look through your eyes, you see a natural looking "high-dynamic range image". You don't see an image that looks like someplace is undergoing nuclear winter with clouds looking like they are radioactively glowing. How your eye sees the world is in High Dynamic Range. Shouldn't your HDR images come close to that to be called true HDR?

Call those nuclear-winter style HDRs what they should be called: Apocalypse-HDRs. Leave them for gritty street photography (where you want to see every gritty detail in stark Bagginian philosophic "Life is a dark, unrewarding struggle" type photography) if you want to know the absolute truth. Note Julian Baggini is a modern-day atheistic philosopher whose viewpoint is this: "Sometimes life is shit and that's all there is to it. Not much bright about that fact." You want your photography to have some punch, then go after this kind of philosophic outlook on your photography if you want to use this kind of HDR: take a look at the proper subject in which to utilize this technique.

Your opinions and conclusions may vary. However, this is my blog and my opinion.

Friday, March 30, 2012

The Taiwan Photographer - Rich J. Matheson

It's not very often that I get to shout out to a good friend whom I've known all the way back in high-school. We had some good times at Terry Fox Senior Secondary. My friend Rich J. Matheson, otherwise known to most photographic circles as "The Taiwan Photographer" has made his name in travel photography and commercial photography in Taiwan. It's a long life trek from Port Coquitlam (where we both knew each other in high school) to a life in Taiwan, but he has made a mark in professional photography.

I remember my friend, Rich, as a jock football player and an all-around terrific nice guy. To a guy who came into Terry Fox midway through the term when friendships were already established, I was welcomed by Rich and his fellow football players. The one and a half years that I spent at Terry Fox Senior and graduating with the classmates in 1989 were probably the best year and a half of my life.

I'm glad that Rich has achieved incredible success as a professional photographer and wish him the very best in his endeavors. I'm honored that he's my friend. And it gives me great pleasure to give him a shout-out in my blog (not that he needs the publicity because he's made it). His photos are incredible. His travel photography leaps out in a way that captures the essence of Taiwan and the places internationally that he has seen.

Here is his website. Take a look, if you are in photography, draw some inspiration from it because Rich's photography inspires me to get even better as a photographer myself. The Taiwan Photographer website.

Thank you, Rich. Not only have we shared a good friendship in high-school, but you are a photographic inspiration. Thank you, my friend.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Central City Mall - SFU Surrey at Dusk, November 11, 2008

Another "Shot of the Day" since I've been recovering from a sinus infection for the past few days.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Female House Finch - March, 26, 2012

This little girl happily peered into our living room window while perched on the minute ledge that bordered our window not more than 2 feet away from us. She was absolutely adorable. She peered over the window sill and looked curiously at us as if to ask "What are you doing?" I actually lifted Storm up onto my lap to see her and the little house finch didn't spook.

Hope I see her again. She's really friendly and wasn't the slightest bit skittish.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Bashing Newbies

There seems to be this disturbing trend among some wedding and portrait photographers, to bash newbies. Their excuses are "The newbies don't know what they're doing, they're taking away my business, they're buying inexpensive (read crappy) equipment and they're undercutting my bottom line.

Wedding photography has always been a cutthroat business. It brooks no failure. You have to be on top of your game in terms of nailing shots or you end up getting left behind in the dust and quite possibly ruining someone's special day. You also have to subordinate yourself to the wishes of the client since it is their wedding and not yours. Save the fancy-schmancy shit for your own wedding if you want it or find clients who don't give a crap about how their wedding shots turn out other than how YOU want them to turn out.

Same thing with portraiture; Portraiture though has the benefit of not being so ritualized and on a time schedule. They have time to sit for numerous takes until you get the "right shot". Albeit, the "time to sit" is within reason. You can't expect a client to take off an entire day and sit for a shoot.

Yes, wedding and portraiture is tough. You have to deal with irascible clients who won't cooperate and still keep your cool. You have to work within time limits and you have to know your lighting and your gear. But the upshot is that you are dealing with subjects whom you can communicate with; you can get them to sit where you want, you can get them to do what you want (within reason). You have to be a social person to be able to do those kinds of photography.

