Saturday, February 9, 2008

The Gray Days of Winter

Where I live in Canada, winters are long, cold, and this year, very snowy. In fact, from October to February, there is an average of only 3.2 hours of sunlight per day. It is often cloudy all day, with snow flurries off and on. Temperature is another problem. If it's not cloudy, then it can be very, very cold. Minus 20 Celcius can freeze your fingers in no time flat, and you can't manipulate a camera with mitts on.

For a landscape photographer, winter presents huge problems. Extremely cold weather can be managed -- with the right clothing and gloves that are thin enough to work the camera, I have braved very cold weather to make photographs. Usually, these photographs have at least had the sun and sky to make the photographs come alive.

However, what do you do with dull gray skies? A featureless sky and perfectly even light are not good conditions for landscapes. It's just as challenging as the cold weather, but the challenge is different. When it's cloudy, the cold is usually much more manageable, but the scenery is dull and lifeless.

In situations like this, all too common in winter, one option is to stay at home and work on your photo backlog. I enjoy working on my computer, developing my website, and making prints. However, I can't go too long without getting my camera out, and getting outside in the fresh air.

The dull grey conditions are daunting. Colour is almost non-existant, so you have to concentrate on what is left -- line and form. This is photography broken down into it's simplest elements. It's often good to go back to basics, and think about visual design. Freeman Patterson's book "Photography and the Art of Seeing" has been one of my favourite books for visual design, and I enjoy getting it out to read it over again.

Great photographs are usually the result of hard work and inspiration. This is doubly true for winter photography. Prepare yourself for the cold, prepare for the light conditions, and be willing to simplify your photographs -- the result will be worth the effort!

. . . Rob Williams