Leroy Oakes Forest Preserve

Northern Illinois got it's first snow of the season when a few inches came down just before lunch yesterday. I hadn't taken the camera out for a while so I decided to head over to Leroy Oakes Forest Preserve here in St. Charles to see if I could capture some of the magic. It's a wonderful park just west of the city and while it's a hot spot for portrait photographers, I discovered years ago that when it's blanketed in snow there are some perfect spots for minimalist landscapes.

I pulled in and sure enough there were a few families brave enough to be doing portrait sessions in the blustery snow. Just past the two barns where most of the portraits are taken is a small one room schoolhouse, Sholes School. Local grade-schoolers get to spend the day there in period costume learning about what it was like living here in Illinois back in the 1800's - which I myself was lucky enough to do back in second grade.

Paired with my 16-35mm f/4, I stuffed my camera into a rain cover and jumped out of the car to see what I could get as the snow started coming down even harder. No one else was brave enough to face the deepening snow here, so the immediate area was untouched. I captured this frame from underneath a large tree on the walkway leading up to the school building itself.

There is a white fence around the schoolhouse could use some repairs, but I think it adds to the overall charm of the property. In the next shot I was at 16mm so I stood only a few inches from the post in the foreground, the lens distortion made for an interesting composition. I had tried this exact shot years ago at 19mm and just wasn't happy, but this time around I am really pleased with the results that the extra 3mm gives me.

Another shot I had taken years ago that I was hoping to re-visit was one of a row of trees near the entrance of the park. An access road since removed caused this set of trees to line up straight as an arrow, disappearing into the snowy horizon.

Just on the other side of the main road stand another two trees leaning towards each other almost as if they are about to hug. I made this photo as the snow continued to pick up its pace, making it very difficult to see what I was doing.

Visibility was dropping so I decided to turn around and trudge back to the car to see what I had gotten. Fortunately as I turned I realized that the very large bank of trees that normally I would completely ignore were naturally just fading away into the horizon, disappearing into the swirling snow. Captured almost entirely in camera this next photo was only sharpened a touch, thats all. I love how everything just fades out of frame without any after effects.

I kept getting even closer as I tried a few different perspectives, finally taking what is my favorite shot from the day. This was from the very end of the row, while making sure the surrounding trees still faded into the snow.

I love taking minimalist landscapes and while snowstorms are difficult to shoot in, they create some wonderful results. Normally I don't wish for a lot of snow during the winter, but after yesterday's outing I am going to be keeping my eye on the weather reports hoping for some big storms.