I'm NOT! I don't have that intuitive portrait or wedding photographer's eye and coupled with the lack of enjoying social situations, doing portraits or weddings would be a stupid venture. And that's why I've taken my photography skills elsewhere. Does it mean that I know less than the portrait photographer or the wedding photographer? No. It just means that I chose to do something other than what genres of photography society calls the "moneymakers". I choose to do wildlife because that's my forte. I have an eye for wildlife and I feel alive when I do wildlife photography.

But the second you start bashing others because of their skill level or their "newness" or insinuating that "you know more than they do". That's when you go from legitimate gripes to "assuaging your so-called injured ego". And when you start poking at "newbies" to assuage your ego, you're just an egotistical ass. You may have absolutely incredible skills, but when you start behaving like a spoilt child who had their exclusive toy taken away from you, then you are absolutely nothing.

The only person whom I think has the right to take up an egotistical attitude is Jim Zuckerman, probably the best damned all-around photographer that I have ever seen. Yet, he teaches newbies to improve their skills by putting out articles in books like Petersen's. He doesn't have an ego, he genuinely enjoys teaching as well as photography. So my question is: If he doesn't feel like he needs to have an ego and YOU can't even match his output or quality, then why do you think you have the right to have an ego?

So I would say that work on your craft, work on your jobs, work on your clients and establish yourself as a go-to person in your craft. Don't worry about your competitors. "The more time you spend looking over your shoulder at your competitors, the more likely they are to overtake you". Quit worrying about the jobs that the newbies take, because more than likely, the clients they take are the ones who wouldn't come to you anyways. Do you want to stoop to having to take a job at a lesser charge because they really can't afford your regular rates? No. I didn't think so.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Trek To Wal-Mart - March 23, 2012

My wife and I headed over to Walmart today. Decided to drag my D300s and my AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8 G ED VRII. Since it's spring, there are birds along the path leading towards Walmart. Enroute, I managed to capture a house-finch or song-sparrow (can't tell which), and a robin. On the way back I was able to capture a starling in midflight, a red-winged blackbird launch sequence, another full-breast shot of the same robin (as on the way in) and a rabbit.

Camera-Lens Combo - Nikon D300s and AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8 G ED VRII

Ego and Perception

There has always been the perception among photographers and the general public that when one mentions photography, the conversation invariably turns to "Oh, do you do wedding or portrait or fashion or any of the other myriad genres of photography (related to people)?"

If there is one thing that pisses me off is the colossal ego of some portrait/wedding/fashion photographers and the assumption that they are the pinnacle of photography. Some even go to the point of disparaging other photographers and saying that if they don't shoot models or weddings that they don't know what photography is or they start going on and on about how their photo-shoots are the prime reason why lenses or gear should be created. Some even go so far as to complain about "newbies" in the business whether they are competition to their business or not. It just so happens that some of us enjoy other genres of photography and have absolutely no interest in shooting models or weddings or any of the human-related photography genres.

When a nature photographer gets asked that question, we start getting hives and an incessant urge to itch someplace which would not be suitable in polite company. In a nutshell, NO. The urge to do other forms photography could not be farther away from a nature/wildlife photographer's mind. It's not that we think that it is a pariah's form of photography, but more that we hate dealing with people who are stressed and passive-aggressive. Nor do we enjoy dealing with bridezillas.

