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This article was written by the New York Institute of Photography, America’s oldest and largest photography school. NYI provides professional-level training via home study for photographers who want to give their images a professional look, and perhaps earn extra income with their camera.
Capture the essance of Winter
Here are some ideas to help you take pictures that capture the essence of the current season - winter, spring, summer, or fall. Even if you're in a different latitude and your climate is considerably different from ours in New York, you may still find valuable tips here. Our discussion of a particular picture that we think captures the essence of the current season in the Northern Hemisphere often involves a photographic technique that is basic to good photography in general. So, whether you live in Australia or Oahu, Beijing or Boston, check out this page for ideas you may be able to use now or later.
Not long ago, we received these two photos from NYI student Cary Howe. We think both of them are very interesting images, and since they show two different approaches to capturing the quality of winter weather, we decided to depart from tradition and show you two photos for the theme "Winter."
|©NYI Student Cary Howe
photo, which Cary told us was taken from one of the front windows of his
apartment, shows a gentle, flaky snowfall floating down on a pleasant
cityscape. We can tell that it hasn't been snowing for that long, since
we can see pavement in the roadway on the left side of the image.
The subject of winter
in the city is captured by the juxtaposition of the distant skyscrapers
with the railing of what we suspect is a fire escape in the foreground.
The ubiquitous snowflakes soften the image and mute the sense of distance
between the foreground and the background.
|We have some technical thoughts about this photograph, but before we cover those, let's look at Cary's other photograph:|
|İNYI Student Cary Howe
This photo makes us hunch up our shoulders, zip up our coats and reach for our scarves and umbrellas. Feel the storm stinging your cheeks and nose! Taste the snow! Here we see a couple trying to make headway against a sleety storm while sharing one umbrella. This is a photo that makes us wish for spring.
The couple - the obvious subject of the photo - appear semi-sharp, but everything else in the photo is blurred.
people headed in the opposite direction are much more blurred, appearing
almost ghost-like. Unlike the first photo, where we see lots of city detail,
this image is pared to a minimum: We see a few pedestrians, the sidewalk,
an undifferentiated building in the background and a bit of curb and street.
We don't know anything about this couple, but we know they're headed into stormy weather and they're probably gritting their teeth and hoping to reach their destination before the slush soaks their feet. Cary told us this photo was taken on the streets of Manhattan, but this could be Moscow, Anchorage or Chicago as well. The theme knows no location other than anywhere there is winter weather.
Both these photos show the potential of recording great images when it's snowing outside. Another article on this month's Web site has tips for using your camera outdoors in cold weather, which will give you lots of ideas about how to get the best performance out of your equipment. But looking at these two photographs, both shot when the sky is filled with clouds and snow is falling, the principal technical item that comes to mind is shutter speed.
In Cary's first photo, we see the result of a
relatively fast shutter speed that has "frozen" the snowflakes so we
can see them. When we describe the flakes as "frozen," we should qualify
that to the extent that the shutter speed might have been 1/250 or it
might have been 1/60. We can't really tell. Falling snow creates an
overall softness to any scene so it becomes difficult to be precise
about how fast a shutter speed was used.
In this image, we see the effect of a slow shutter speed (probably 1/15 or 1/8) combined with the panning effect. While the shutter was open, Cary panned slightly from left to right following the progress of the walking couple. Since we can see their feet, we know that the couple did not move far in this interval, but the panning increased the blurring of the other pedestrians headed in the opposite direction, and helped obscure most of the snowflakes.
The panning also helped obscure any detail on the building in the background, adding to the simplicity of this image. What about dealing with the effect of snow on the camera? Cary told us that the cityscape was actually taken from indoors through an open window, so the snow was no problem. For the couple on the street, he had his camera under his coat and just raised it to his eye briefly to capture the image.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with techniques for using a camera in snow (and cold weather), we refer you to the Cold Weather article. It's not that hard, and if you use a little care, it's not that risky for your equipment.
One final point. Both these photos are black-and-white images. For snow scenes, black-and-white film is often an interesting choice. Even with color film, these images would be muted. Ask yourself, would color add or detract from each of these images? There is no right answer. It's up to your creative sense to decide what you think would work best.
Technical note: Cary shot these two images on slide film. A few years back, Agfa introduced an ISO 200 film called Scala, which Cary used. It is a film that when processed yields black-and-white transparencies. If you're interested in such a film, we have two warnings: There are not too many places that sell the film, and only a handful of labs in the entire country that process it. As an Agfa spokesperson explained to us recently, the processing equipment is expensive and some of the required chemicals are quite toxic.
If you're interested in learning more about Agfa's Scala and where you can purchase it and have it processed, please email Back to Black-and-White and we'll be happy to send you the low-down on Scala.
Remember, winter is the season, thanks to the earth being tilted, when daylight is at a premium. In New York City, by December 1, sunrise is just after 7am and sunset is just before 4:30. That's a paltry nine-and-one-half hours of daylight versus fourteen-and-one-half hours of gloom and downright darkness. And, naturally, it just gets worse for the next three weeks until the Winter Solstice. But there are lots of photo opportunities by the haunting winter light. Don't ignore them. And remember, spring is almost around the corner.
|© 2003 |New
York Institute of Photography