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Today we’re talking with Julie Covert whose stunning photography coffee table book, Art of Winter, shows the beauty that winter creates with ice and snow.

1. What inspired you to go outside, as you described in your introduction to the book, often in single digit temperatures to capture these images?

Initially my only intention was to go for a walk and explore the area where I lived. It was my first winter here in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Although I didn’t intend to do any photography, I kept finding unique ice and snow formations. I thought my friends, family and my blog readers might be interested in seeing these formation, so I started photographing them. The ice and snow are constantly changing and creating beauty for the eye to behold. It wasn’t what I had expected. I found it inviting and invigorating to be outdoors.

2. These images are stunning and you have some wonderful endorsements from nationally renowned photographers. How did you get interested in photography?

Even though my girl friends always hung out in the high school dark room and my uncle always took pictures, as a kid, I never considered myself any good. I didn’t know anything and had an inexpensive 120mm camera. Then when I was in massage school in California, I continually admired pictures that my boyfriend took. At the time, I had some extra money so I bought a Nikon SLR camera just like his.

3. At what point did you decide to create a book of your photographs?

It was about a year after taking these pictures that I entertained the thought of printing a coffee table book. I had a coupon for an online do-it-yourself photography book. So I thought about what images I would like to be able to show others. This was one of the collections that I am most proud of, so I chose these unique images. I ordered one copy. My husband and I liked how it turned out so we decided to order more for holiday gifts. Friends and family gave me great feedback and kept asking, “Are you going to publish this?” They and the local gift stores wanted copies.

4. What made you think people would be interested in a book about snow and ice on Lake Huron? 

I’ve always been told I took beautiful pictures and I get to experience a type of winter that not many people do. I did a lot of research to determine if there were any coffee table books about winter’s beauty. I didn’t find any. Other coffee table books contained some pictures of snow or ice, but none were dedicated to winter. And people kept telling me that these images changed their impressions of winter. One neighbor said, “I never knew winter could be so beautiful.” This book shows the intricate and rich beauty that can be found in the starkness of winter.

5. I’ve never seen pictures like these. What goes through your mind as you prepare to take a picture?

When I see something that piques my interest I think about all the technical aspects of taking a good picture - aperture, shutter speed, lighting, depth of field, etc. But primarily I’m thinking about the story that I want to convey. For me, a good image is one that makes people think or that tells the story that runs through my head. Photography is the way I create visual stories of the world around me, so others can enjoy what I see.

6. What do you want to convey with these photos? What would you like people to get from this book?*

What I would like people to get from this book is summed up well by a woman who has lived in Milwaukee, WI all her life and is sick of snow. Upon seeing these images she said that I actually caused her to appreciate the splendor and wonder of the textures and colors of winter. That’s what I want people to get from this book. 

I want people to be able to see the beauty of winter, to see things that they may never have seen before or known about, either because they are not able to experience it first-hand or because they have lost their interest in being outside during winter.

I want to show others the art that nature creates. I want people to be intrigued by, enjoy and ask questions about the world around them. I hope my work inspires people to look, see and appreciate what is around them.

I set out to see what was there. The more I looked and walked and saw, the more I realized that there were some amazing spectacles to behold. Winter became my favorite season when I realized how beautiful and invigorating it was.

7. Why did you decide to self-publish Art of Winter?

When I started researching publishing - traditional versus self-publishing - I talked with some professional photographers who were friends-of-friends and had self-published. Although I had identified a few traditional publishers that publish coffee table books, I knew it would be a long process. The main reason, though, why I decided to self-publish was to maintain creative control. I knew exactly what I wanted the book to look like. And my graphic designer, Allison Gritton, who did the file layout and preparation, had some really creative ideas for the jacket and essays, which made the book even more beautiful.

8. What was the most difficult aspect of creating these photographs? What was the biggest challenge in taking these pictures?*

Most people think that the biggest challenge was keeping my fingers warm, but the most difficult aspect of winter photography was keeping my camera battery warm. In one of the two essays in the book, I talk about how I kept my fingers warm by wearing thin gloves inside mittens. The days when it was bitter cold, the cold quickly depleted my camera battery charge, so I had to keep my camera tucked in my parka to keep it as warm as possible.

9. What type of camera do you use?

Did you hear about the author who won a Pulitzer Prize? His buddy, upon hearing the good news, said, “Gee you must have a good typewriter.” Good photos used to require a good camera, the axiom “the bigger the better” used to apply. With the development of digital photography a person with a good eye can take a great image with almost any camera, although the larger the megapixel and the higher quality the lens is the better the image will be for printing. For winter images I primarily work with a Nikon D80 and a Panasonic Lumix. I also use a Mamiya RZ Pro II, but it is a bit cumbersome when working on ice and snow.

10. What do you look for? How did you determine what to photograph?

What catches my eye are reflections, unusual shapes, contrasts of color, and how light plays off the snow and ice. I try to capture what someone might not notice beyond the snow and cold. As much as I enjoy the big large picture, I purposefully seek out the uniqueness of the small, such as “Hoarfrost Sailboats” lower left on page 14 of Art of Winter.

11. What advice would you give for someone who wants to do winter photography?

There are three things. First, get down on the ground and don’t worry about getting wet! Sure you have to dress warmly. You’ll be rewarded by some great lighting and delightful finds. I found “Crystal Cave,” page 25, when I looked under a ledge of snow. It was only a couple inches tall. Second, make sure you understand that what your camera captures is not necessarily what your mind sees. For “Delicate Rainbow,” page 96, I took sixteen shots to make sure that I got the image that my mind’s eye saw—delicate icicles reflecting rainbows in the water. And third, keep your spare battery warm!

12. What was the biggest challenge in publishing this book?

Deciding how to pay for Art of Winter without using a lot of my retirement savings was the biggest challenge. A friend had raised money for a music project on the crowd-funding website Kickstarter. I realized that I could probably raise money to cover some of the costs of graphics design, printing, publicity and other expenses involved. By pre-selling copies and prints, I was able to raise almost half of my expenses for the book.

13. The book jacket cover mentions that, in addition to being a photographer, you are an author, teacher and therapist. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I live off the grid on a private 40 acre island with my husband on the Eastern-end of the Upper Peninsula on Lake Huron. I’m curious about life; I enjoy nature and have a thirst for experiencing life. I enjoy reading, good cooking, contra dancing, hiking, and anything related to water - swimming, snorkeling, canoeing, and sailing.

I like to examine what is around me; I got this curiosity about life and nature from my grandmother and father. They encouraged me to ponder and ask questions about what I see.

To pay the bills, I am a bodyworker and mentor therapists in massage and bodywork. I also teach dialoguing classes and central nervous systems dissection classes. I enjoy blogging and writing books.

14. What type of advice do you have for others who might want to publish their own book?

Do your homework―research your competition and identify how your book is different. Determine if there is a need for the book. Then examine all the costs involved above and beyond the printing costs - design, layout, purchasing your ISBN and UPC, publicity, advertising, and the myriad of other costs of which one does not initially think about. Figure out how you are going to pay for it. Talk to people who have done similar projects and get their advice about how they did it, what worked and what they would do differently. Then if you’re still excited - go for it!

15. What is going to be your next photography book? Are you going to do one on spring?

So many people ask me this. People already appreciate spring; spring does not enthrall me like winter does. I don’t know what will be the next coffee table book. Inspiration and curiosity will lead me to the next project. In the meantime I’m writing a memoir about my first year of living here off-the-grid on the island in Lake Huron. Think Forty Acres of Heaven.

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2010 - 2015 Julie McKay Covert Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from Julie Covert is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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Julie McKay Covert