Available light: Many shades of white
It’s mid-winter now and I figure it’s best to consider the season through the eyes of appreciation or risk succumbing to the winter blues (or acting on impulse and flying off to the tropics, which seems like a great, but impossible, alternative!) Looking outside my window, I see a carpet of white and realize that few things so radically alter a landscape as quickly as snow. As photographers, particularly if we’re working in black and white, we’re seeing tonalities, variances in light and dark. Within a few short hours the dark tones of gray and black on winter ground can become a huge bright swath of white. It is visually transformative and brings another form of available light into a photograph.
Not all white is alike, and appreciating the various shades of white — from brightest sunlit speck to shaded grays — is what makes a photograph really sing. Since snow makes a big and brightening statement in a photograph, it offers the opportunity for both great contrast and complex subtleties that can be accentuated in the print making process. In addition to considerations of highlights and tonalities snow brings its own mood to a photograph. Whether boldly or subtlety, snow — like rain or bright sun or dark clouds — helps to define the story inside the photograph.
In Night snow on West 11th Street, the snow on the dark city street brings an element of “coziness” to the photograph. It becomes a “scene” defined by snow, which seems to embrace the lone figure. There is a romance about it. The whitest white comes form the street lights, which work together with the gentler white of the snow to orchestrate a mood of paradoxical warmth.
In Steeplechase pier in winter, the sky and snow together provide a kind of gray monotony against which the figures coming and going are silhouetted like notes in the music of that pier. The mood here is cold and contemplative, in great contrast to the Coney Island of summertime! Now, that’s transformation! These people seem to be walking in and out of infinity bundled up against the elements and encompassed in gray.
In Shoe store window, the snowy backdrop provides just the right level of brightness and continuity to allow both the shoes and people to take center stage and stand out more than they would have against multi-layered grays and blacks of asphalt and cement.
This photo is an example of the snow really creating the visual excitement of the photograph, accentuating each branch to create a complexity of tones and shapes dependent on the snow’s defining influence.
Finally, as in the lead photo above, this one shows the softness and subtly of snow — almost flowing like clouds — some brighter than others… whites and dark and many shades in between. The mood is peaceful, quiet and still, and that’s perhaps the best part of winter. With a few more months yet to come, it’s best to love the one you’re with!
Here’s a great Weegee photo published last week in Fans in a Flashbulb! The mood is amusement!