Yet nature photographers don't have life easy either. We don't have the benefit of cooperative models or a movable softbox. That big glaring 384.6 yottawatt (3.846×1026 W) spotlight in the sky is the only light we have and we don't have the option of moving it or sticking a softbox on the darned thing. Those of us who shoot nature or wildlife, don't have the opportunity to shoot retakes or move a softbox or wrangle subjects (who can understand what we're saying) around. We track, compose and shoot our subjects all in one take. If we try to wrangle our subjects around, we run the risk of getting gored, trampled, eaten, attacked and otherwise maimed. That is why we have to know our stuff. We don't have second chances to get the shots we want. We have to deal with stressed wildlife that can trample, claw you to death or otherwise maim you and if the specimen isn't the best specimen around, tough beans, we're stuck with the shot. You ever try to Portrait Professional an eagle that is in the process of a molt? Absolutely impossible. And in order to make sure that we get a proper picture, we have to stay at a location for hours and hours, a prospect that would make the most hardened portrait or wedding photographer scream in frustration. Or if you're a landscape photographer, it's even tougher, the landscape doesn't move, the only two things that you can do is move yourself and dictate the time at which you approach the location. That's it. You're at the mercy of the light. So when you've got a situation where one shot is all that you have, you need to know your camera, your settings and your gear or risk losing the shot.

I think George Stocking, renowned landscape photographer said it even more clearly in his article to which I will link to here, that all portrait, wedding and fashion photographers should read in case they get an over-inflated sense of their own skills. Perception Is(n't) Always Reality. When you want to test your over-all skills and think that we landscape/nature photographers have it easy: "Let's find out, shall we? Let's see if you can walk the well as you talk the talk!"

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Pricier Options - Bird Photography Lenses

This post is aimed to those who have more money than they know what to do with, who've made wise investments that allow them to turn a 401K or tax return into a pricey lens acquisition or have had a rich relative leave them some money. This is the article of lenses for whom money is no obstacle to obtaining the gear necessary to do wildlife photography for pay.

The Pricey Lenses

The Main Competitors

Nikon AF-S 300mm f/2.8 VRII G ED

This lens, like it's cousin, the 70-200mm f/2.8 VRII, was designed to be used with the TC-20EIII. Less weighty than it's bigger cousin, the 400mm f/2.8 VR, handholdable, even with a 2x teleconverter, it will give a nice sharp 600mm. Well worth getting as an entry into the professional grade wildlife-lenses, but even then only coupled with either a 1.7x or 2x teleconverter.

Nikon AF-S 400mm f/2.8 G ED VR II IF ED

The Nikon 400mm f/2.8 ED VRII IF-ED is one heavy lens. At 400mm on bare-bones , it needs to be supported by a heavy duty tripod designed for super-telephoto lenses. At f/2.8 , one can stick a 1.4x teleconverter all the way up to a 2x teleconverter without loss of autofocus. This is not a lens that can be hand-held by any stretch of the imagination. And unless supported by a teleconverter, it is still considered at the short-end of the birding photography range of lenses.

Nikon AF-S 500mm f/4G ED VR

In a switch that makes you wonder, the Nikon 500mm f/4 G ED VR is hand-holdable, up to a certain point. But still any more than 2 minutes holding it and you'll want to stick it onto a monopod or a tripod. But considering it is lighter than it's 100mm shorter cousin, the 500mm gives bird photographers a longer range. The flipside is that it isn't happy with any teleconverter other than a 1.4x TC. With the f/4 maximum aperture, 1.4 TC will drop it down to f/5.6. Any longer TCs on the Nikon AF-S 500mm will send it into manual focus territory.

Nikon AF-S 600mm f/4 G ED VR

This is the Big Mama of the Nikon Range, at least until they bring out their 800mm f/5.6 in an AF-S VR version to compete with Canon's 800mm. This is the lens of every bird and wildlife photographers' dreams. Coupled with a 1.4x teleconverter, it turns into an 840mm f/5.6 monster. This lens is heavy and not to be used without a beanbag or a sturdy super-telephoto rated tripod. Either one of the Induros or the Gitzo systematic tripods. At $10,900.00, the 600mm will make a rather nasty dent in your pocket book too. This is not the type of lens that you want to stick on a rickety lightweight tripod, just because you don't have the cash to buy a sturdy tripod. Save up a bit more and buy a supertelephoto rated tripod along with a gimbal head. Like the 500mm, it will not be happy with a teleconverter longer than the 1.4x. Stick a 1.7x or a 2x on the lens and you're venturing into manual focus territory.

