Snow Tree by Michael "Nick" Nichols

Canon Master, Michael "Nick" Nichols is an award-winning photographer whose work has taken him to the most remote corners of the world. He became a staff photographer for National Geographic magazine in 1996 and was named Editor-at-Large in January 2008.

The December 2012 cover story of National Geographic magazine featured a five-page foldout of Nick's image of a 247 feet tall, 3,200 year-old  Giant Sequoia tree.

Nick created the image using 126 photos taken over 45 minutes using innovative rigging techniques during an intense Californian blizzard.

Snow Tree by Michael Nick Nichols - Canon
© Snow Tree by Michael 'Nick' Nicols - Canon EOS 1D Mark IV

We caught up with Nick while he was out in the field and spoke to him about spending this winter in Yellowstone National Park, the challenges of photographing in snow and the story behind his remarkable image.

On spending winter in Yellowstone

'I'm currently on a year-long shoot to document the eco-system of Yellowstone National Park. It's elk mating season right now which is fascinating and it means winter's just around the corner. Winter comes quickly and early here. Temperatures can reach 40 below and we're expecting up to 50 feet of snow, so we're going to be staying close to Old Faithful and getting around on snow mobiles for the next few months.'

On shooting in snow

'I'm still learning when it comes to shooting in snow! Fresh snow has its own tonality. It seems to take away all the flaws of the world and make it look like it's been given a fresh coat of paint. This fairy tale quality makes everything seem quieter, slower - even in big cities.

Of course, life goes on but it just seems more contemplative. Snow provides a sense of separation. There's something really beautiful about it, as what you're seeing is so fresh and you see the world so differently. It makes you want to go out while the snow storm is going on to photograph it.

One important thing to remember when you're photographing in snow is to use a light metre and adjust your camera to give it more light. Cameras automatically expect to see grey, so in bright snow you need to compensate to get the right exposure.'

The story behind Snow Tree

'This tree is called The President and is the second largest tree on earth. It hadn't been aged by scientists until we took this photo.

We spent about two years planning this image. I scoped it out the year before. The idea was to take a 45 minute snapshot of the 3,200 years this tree has been there. It's not a false-composite - we shot it in one pass - partly because the blizzard was so intense! But I waited for the snow as I realised it would look more spectacular.

We spent two weeks setting up and getting the composition. We used a rope and dolly system which doesn't harm the trees. I used three Canon 1D Mark IV cameras with 35mm 1.4 L series lenses. We stacked them on a platform, dropping them two metres at a time, adjusting the exposures on the way down to get a hi-resolution portrait of the whole tree. The photos were stitched together manually on a computer. There's so much resolution in this picture that we're looking for large buildings to project it on to so people can see it all.

We often celebrate wildlife photos of elephants and lions but this photo celebrates a tree that's a gift from the ages. I really hope this image encourages people to take a breath and just think for a second. The world's moving so fast - and in the words of the Joni Mitchell song, you really don't know what you've got 'til it's gone.'

Meet Ekaterina Mukhina: Canon Explorer

We recently caught up with Canon Explorer, Ekaterina Mukhina, to ask her what she loves most about winter and to learn more about the stories behind her photos.

Ekaterina has been taking photographs since she was 16. In 2000, after graduating from the Moscow Academy of Photography, she bought her first Canon film camera to start shooting extreme sports as a hobby. Since 2003 she has concentrated mainly on shooting people and various events as a freelance professional photographer.

Ekaterina has covered more than 400 weddings and portrait photo sessions. Her work has taken her from her home in Russia to Europe, North and South America, the Caribbean, Asia and Africa, and most recently to the South Pacific and New Zealand.

Snow Tree by Michael Nick Nichols - Canon
©Ekaterina Mukhina - Canon EOS 1D X

What do you love most about winter?

'As a wedding photographer I'm mostly busy during the summer and autumn. But winter gives me a chance to fly away and enjoy a holiday. I love free ride skiing and snowboarding and usually my vacation is about winter sports activity. But even though I'm not working, my cameras are always with me!

As a passionate destination wedding photographer I'm always finding a moment for creative lifestyle photography - especially if we are in an unusual location.

Tell us more about your photo

Snow Tree by Michael Nick Nichols - Canon

'This was taken in New Zealand where I was on holiday with friends. We took a tour on a ship to see Doubtful Sound and the nearby fjords.

Late in the evening I came out on deck to enjoy the beautiful night time southern hemisphere sky. There was a lovely intimate moment happening between a couple standing on the deck. So I quickly decided to use the great combination of the boat, a beautiful clear sky and the couple to create this image.

There was no need for a tripod as my camera, a Canon 1D X, is great for low light photography.'