Leveraging Long Winter Light for Street Photography

As the days get shorter and the temperatures drop, life on the streets has a tendency to dry up a bit. While some might see this as reason to start an annual street photography hibernation I’d suggest taking advantage of what this time of year has to offer in the way of lighting.

While golden hour is not exclusive to the colder months of the year it does occur much earlier in the day from October to March. What would have been plentiful harsh midday light in June becomes warm glowing shafts filtered through buildings as early as 2p.m. in the winter.


These shafts of light offer opportunities for subject isolation in unique ways that exploit your sensor or film’s dynamic range to great effect. The key to the look is exposing for the extreme highlights and letting the shadows fall to black. You can achieve this look in camera by using spot metering of by dialing in a healthy amount of negative exposure compensation while in a matrix metering mode.



Once you find a light shaft that you like I would suggest you study the path it will travel along the environment. In the fall and winter you can almost watch the light move along a wall or building. If the light isn’t hitting exactly where you’d like it’s often a short wait until it’s somewhere 10 feet down the street. Keep an eye out for light bounced off of windows and buildings with reflective facades as they can add an additional dimension to your image.


Processing images like these offer you some options. Some choose to raise the shadows a bit while others might crush the shadows to black for dramatic contrast. I like to up the saturation of background buildings where color is present while leaving said buildings in deep shadow. A nice side effect of this type of image making is the low ISO’s and fast shutter speeds it can afford so really clean files are definitely achievable.

If you are typically a 9 to 5 shooter maybe this will serve as some inspiration to try something that might be a little outside of the box. Long light offers wonderful opportunity for unique compositions and subject isolation. It can also serve as that change-of-pace that keeps you shooting as the days get shorter and the tempertures drop.