The temperature is just under 20 degrees Fahrenheit and the wind isn’t even stopping for a “hello” as it rudely attacks and moves on at 25-30 m.p.h. As if that’s not enough to sway even the most shutter-happy photographer, it’s winter in northern Michigan and when your day job is finished, the only time to photograph is around 5:00 p.m.; closing time for most businesses, especially when downtown Traverse City is best chance for including people in your photo since it’s the largest city nearby.
These are the challenges of street photography in a small town and the weather is full winter. With the details of the evenings shooting environment established, let’s talk about the good things. All that weather can actually be a great benefit to street photography. There’s a saying that “bad weather makes good photos,” and this is true. A lot of my photos are taken in the daylight hours, especially on a cloudy day because that’s my preferred light since it’s so softly diffused. Getting out into bad weather though, and when the sun is setting, can be a good change of pace and anything that changes a photo routine is bound to improve our photographic skill set.
The number one most important factor of winter photography of any kind is to dress warmly enough. Lots of layers, hat, gloves, etc. It might sound like common sense but think to yourself that it’ll be better to be too warm than too cold. Some of my favorite winter photography essentials are flip-top mittens. They allow for a shutter finger out and the rest of the fingers are kept warm. Now, on to the photography.
When the sun begins to set, you’ll notice an array of lighting conditions. Pay attention to this because the conditions in that array can be everything from ‘ok’ to ‘magnificent’ and everything in between. What’s referred to as the ‘blue hour’ will begin once the sun sets and this can be an incredible lighting scenario.
My goal when I went to downtown Traverse City was to capture some of this blue hour and to also include people. It was windy and cold but what was nice about that was that the people I photographed seemed to concerned about the weather and getting to their cars or next destinations in order to pay any attention to me.
Being familiar with the city allowed me to have a good plan to photograph. I would try to include the big bank building downtown, make my way to Brady’s Bar since they have some great neon for signage and then travel to Horizon Books to photograph that in the evening. The owners will be selling the book store after about 60 years so it’s future is undetermined at this point. Which reminds me, taking pictures can serve as a valuable historic record. As the business-scape and buildings change in the environments I photograph, the photos seem to become more important from a historical point of view.
Eventually I my fingers were too cold for more photos. But, after a few hours outside, I was happy with my results and will look forward to more winter photography in the future.