Nikon AF-S 200-400mm f/4 G ED VRII

The compromise zoom supertelephoto that Nikon came up with. Now in it's second iteration, the VRII equipped 200-400 is a slight improvement on the original. This lens operates happily with the Nikon TC-14EII or TC-17EII, The 200-400mm VRII is not happy with the TC-20EIII, unless you're comfortable with shooting in manual focus. On the whole this lens is geared towards larger wildlife rather than birds. If you were going to spend $6,000 or $7,000 on a lens, I'd go after the 300mm f/2.8 VRII over the 200-400mm VRII if you're aiming for bird photography.

The Runners-Up

Sigma 300mm f2.8 EX APO HSM

The Sigma 300mm f/2.8 EX APO HSM is a good compromise, but the Sigma extenders only choices are 1.4x and 2x. At a 600mm f/5.6, it's not a bad option if you want to save a couple of thousand dollars. But it's a far cry from using the Nikon 300mm f/2.8 VRII. Sigma tends to shoot a bit bright and faded, but that's nothing a little contrast can't improve. Understand though that 300mm are to be used with TCs if you want range enough to shoot bird photography.

Sigma 500mm f/4.5 EX DG APO HSM

At just a little over $5,000.00, this is probably a good bargain compared to it's comparable Nikon competitor at $8,500.00. This Sigma lens is considerably sharp and other than the slight faded shots from most Sigma lenses that can be improved by contrast, this is well-worth the money.

Sigma 800mm f/5.6 EX DG APO HSM

All things considered, in the Nikon mount range, the Sigma 800mm is your only option above 600mm. Until Nikon decides to come out and play with the 800s with an AF-S VR entry (Currently Sigma and Canon), there is no 800mm option other than Sigma.

Sigma 300-800mm f/5.6 EX DG APO HSM

The Sigma 300-800mm is an attractive option, since the aperture is fixed constant at f/5.6 at 300mm through 800mm. Not only does it give the option of zoom, where you can find your subject with the wider focal view of 300mm then zoom into target the subject at 800mm, it gives you the option of standing your ground and not giving away your position to the bird that you are trying to track and photograph. However the cost of this versatile lens is just about as expensive as the 600mm f/4.

So this concludes the list of lenses that one needs for bird photography. Hopefully this gave you an idea of what lenses you might consider when you go to look at acquiring a lens for bird photography.

What Are My Options - Not a Whole Lot of Money!

So, what options does one have when you are looking at a telephoto lens if you a) don't have an inheritance coming to you, b) haven't won a lottery, c) you haven't robbed a Swiss bank or d) your paycheck just keeps saying "Good-bye!"?

You do still have several options that you can consider that will bring you over the hallowed 400mm range which is the absolute minimum for bird photography. As I've said before, 400mm is the absolute minimum you should think about having for bird photography.

Numerous articles keep mentioning the 70-300mm lenses. I'm not even going to bother as I consider them too short to do anything seriously. They're great for a day at the zoo where you can turn around and say "Oh, I saw a tiger...yesterday" (and you can just leave off the "in a cage" part). First of all, you have to commit to spending a 4-figure sum on lenses. If the thought of that gives you heart palpitations, then I'd suggest you not read further. At minimum you will be spending over $1,000. And that's just getting the bottom lens on the rung. Now as you know, I'm a Nikon dude and I'm not familiar with Canon, Olympus, Sigma or Sony. So you'll have to go elsewhere for that information. What you get here is pure undiluted Nikon information and Nikon-compatible third party lens information.


