Embracing The Grey

Most people here in the UK aren’t too keen on the winter.

But when you probe further, I find that many actually rather enjoy a crisp, frosty morning, or the romance of a first snowfall – especially as they’re increasingly rare these days – or that low golden sunlight late in the afternoon.

Perhaps what we mean when we say we don’t like winter, is those grey days of nothingness, where it’s neither sunny nor stormy, neither mild enough to enjoy the air on bare skin, nor bitingly cold enough to require cosy layers of hat, scarf and gloves.

It’s this kind of absence of any kind of interesting season or weather that we seem to find brings us down, a dreary monotony that comes in any shade you wish, as long as it’s grey.

As a photographer, these bland grey days don’t inspire much action either.

Give me frosted grass and leaves, or a few inches of snow that transforms the landscape, or just strong winter sunlight dappled through trees, and I’m salivating at a feast of visual opportunities.

But those grey cloudy days don’t do much of anything.

The light is too dull to bring nature’s glorious colours to life and most photos end up washed out and insipid, with as much life and vigour as a limp tea bag left on the drainer three days ago.

I’ve been thinking too that perhaps this is always why with black and white photography I like strong contrast and deep shadows.

Again it’s a way of avoiding those infinite grey mid-tones that see my interest plummet into a void.

Of course, we can – and do – experience this kind of weather at any time of the year, it’s not exclusive to winter.

But it’s winter that gets tagged with this flat blanket of grey most often, and so we forget that a day of cloud cover and neither warm not cold temperatures can arrive pretty much any season – and day – of the year.

Spring, summer, autumn and winter all have their charms, when they’re not languishing in grey nothingness.

So I say let’s enjoy and celebrate the fullness of every season when it presents itself to us.

And as for those grey days? Well, maybe put your camera away and just walk purely for the fresh air and exercise.

Then either wait for the next day with more inspiring light and weather, or get your camera out to experiment indoors.

Which is your favourite season and weather for photography? What do you when faced with a bland grey day?

As always, please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

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18 thoughts on “Embracing The Grey”

  1. Think ever season has something that I love about it. Autumn with all the colours has to be a firm favourite. Winter I think can be more about the smaller details rather than the blanket grey.

  2. Thanks for an interesting article. I like grey skies for color details but am also challenged in B&W. While reading your thoughts, I immediately thought of 2 photographers that seem to only shoot when skies are grey, Bernd & Hilla Becher. I have their “Basic Forms” book but they did many others, it seems. In this book are 61 photos of blast furnaces, water & winding towers, lime kilns, gravel plants, grain elevators, gas works, etc., all with a plain grey sky background. It is wonderful work and quite inspiring. If you can grab one of their books at a library or online, you may really enjoy it. I plan to spend some time with mine today now that you have motivated me.

    1. Thanks for the reference to Bernd and Hilla Becher, very interesting work. I love photos of old buildings, and it’s clever how they presented them in grids, like a repeating, yet slightly different motif.

  3. I admit that it is harder to be inspired on dull grey days and maybe the light and shade isn’t there for your favourite small details of subjects. Landscape photographers though, love finding shapes in misty woods and often post processing can bring out cloud details in a grey sky that wasn’t apparent at first glance. I am the first to stay in on a grey day instead of taking the camera out and trying to make something interesting, I know that I should make more effort!

    1. Thanks Richard, yes misty mornings can be very interesting, I’d forgotten that. The main road into the nearest town has electricity cables going across it and one of the pylons is very close to road. The number of times I’ve passed it on a misty morning where you lookup and the power lines just disappearing into nothing. Very powerful image!

  4. A snowless Winter is the DDR of seasons. Full-on Sudek, W. Eugene Smith; bone-chilled, damp & graveled, acrid smoked urban with grit in it’s teeth.
    Plenty of rich shots there.

      1. Ooh, sorry. Once common parlance; a generation behind times, usage-wise. Not surprised to see that Google now fetches up a computer concept.

      2. Ah I heard of GDR, the German Democratic Republic, I remember the fall of the Berlin Wall quite well. It’s funny how sometimes we assume others know jargon and abbreviations we grew up with, this happens all the time with me and our kids, ha!

  5. Very interesting comment on grey days being full of midtones…
    I don’t know what it is like to live in a place where most of the winter is just grey with clouds. Perhaps that is why I am mostly attracted to color, even though I do appreciate a nice black and white picture.
    Focusing on shapes and textures might get one busy during the times when the light is dull…

    1. I’m reminded of that classic Morrissey track, Every Day Is Like Sunday….

      “Every day is like Sunday / Every day is silent and grey”

      Absolutely agree about focusing on shapes and texture, this is a major reason I shoot b/w more often than colour.

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