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Tips and techniques

FIELD TECHNIQUE: Just Another Gray Winter Day

By January 20, 2017No Comments

Story and photography by F.M. Kearney

New York City’s Central Park in winter. © F.M. Kearney

New York City’s Central Park in winter. © F.M. Kearney

The middle of winter can be a little depressing. The five-day forecast might show such a long stream of dull, dreary days that it makes one wonder if the weatherperson forgot to update the map. In the Northeast, it can seem as though the entire world is in hibernation. Everything is lifeless. Nothing is in bloom. On overcast days, you might feel like you’re living in a black-and-white movie. Then, of course, there’s the unforgiving cold.

Some photographers may feel that aside from a dramatic snowfall, the overall bleakness of winter isn’t worth shooting, especially in frigid temperatures. While it is not the most comfortable time in which to shoot, I would definitely take the dead of winter over the hot, hazy and humid days of summer. Autumn may hold the record for being the most colorful season — almost cloyingly so — but don’t overlook the subtle beauty that a gray winter day can offer.

The photo above was shot on just such a day in New York’s Central Park. A minor front had passed through a few hours earlier, covering the area in a perfect two-inch layer of snow — perfect because it was just enough to leave a decorative coating on the trees and branches, but not so much as to completely obliterate intimate details within the landscape.

A partially frozen lake is probably the last thing you would want to step upon on a winter day, but it was the first thing that attracted me to this scene — specifically the zig-zag, or S-shaped pattern of the non-snow-covered areas. This and similar designs are common in nature. They can be created by a line of trees, a winding trail or some other naturally occurring formation. Oftentimes, you can accentuate the design in post-production by either lightening or darkening the object that is causing the formation. In this particular case, the icy “trail” clearly stood out from the surrounding area, so no such adjustments were needed.

Another thing to keep in mind are layers – the way in which you compose your shots. A photo with a foreground and a background contains more depth, and illustrates a better “sense of place,” than a single-dimensional image. I searched for a location that also included a middle ground. The snow-covered bush served as a nice foreground element. The lake and the ducks, which actually seemed to be frozen in place, worked perfectly as the middle ground, with the trees in the rear filling in the background.

Dramatic skies usually precede and follow storms. It can be the perfect time to capture some of the best light of the day. This passing storm left a colorful cloud bank in its wake. Primarily cyan, with traces of amber, it hung low over the landscape, providing a nice contrast to the rust-colored trees in the background. The sun tried to make a brief appearance, but it only succeeded in creating a distractingly bright section in the upper right portion of the frame. I used the overhanging branches to cover most of it up — sort of like sweeping dust under a rug.

Although I am certainly not looking forward to the dog days of summer, I know many people probably can’t wait for winter to end. Instead of letting these gray days get you down, step out and explore the beauty they offer. Of course, you won’t find the cornucopia of color of an autumn day, but you might be surprised to see that these “gray” days of winter are anything but dull.

F.M. Kearney began his career as a photojournalist for a variety of local New York City newspapers. It was an exciting profession, which allowed him to cover everything from famous celebrities to ride-alongs with the NYPD and the FDNY. He now specializes in nature and urban landscapes. As an award-winning photographer, his images have been licensed on many products and published in numerous publications, as well as exhibited in galleries in the United States and abroad. To view more of his work, visit Kearney can be contacted at, or via Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.