Nikon AF-S 300mm f/4 D IF-ED (+ TC-14EII or TC-17EII)

The Nikon AF-S 300mm f/4 D IF-ED is probably consider the highest rated value-telephoto lens on the market today. The only thing that would make this lens any better would be adding VR to the mix. This lens, you can couple with a 1.4x teleconverter (the TC-14EII) to make the lens a 420mm f/5.6 or a TC-17EII to make it a 510mm f/6.3. The lens is sharp, even when you start putting teleconverters on it. However a TC-20EIII is not adviseable as the lens will turn into a manual focus at aperture ranges of f/8. As it is hard to determine the flight path of birds while trying to manual focus, it's not adviseable to have a manual focus lens while attempting to get sharp images. frankly, this combination is so good that a lot of professionals keep this as their birds-in-flight lens

Nikon AF-S VRII 70-200mm f/2.8 G ED (+TC-20EIII)

This combination will get you to 400mm at f/5.6. Probably not the best option as it only gives you a slightly larger image than the 300mm image that I posted in the previous post. However, if you already have a 70-200mm f/2.8 VRII and are only doing bird photography as a hobby, it's a bandaid solution until you can afford to pick up the 300mm f/4 and round out your TC collection. The images are sharp, but are best suited to birds that are acclimated to human interaction.

Tamron AF 200-500mm f/5-6.3 SP Di LD IF

Tamron has been considered a decent lens, however the chromatic aberration on this lens at the maximum length of 500mm does cause a problem. This lens falls strictly in the realm of hobbyist and is not recommended for professionals trying to make money off their images. If you are trying to get into stock wildlife photography then stick to the top two options.

Sigma 150-500mm F5-6.3 APO DG OS HSM

Sigma has come out with some very decent lenses. The OS version of the 150-500mm is pretty fast focusing and the images are sharp. The trick though is making sure that you get a good quality lens. This may involve returning several samples. Try it out in store and make sure that you get a good solid copy before actually committing to the purchase of this lens. I do like the optical stabilization feature (similar to Nikon's VR), on the lens. However I'd have to give a -1 on quality control as too many lenses with issues tend to come out of production. With the OS on the 50-500mm now, I'm wondering about the future of this lens.

Sigma 50-500mm F4.5-6.3 APO DG OS HSM

The one thing I like about the 50-500mm is that you can go to wide-angle to find your subject then zoom in closer to compose your shot. With the OS on the 50-500mm now, it practically pushes the 150-500mm out of the marketplace. As with the 150-500mm, there are quality control issues that I do not like about this lens. However if you get a good solid example. Keep it. It is a lens that is well-worth the $1999.99 for the money. You don't get a lens that will go out to 500mm all that often. Some people complain that at 500mm, the lens is a little on the soft side wide open. You can opt to up the ISO and drop your aperture 1 stop to f/8 and the sharpness will return. All in all, it's a great lens if you're looking to shoot bird photography as a hobby.

Now, these lenses are the cheaper end of the spectrum. The other lenses I'll go into later as Sigma has some solid examples of prime supertelephoto lenses. And Nikon's super-telephotos cannot be beat.

Range - Essential for Bird Photography

When you're doing bird photography, it's frustrating to not have enough range to get a frame-filling shot of the subject that you're looking at. My longest lens is 300mm, and yet, that still isn't enough to get a decent shot of a bird that fills the frame.

At 300mm, you do not get a whole lot of bird in the frame. Take for example this hawk at 300mm f/5.6 (shot with the 70-300mm f/4-5.6 G). You see a lot of high-tension power pole; not a whole lot of red-tail hawk.

At the digital equivalent of 600mm, you begin to see a lot of hawk, but still a lot of power pole as well.

It is only when you slap a TC-14EII onto the digital equivalent of a 600mm f/4 (since I don't have a real 600mm f/4 and a TC-14EII, I'm going to have to simulate it roughly).

As you can see with the approximate photos, that range on a lens is extremely important when it comes to bird photography. The more bird you can fill in the frame, in-camera, the less pixels you lose when it comes to cropping an image. In fact, the less you have to even think about cropping an image, the better off you are. Flexibility in your lens collection is key. If you are not ready to drop the equivalent of a small mortgage on your hobby, look into getting a Sigma 50-500mm OS. Or go for a Sigma 500mm f/4.5 supertelephoto lens that you can put a 1.4x Sigma extender on it. That will get you out to a decent range. Note that Sigma does not have a 1.7x extender, nor will you want to do warranty-voiding surgery on your Nikon TC-17EII teleconverter to be able to fit it onto a Sigma supertelephoto lens.

