I would say to any artist. “Don’t be repressed by your work, dare to experiment,
consider any urge, if in a new direction all the better.
Edward Weston in a comment to Ansel Adams
It is now almost the end of January in my part of the world. The ground is covered in snow and the short days of winter are really not that much longer than when the Winter Solstice came and went. Right now we get about 8 hours and 50 minutes of sunshine a day. Compare this to the 16 hours or more that we get in July and it begins to wear a person down just a bit. Not only that our days can often be quite cloudy and even when the sun is shining it never gets more than about 10 to 15 degrees above the horizon. Now that is not bad, but, the temperature drops into the negative double digits, even in the day time. We have one saving grace and that is a weather phenomenon known locally as a Chinook. This is a warm wind that comes from the west or southwest and brings nice mild air over the mountains into southern foothills. When that happens, our temperature can rise into the lower single digits above zero and be there for a few hours, a few days, or even a week or more. Now that may sound nice – warm temperatures in January, but, this phenomenon is also accompanied by Chinook clouds, thus the cloudy days. It gets to be a little bit of a drag.
Now this is my situation, imagine the photo folks that do not get this mild reprieve every once in a while and have to tough it out all winter in the cold and snow. I often see posts on the forums I frequent from folks looking for inspiration at this time of year. I’ve got the winter blues how can I jump start my photography. So I thought I would offer some ideas based on a number of things that I find helpful – who knows, they might even be helpful any time you have photographer’s block.
Indoors: Fruits, Veggies and Flowers, and a Do-It-Yourself Home Studio
Yes, fruits, veggies and flowers. Often when January comes around and it is cloudy and snowy I go to my local store and buy a bouquet of assorted flowers, the more assorted the better. When I say local store, I do not mean a florist shop, but I go to my local Safeway, Costco, etc. and buy the flowers there. They are often much cheaper than a local florist, but if that is all you have then by all means go there. I rustle up an old vase or two from the basement, or wherever you keep yours and I then take over the kitchen for a few hours. I set up a small studio on the kitchen table and set up to shoot my flowers there. My studio, consists of a few sheets of foam core board that I got from Michael’s. I get both black and white board and I also got a piece of tan coloured board to give me a different backdrop, just for some variation.
When I first got this idea (shooting flowers) a couple of years ago, I was just using coloured art board, but then I saw this posting by Anita Bower on Denise Ippolito’s MiniMag – Kitchen setup for flower photography – and I thought – this is a much better setup. This cost me about $30 for the three pieces of white foam board – two sides and a bottom and I splurged on a few extra pieces of coloured board for variation. The nice thing is that it is a one-time expense and it is re-usable and easily transportable. Bonus! – You can even use it outside when the weather gets better.
As for the technical side, I use my DSLR with a 24-105mm lens, I also have tried macro with my 100mm lens. I put my equipment on a tripod and use a remote control to activate the shutter. I have used both flash and natural light. I like to take the flash off camera and use a small Lumiquest Softbox on the flash to diffuse the light – Lumiquest Small Softboxes . Depending on what you are looking for, this kitchen studio and flowers can give you all kinds of things to try (I did some lit candles as one subject) and you can spend a number of warm and cozy afternoons while winter is doing its thing outside.
As far as fruits and veggies are concerned, there are a number of things you can do to release your creative juices. You can start with a still life using the same foam board studio I described above – Still Life – Home Studio. You can also go macro – Macro Photography of Fruits. There is really no limit to
the kinds of photography you can do with fruits – Let your Imagination run wild. Most of the things that you can do with fruits, you can also do with vegetables, particularly the still life aspect.
If you don’t like flowers, fruits or veggies, or you have eaten them all, then there are also some abstract things you can do with oil and water – Oil and Water and Abstract Photography and here – Oil and Water – 2.
Outside: Close to Home
If you have one of those days, as I often do, when the sun is up and the temperature is also up, at least to the point where everything doesn’t freeze solid the moment you step outdoors, then there are a number of things you can do.
The one lens walk about – choose one lens, maybe you only have one, for example a point and shoot camera, regardless, take a walk around the block and every time you pass a lamp post, take two pictures, one to your right and one to your left, or some other variation on this theme. Remember, the idea is to get out and have some fun taking pictures in the cold, so it doesn’t really matter how many pictures you take, or how far you walk, just remember to dress for the weather. Also, remember that when bringing your camera back indoors, that you have to allow it to get accustomed to the warmer indoor temperatures so that you avoid condensation. Check out this site for some thoughts on this aspect of winter photography – Aspects of Winter Photography.
Pick a colour or a subject and go out and concentrate on that. For example, take the subject of trees. Deciduous trees can make for some interesting subjects in winter as they have lost their leaves and present a completely different image to be photographed. Conifers can also appear quite different
with their coating of snow or frost. Look for subjects amongst the snow as well – small bushes, blades of grass, all kinds of small things, the aptly named intimate landscape.
Learn Something New
Too cold to venture out, then try something new in your software. Whether you have PhotoShop, Lightroom, Aperture, or the software that came with your camera, fire up the old computer and open up the software and try something with it that you have never done before. Maybe it’s a new filter effect that you have never tried before, or a black and white conversion – your choice, just so long as it is something new to you. If you exhausted all these types of possibilities, then take a class. There are a lot of online classes as well as a variety of continuing education classes at local colleges. Check them out as most colleges have their offerings online. Another source of classes may often be your local camera store. Where I live, one of the stores often puts on short, two to four hour classes on a Saturday afternoon. These are fairly short and may be taught by local instructors or photographers that they bring in from out of town. Sometimes just the contact with other photographers may be all the boost you need to kick start your photographic inspirations.
Start a Project
One thing that I did last year was to commit to a 52 week project – taking at least one photograph a week and posting to a forum that I joined for this purpose – An image a week. You may not be able to post an image a week, but you can always make it up by posting additional images to catch up with your commitment. Take a look, there are a number of forums around that run these types of projects, some even run a 365 project – one photograph a day – for those who really want to get committed.
Take a break
Sometime you just need a break. If that is really how you feel, then do it. Put the camera down and find another diversion. Who knows, maybe something will grab your attention and you will go looking for your camera to capture the moment or the subject. I find that, sometimes, without the pressure of having to take a picture or do something photographically, my mind wanders a bit more and I find myself looking at things differently and inspiration comes when you least expect it – just remember to be ready for it.