What makes a winter scene a winter scene?

That very question can be answered many different ways; should it include snow? should it have a certain color cast to it? does it need to show friends & family around the table in celebration? should it show warmth somehow? should it be at a certain time of day or night? All these questions can be answered either yes or no, depending on what your vision of winter is and how you wish to portray it. I’ll pick mine apart for the sake of providing an example.

My vision of winter usually does include snow because it shows the time of year & weather that i’m comfortable with, even though it may not snow often where I’m from. For me, the issue of it having a certain color cast depends on the lighting, not necessarily on my vision, even thought it should be reflective of that vision. It doesn’t need to have family or friends, mostly because I’m not much of a people photographer and I’d rather stick to what I’m comfortable with in that department. Snow doesn’t usually entail warmth, but including some kind of it to the shot provides it with a good temperature-themed contrast. As for it being at a certain time of day, it doesn’t matter much to me, as long as it somehow has a sense of feeling to it; sunrise or sunset on snow or frost does make for some pretty good photographs though.

Deep Cove - Snowy Dock

There are many different ways to answer the question, but the beauty of it is that we actually get out and make the shot. I say this because it’s all in the action of making, taking & refining it, that provides the best experience photography has to offer. Just reading about it doesn’t have the same level of fulfillment because there is no actual, physical movement involved. The best part is the actual movement & learning as you do so because it helps you stay active and somewhat aware of what is happening around you.

Winter white…

Deep Cove - Winter White

Shooting in weather where there’s more white than anything else can be quite tricky especially when you’re already overexposing to compensate for the white snow; the other side to this is the shade of the snow. If you look close, the snow has either a blueish tone or something along those lines; the cleaner the snow, the bluer it will be as it cast shade & in its underside. Shade can be cast in different colors, but, on a clear day, it’s usually blue, making for a rather cool(er) color temperature in the shot overall. In the old days of film, according to what I’ve read, this was solved by the use of filters, but nowadays, it’s done by white balance alone; the problem with this is that it leaves the door wide open for a kind of artificiality in how the scene is presented because it can be tweaked to the point that it no longer looks natural, or as shot.

The problem with this is that it can lead to a false representation of the scene, which is completely fine if you’re going for a purely artistic interpretation of the scene, but not so good if you want to go for a realistic representation…HDR (high dynamic range) images use multiple shots blended into a single image to get past dynamic range limitations of gear. The issues I sometimes have with these is the idea that the photograph/image is actually taken later, refined in some photo program to look like something most likely nothing like what was actually shot. To some extent, it cheats the experience of being able to get it right the first time; it makes the photographer rely on software instead of relying on his/her talent with the camera. For me, it’s always been about trying to make it in camera first & foremost, software being a far second…and last resort.

To get back to the original topic, winter white & color temperature, the simplest thing to do is use filters and/or adjust white balance to work in camera. Doing it this way, reduces the time spent on it afterwards and possibly the need to make the camera take extra shots so that the exposures can be blended afterwards. Bracketing should be for reducing time spent hunching over the camera to see where the exposure went wrong by making it take multiple shots with varying exposures to get the right one…or a slightly different angle on motion in the scene. So the idea is that keeping it in camera saves time later on when you’ve decided to transfer them from the camera’s memory card itself.

On winter…

While it can be extremely cold outside during the winter months, taking gear out to get the shot can be tricky because it can seize up or not work at all due to the temperature. Keeping the camera warm is the best option; storing it under a jacket when not it use or even getting a good camera bag/sling that has decent insulation will definitely help. Not taking it constantly in & out from cold to warm keeps the lens from fogging up and mucking up the internals.

There’s something about winter photography, especially scenes with all the streetlights & lit up houses, that makes it seem so warm even though it is so cold; maybe it’s the feeling of what’s waiting for us once we get back inside. It’s usually the anticipation of a shot or what’s waiting for us just around the proverbial ‘corner’ that can provide that warmth; that and it’s the time for Christmas carols like the classic Let It Snow & Deck the Halls, among others, sung by many a caroler as well as the classic TV special A Charlie Brown Christmas. Personally, my current favorite has got to be O Come All Ye Faithful…and belting it out as well; Twisted Sister, to which I don’t actually listen to apart from their Christmas CD, does a good job of belting it out (I’m more of a country & pop-punk kind of guy). But, getting back to winter, it provides us with many a challenge in the form of bright white snow (or brown snow if you’re near the roads in the city).

