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Winter light is good for city images -- photography tips, trips and travels

By Steve Polston

Winter light is a good aspect of photography right now. Use it to your advantage to focus on your actual subject, such as shadow and color, and to define your subject matter, such as colors and lines.
Winter light is a good aspect of photography right now. Use it to your advantage to focus on your actual subject, such as shadow and color, and to define your subject matter, such as colors and lines.
Steve Polston
Winter light and shadow helps saturate colors in your photographs.
Winter light and shadow helps saturate colors in your photographs.
Steve Polston

Sometimes wintertime brings such windchill and low temps that staying inside seems like the best course of action, but if you received new camera gear for the holidays -- or better yet, bought it for your own self -- you're itching to go shoot.

Trust that instinct to get out and push the limits of how you see. Winter light around Noon (an hour before or after) will give you plenty of contrast as well as show off details and give saturation to colors you admire in the sky, trees, and buildings.

For these images I usually use a circular polarizing filter on the front of a lens to take away reflectivity on metal surfaces (and some painted surfaces) that may be marring the total scene by becoming subjects. This will not cut away warm light, usually; to help you sense the best light you should begin looking for warm light on the subject matter.

In a few of my images this morning I had to look very closely in the areas between shadows to see warm light, and in some city alleyways I looked for total shade. A circular polarizing filter can be pretty inexpensive to purchase if you don't already own one. Remember that such filters cut at least a full stop of light from your image plane (film plane or digital sensor); some polarizers prohibit even more stops of light from reaching your image plane. You'll have to meter the light appropriately to get the amount of illumination you want and need. Trust your camera meter to guide you selection of shutter speed or aperture.

We've seen a lot of good light, lately, even when the air has been blasted with Canada-type temperatures. The color of the blue in the sky has been perfect as a representation of October light. Lucky us!

This is a good time of the year to stay close to home or close to someplace warm, at least, so don't feel like you have to suffer to make good pictures right now. Shoot in between your walks to the car from the garage or the shopping mall or even on the sidewalk up to Grandma's house. If you're hardy, go on a walkabout; you won't regret it.

It doesn't matter much what equipment you have; the idea of shooting in this kind of light is to see the light and make the light or play of shadows the subject of your images. In addition, you want to make color and shape the secondary subjects of your images.

Have fun no matter how much time you have to devote to photography this holiday season; the turn of the Earth's axis is a sign for you to start seeing differently.

You can see more of my images at www.stevepolston.com and throughout this website.

A video about photography accompanies this article.