Embrace the Light | Photography and Winter in Ohio

I like to say – ‘it’s all about the light,’ and compared to the height of summer, winter is actually one of the best times of year in the Midwest to capture images that will be some of the best within their portfolios. From snowy landscapes to colorful skyscapes to macro photography of textures and form, it’s all there and more often than not, right outside the door. And then there’s all that wonderful winter window light to work with when it comes to indoor still life and natural light portraits.

Form and texture predominate when it comes to photographing nature close-ups and landscapes during winter in Ohio. Color is sparse, and where it appears in the frame is almost always muted. The warmth of bright highlights takes a backseat to soft shadows. The browns and grays of the remnants of autumn contrast against often featureless, white background. The eye is guided by simple shapes. The photographic artist is relieved of the pressure and tendency to try to include too much within the frame, and the quiet of a winter afternoon in the woods offers far more of the solitude and deliberate pace preferred by the nature photographer.

My first, true outing for a full day of winter landscape and nature photography occurred early this year, coinciding with the winter solstice of December 2010. My chosen location was my favorite old “haunt” of Hocking Hills State Park, in the Appalachian foothills of southeastern Ohio. Hemlock-filled gorges where I’m surrounded by sandstone walls offering a canvas of subdued orange, red and brown, all from eons of the carving hand of the seasons. In the smaller subjects at my feet, along the icy trail, were the small, simple lines remaining after the previous growing season.

In areas of the sandstone walls, where water seeps through or flows over, incredible ice formations have taken hold, growing so thick that the layers of frozen water fluctuate from variations of soft blue and green to hard silver and white.

Outside the gorges and often traveled hiking trails are other winter subjects that catch my eye. The weathered tones in the old wood of a rural cabins and sheds. A rusting Radio Flyer wagon, now a garden decoration. The rough textures of plants and trees gone dormant.

The light goes quickly and uncovered hands become painful in the cold as a result of frequent lens changes and tripod adjustments. I set-out on that particular day to capture images that tell the story of the arrival of winter on the Ohio landscape. After several weeks of the image files resting in my computer’s hard drive I revisited the collection to begin the editing process, even as snow continues to fall outside and winter lengthens well into January. The shapes, textures and muted light of that winter solstice come to life again.

Many complain about winter in the Midwestern United States. “Dreary, cold, tired of all the snow, can’t wait till spring.” The visual artist learns to not live in the anticipation of what could be better down the road, but rather appreciate the unique gifts that are abundant – although easily overlooked – in the current season. Most importantly the photographer relishes the gift of good light, the best being in the soft, hushed tones of the gray winter afternoon.

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