The snow may be soft, or hard, but it’s like a cool blanket of goodness that makes you glad that the scene can look so amazing if you just stop and think about it. Just dress warm, watch out for yellow snow (especially when there are dogs around), beware of flying snowballs (I’ve thrown more than my fair share of large ones), and get out an enjoy the snow. Oh yeah…Don’t forget to watch out for the icy roads; wiping out is not fun, especially on concrete and/or with gear in hand. Staying safe is probably the best option, especially if the neighborhood is in an all-out snowball fight.

Winter (Part 3)

It’s amazing when you think that winter is so cold (up here in the north at least), yet it provides us with earth in the form of family gathered around the fireplace at times. Like Daniel 2:21 says, God knows & controls the seasons (as well as giving us wisdom & knowledge), and yet the coldest season of the year is when we celebrate Christmas. It’s also the time that some of the most heartwarming portraiture is done in photography with the family gathered round each other for that photograph everyone wants to get out of the way. There’s quite a bit to the seasons and this season brings the year to a close…Up north anyways.

The season’s ripe for hot chocolate and, photographically speaking, this is just ripe for photographs of steam rising from the cup of hot cocoa sitting outside in the cold weather; just thinking about it makes for a warm photograph! What it does as well is challenge the photographer to capture steam, something not easily done, especially for me. It makes for a good, if not perfect, seasonal photo to remind oneself of the warmth in the cold…A good example of contrast, and one that is seasonal/weather based.

It’s also time for the cheesy Christmas sweater and all the humorous photographs of us wearing them; it’s almost as if the season was meant for them. Those Christmas sweaters provide us with many a laugh and many an attempt to erase memories of them when we don’t like them, including the photographs people take of them. While they can be fun for the moment, it’s probably best leaving them for the moment alone (written with a smirk).

Winter (Part 2)

It’s amazing how quickly the stores will shift from Halloween to Christmas, all in the search for more money…And we’re the suckers who go for it. It’s that time when you’ll see deals on the latest lens, camera or even filters; how-to books go on sale as well and it seems as if there’s no end in sight to it all. Sometimes, you just have to take a step back and focus on the shot when taking a photo and the same goes for the sales: you just have to really try to take a step back and think if you really need the latest gear or book…Advice I’ve had to remind myself of time after time. It’s a rush to get the latest stuff that will most likely be used only a few times and put back on the shelf or end up in a thrift store.

It’s the same with the photographs we take, if we don’t give them a second look, then we miss learning from them and what went right/wrong. It’s easy to take one look, but that second look, taken some time later, is usually just as important because it gives the chance to see things with a fresh perspective. A second look makes us think, hopefully with a better frame of mind, what the photograph really says about the scene…and the photographer.

If we’re going to judge our own work, and others’ work as well, we should be taking two chances at each one and looking at the positives, not just the negatives. With winter shots, this gives us a better chance to learn from what we did right AND what we did wrong. Winter shots are tricky and should require time to learn the ins & outs; like most things in life, it requires learning and not doing so is like, in a way, standing on the escalator going the opposite way you want to go.

Winter

Snow on Burnaby Mountain

Now that winter’s almost here, it’s the time to take snow photographs, something that isn’t as easy at it sounds; exposure value needs to be higher, by about 1-2 stops. The way I usually go about this is to lower the shutter speed by the needed stops, that way I don’t have to mess around with the aperture & depth of field. Light gets ‘bent’ when reflecting off the snow and tricks the light meter on the camera; not only does it do this with snow, but also with the remaining raindrops left on the ground early in the morning. Personally, I prefer snow over rain (mostly because it’s kinda fun to see drivers not prepared for it, even though they can tell it’s coming), but that’s just me and my twisted sense of humor; and for photography, it makes me think much more before going to press the shutter down.

Now the above shot is a good example of just what it’s like in near whiteout conditions atop Burnaby Mountain in Burnaby, BC; it came down pretty quickly and even with the brightness tweaked a bit, the final edit came out looking like this. Adjusting to keep the snow white and the shot close to what it actually was, you have to either not care about getting covered and/or soaked in this situation. I had to keep remembering to lower the shutter speed to allow for more light because of the snowy conditions with the clouds providing diffused light.

At this point, I was nearly ankle-deep in the snow, cold, somewhat soaked and my toque was about the only thing you could see of me other than my black winter coat, but was it worth it? In the end it was, and the above is one of the top 20 shots I had taken. My consolation…My friend who was also shooting in the this weather was going through the same thing; it helps getting through it when someone else is there with you suffering as well. Call it what you will, but I’ll just say it was worth it…And kinda fun to see him go through it as well!