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 Earl Nottingham | TPWD

The bluish color of an overcast winter sky adds to the feeling of bitter cold at Caprock Canyons State Park.


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The Dark Days of Winter

The gray season holds its own photographic opportunities


As the seasons change, so does the light. Winter’s shorter days combined with frequent gray skies and overall loss of natural light can make outdoor photography challenging. Combine that with being cooped up at home on frigid days and you might find yourself losing interest in creative photography. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. Winter presents its own opportunities for building your photo skills and getting some great shots.

If the cold and bleak weather outside is not conducive for getting out and shooting, one of the most productive things you can do in the downtime is to get that owner’s manual out of the bottom of the box your camera came in and read it cover to cover — you know, that little booklet you promised you’d look at someday. The goal is to become comfortable with every button, dial and menu setting that your camera has to offer, especially those settings that control exposure, such as shutter speed, aperture and ISO.

If you’re not into reading, there are tons of video tutorials and resources for your particular camera that can be found online. You may also want to get familiar with your photo editing software or even explore other available photo software products.

However, if you can bundle up and head outdoors, you will find a whole new world of visual opportunities that can push your creativity to a new level.

From steel-gray clouds to orange sunrises and sunsets, winter skies offer their own mood-creating palette of colors, especially when illuminating the varied hues and textures of nature. On clear days, the sun’s lower position in the sky adds an aesthetically pleasing warm tone and longer shadows during most of the day, especially at sundown.

Conversely, blue-gray overcast skies impart their own emotional “feel” by emphasizing the cold. There is one important caveat about getting the best color in these lighting situations. Get in the habit of NOT using the automatic white balance (AWB) setting on your camera. Instead, either use the sun icon or manually set your daylight balance for around 5600 Kelvin temperature. The automatic white balance will try to “correct” your beautiful orange sunrise back to a neutral color. In the same manner, automatic white balance will “correct” your moody blue scene toward a neutral color.

Again, go to that owner’s manual and learn about white balance settings. While some color correction can be made after the fact in your editing software, it’s always best practice to get the color right in-camera.

 Earl Nottingham | TPWD

An orange sunrise illuminates Daingerfield State Park.


The lack of light during this period can also be very educational, forcing us to embrace the photographic potential in those dark areas where small pools of light do exist — especially indoors. Thanks to the sensitivity of the current digital sensors in most of our cameras, we can now shoot at those high ISOs needed for low-light situations, such as the last light of day filtering through bare trees or a shaft of sunlight streaming into a dimly lit room. Cranking up the ISO sensitivity will let your camera record subjects that even your human eye has trouble seeing. Just for fun, try using other light sources such as candles, flashlights, table lamps and even illumination from smartphones. If it puts out light, it can be used to create a photograph.

Back outside, you’ll find some of the best hidden-gem locations for winter photography at your local and state parks due to the seasonally smaller crowds. In some instances you may even have the whole park to yourself. Photography can become a scavenger hunt in a silent world as you walk down the trails or crunch through the leaves searching for your next composition. Nature’s winter wardrobe is ready for its close-up.

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