Winter. It’s cold, miserable, and depressing. The days are so short it feels like you blink and you miss them. Isn’t that the usual narrative? I’m not going to lie, winter is tough. But also so beautiful. There are these moments where the light is simply special. Light you never see the rest of the year, but while it’s there it’s amazing.
Winter light can be terrific all day long.
Being born and raised here in Northern Minnesota, those long cold January’s can be brutal. Winter seems to stretch on with daylight being but a flicker of light amidst the steady darkness. It might get light at 8am and by 5pm it’s pitch black again. Cloudy skies bring slightly warmer temps but usually bring snow as well. Clear skies bring some much needed sunshine during the day but that also brings the cold.
The great part, as a photographer, is that those long cold months and short days mean the sun is low on the horizon almost all day long. Basically giving golden hour light all day long. If you can brave the cold and have plenty of spare batteries, those short daylight hours are fantastic to create work in.
No leaves, a lot of snow…where does the color come from?
I get it. You’re picturing the barren landscapes covered in snow, leaves stripped from the trees, the landscape left feeling decidedly monochrome and bland. You really aren’t far off. Much of the time the forest takes on a very monochrome feel as the snow and pines become most prominent.
If you make the effort to get up early for sunrise or get out for sunset however, it’s a color explosion like you’ve never seen. Those beautiful orange and red sunsets get reflected off the snow and everything just feels like it is dripping in that saturated sunset warmth.
With the snow on the ground, hanging on trees, and basically covering everything you get this bonus effect of all that white acting as a giant reflector in your photos. That vivid color gets bounced everywhere. Which brings me to my favorite light.
Turn your back to the sunset.
This amazing thing happens when you turn your back to the sunset and enjoy the view opposite the sun. As the sun bathes everything in it’s golden tones behind you, the subjects in front of you enjoy the full beauty of that light. Go ahead and make some great images, but be patient and wait because the best is yet to come.
As the sun drops below the horizon you’ll see pure magic happen. That golden light will shift from gold and red to shades of pink and purple in a hurry. The snow helps give a really consistent and even light in the scene, allowing very little difference in the tones of the sky and ground. Without that snow, the ground is quickly lost in the darkness while the sky blazes on until darkness settles.
Everything, and I mean everything, is wrapped in this soft pastel blanket of pinks and purples. It’s something straight out of a fantasy world. The cool thing is that it only happens during those few cold winter months, so it feels very special when it shows up. Almost like a reward for dealing with the snow and freezing temperatures. It might be my absolute favorite light and weather conditions to make photos in. You have to work quickly, but it’s so worth it. Take a look.
Photography gear notes & Information
Photographs were processed in Adobe Lightroom Classic using the fantastic Rebecca Lily Premium Color Grading System : Pro Set IV .
I have no affiliation with any of these companies besides being a huge fan of their products, which I have purchased with my own hard earned money.
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