If you want to go birding or do bird photography, range is essential. When I get the AF-S VR 600mm f/4 G ED and TC-14EII in 2015, I'll do a comparison article again to give you a real view of how the TC and bare bones lenses compare in terms of real-world shooting.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Camera Rage Comic Strip

This idea came up as a comic strip idea due to my boredom with the fluctuating weather of the Fraser Valley during the early spring making it difficult to get out and shoot photography and the fact that just "waiting" on camera gear tends to drive me insane. So in order to amuse myself, I came up with "rage comics leaning towards photography frustrations". With a trial run of 4 strips so far and a debut thread on Planet Nikon forum, I'd say it was well received.

A quick history of rage comics: Rage Comics are series of web comics with characters, sometimes referred to as “rage faces”, that are often created with simple drawing software such as MS Paint. The comics are typically used to tell stories about real life experiences, and end with a humorous punchline. It has become increasingly popular to create the comics using web applications often referred to as “rage comic generators” or “rage makers”.

Monday, March 19, 2012

March 9, 2007 - Yapping Seagull

A rather self-absorbed seagull at Canada Place begging for food.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Take Yer Camera With Ya...or Ya Might Miss It! - Red Tailed Hawk on St. Patrick's Day

When I get that internal prod to take my camera out it is best that I not ignore it. When I do, it's guaranteed that I miss something. I listened to my "prod" today and managed to nail 3 really nice shots of a red-tailed hawk as my wife and I were heading over to Wal-Mart.

Speaking to those of us who photograph - It's so easy to not picked up your camera, or your tripod, or any bit of camera equipment. After all, they're so heavy, or you're just going out for short period of time. We make up all sorts of excuses when we should be doing what it is that we're good at (as photographers). If we're photographers, then why not have your camera there with you at all times. We swear up and down every time that we miss a shot that we wish that we had our camera there. Today, for me was a prime example. I had my camera there - I got the shot!

Probably my best shot of the day of the red-tail launching itself off the post...

In full wing spread, gathering speed to dodge high-tension wires and do a turn to the east. Not the best shot because the high-tension wire blocked his right wingtip. But feathers are crisp and in focus.

You can see that famous red, yellow and black plumage of the red-winged blackbird, however the confounded thing is behind a pair of intersecting branches...that makes this shot a complete bust! I'll just keep it as a reference.

So don't give into the "I only need to go out for a minute, back is sore...I don't want to lug that thing around today" excuse bug. After all...think of what you just might run across

Happy Shootin' n' Happy Saint Patrick's Day.

Friday, March 16, 2012

"The Bird Watching Answer Book"

A nice little book that I was eyeing at the local Black Bond Books. My wife said that she would pick it up. It's a book with answers to the questions that you may have about birdwatching. Considering I'm hoping to do a lot of bird photography, bird watching skills would be good to hone up on.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Cloud Formations - February 18, 2007

The next few days I'm going to be putting up a few "pictures of the day". The reason being is that I'm recovering from a bit of a throat-infection and I'm not spending a whole lot of time in the task of photo-editing. Once I get back to 100%, I'll be back with a bunch of stuff.

Impressive cloud formations over 4th Avenue and Macdonald Street in Vancouver's West Side. Shot this while my parents still lived out that way.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Photo Of The Day - April 27, 2007

Interesting cloud formation - a cumulonimbus cloud towering ominously over Alberta...tall enough to be viewable from King George Blvd in Surrey, British Columbia

Monday, March 12, 2012

Winter 2007-2008 - Snow Photos - Dec 22, 2007

Photos of the Winter 2007-08 snowfall, which was a considerable amount for the usual amount of precipitation in winter for the Lower Mainland.

Happy Holidays Greetings from Translink!

Snow-covered bus stop sign

Brrrrr!!! Cold

Snow covered branches