Have you noticed the light in your home is a little different lately? I’m writing this in January and it’s that special time of year (in the Northern Hemisphere) when we get to experience that beautiful winter light! The sun is shifting in the sky and changing position and the light that shines through our windows is doing the same. This post is all about harnessing the beauty of Winter light and how to use it to create your best winter photographs yet.
I’m not a scientist, but I’ve been an observer of light for quite a few years now and I can tell you the basics! The light changes based on angle of the sun’s rays, the amount of light reaching Earth’s surface, and atmospheric conditions.
THE SUN CHANGES POSITION IN THE SKY
As I mentioned before you may have noticed that the light is shining through different windows in your home. As we orbit the sun, it shifts position in our sky. You may notice that the sun rises and sets in different positions in the sky based on the season. This is why a window in your home that may not get much sunlight in the Summer is now ablaze with beautiful morning or evening light in the Winter.
Observe the light in your home and see if you can take advantage of areas that may now be glowing with beautiful winter light.
As photographers we often look at light on a scale of cool to warm tones. Winter light is cooler while Summer light often appears warmer. Because of the lack of humidity in the air, light is often crisper and less hazy in the dry Winter. On the other hand, Summer light is often hazy on a hot humid day.
Did you know that sunsets are actually better in the winter? It’s science! Because humidity is lower in the Winter, and the air is clearer. That causes purer colors to be splashed across the Northern Hemisphere’s skies. This is also a great time to practice working on your silhouettes! A silhouette in photography is a dark outline or shape of a subject against a brighter background, often with the subject appearing as a featureless, solid shape like the image below.
While I love a hazy Summer evening image, I also adore the crisp clear light of a cold Winter evening. It always creates beautiful rim light around your subject if you position them just right! (In case you were unsure, rim lighting is a technique used in photography that involves illuminating the edge of your subject to create a halo effect.) I light to position my subject directly in front of the setting sun. In this position, the backlighting from the sun creates that beautiful rim light effect.
LEAVES, TREES, AND TONES
In many places around the world what happens to the leaves in the Winter? You guessed it – they fall off the trees. This has several difference effects on our photography. First, because there are no leaves on the trees, a lot more light can shine through! An area that might be fully shaded in the Summer is now full of scattered light as it shine through the trees.
Secondly, because there are no leaves on the trees, we are no longer dealing with all the green light that is notoriously reflected from them in the Summertime. Because of the lack of green, we are now now left with more brown tones. Bare trees, dead foliage, brown grass, and mud can leave us left with a world of brown. If you have a lot of snow where you live then you may be in a world of white, but there are often still brown undertones to be found. At least you aren’t dealing with all the bright green!
And don’t forget…this doesn’t just apply to your outdoor photography! It applies indoors as well. Ever tried to get that window shot in the Summer only to find a yellowish/green light bouncing off your subject and the surrounding walls? In the Winter this problem magically disappears!
One of my favorite things about shooting in the Winter is the timing. The sun sets much earlier and so I can easily get my sunset shots in before I have to get dinner on the table. In the peak of Summer, the sun doesn’t set until almost 9:00pm. It can be hard to stay out that late, especially if you are trying to photograph young children.
The same thing applies for the morning photoshoots. If I want a sunrise photo, I don’t’ have to be up nearly as early in the Winter as I do in the Summertime. So while it may be cold and dark, I always try to remember how nice this particular aspect of Winter light is for photography.
While I love the warm playful mood of Summer images, I find the moody Winter atmosphere a refreshing change. In the summer, I often see images of sprinklers, ice cream, and children playing to name a few things. In the cold Winter months of January, February and March, the mood is often more reflective as we begin a new year. If you shoot outdoors as much as I do, then you notice the dead foliage as the trees and plants quietly sleep their Winter slumber. I love this shift in mood and often use it to reflect a certain mood/emotion in my photographs.
This can often be a time of year when you find yourself in a photography rut. Perhaps the cold is forcing you to shoot more indoors and you long to be out in nature, or the darker days affect your mood or shooting schedule negatively. Or maybe you simply don’t like the brown, brown, brown (or white, white, white depending on where you live). Whatever the reason, the notorious creative rut can often rear its head at this time of year. If you find yourself in a Winter photography rut I wrote this post for you!
The sun changes position in the sky – check your windows to see if you notice any changes in the light around your house
Light Temperature – The light in Winter is often cooler and crisper than the warm.,hazy light of Summer.
Leaves, Trees and Tones – Once the leaves have fallen off the trees more light shines through. We also do not have to deal with the dreaded yellow/green reflection.
Timing – You can shoot later in the morning and earlier in the evening.
Mood – Winter mood is often more reflective than the playful mood of Summer. Try harnessing this mood in your photography.
And don’t forget, if you find yourself in the dreaded Winter photography rut, I’ve got a post just for you right here! So start observing, grab your camera, and use that Winter light to create beautiful photos.
I’m participating in a super fun blog circle with some of my photographer friends! Check out Jillian, a newborn baby photographer in Calgary, and her beautiful post about a 12 week old baby photo shoot!
Ruth Young is a professional, portrait photographer and photography educator located in Culpeper, Virginia. She photographs her daily life with her 5 small children and has a passion for teaching photography. For more about Ruth follow her on Instagram where she posts daily.