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shooting in bright light

PHOTO TALK | how to work the ugly times when life itself has been sucked from the earth

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PHOTO TALK | how to work the ugly times when life itself has been sucked from the earth

I get asked all the time, "This is bad time of year to shoot, right? It's not very pretty?" and I want to tell you three ways we can WORK THE UGLY TIMES to make good pictures.

The ugly times? I mean winter. Roughly November through April (depending on your coordinates!) when you might get a magical winter wonderland, but more likely will get a mix of snow, mud, bare trees, colorless landscapes, and unpleasant temperatures. Not as magical! I believe with an open mind and the right locations, you'll love it. 

I visited THREE LOCATIONS this winter to show you what the ugly times can offer you. These pictures were only taken two days apart, all within an hour drive of my local Minneapolis location, but the principals are relevant for all chilly places. 

ONE. GO FOR WIDE OPEN SPACES.

1. GO FOR WIDE OPEN SPACES. The Dixie Chicks knew it and so do I. Wide open spaces put the ugly stuff (sad, bare, brown trees) far off in the distance. There's some bare trees in the top right of the above photo, but the camera blur hides them from view. Golden fields are seriously MAGIC - is that summer? Spring? Fall? Certainly not... winter..? But it is! Wide open spaces are also enchanting when covered in snow - it practically feels an outdoor "studio" because there is so much clean, bright, whiteness all around.

TIP My favorite thing is bringing some of the dried grasses into the foreground of the pictures for close ups. If the grass isn't tall enough, you can achieve this look (photo below) by kneeling down low.

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LANEY+BRIGHAM | wide open spaces shoot in early March

TWO. EVERGREENS FOREVER!

2. EVERGREENS FOREVER! Oh, have I mentioned before how much I love pine trees? Forgive me, but let me say it again. Pine trees (evergreen trees in general) are LIFE. They smell amazing and LOOK amazing all year round. They are the epitome of coziness, mountains, log cabins, and the magic of Christmas and winter. Pines are the go-to for adding greenery in the ugly times of winter - on a sunny day (like above) it can look as fresh as summer. With a little clouds and a few snowflakes, it's as pretty as a Christmas card. 

TIP For vast forests like these (like above and below) you may need to walk or hike a bit. Luckily, many local parks will have a handful of evergreen trees as part of their landscaping. In the link below, it was just a handful of pines behind a playground. You'd never know!

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LAUREN+MACK | Christmas evergreens in October

THREE. EMBRACE THE DEAD.

3. EMBRACE THE DEAD. I tried to think of a more lovely, poetic, way to say that but that's all I got. Straight up EMBRACE those bare trees and dead leaves. You don't need to hide the fact that you're taking pictures in early March if you're celebrating your anniversary in early March! That's your season! I hiked along a river and found this woodsy corner - you can tell that in the summer time the river rises and floods straight through all these trees. In any other season, this location wouldn't even be here. That's freaking cool. You can have pictures that no one else will.

TIP Personally, if I'm going to do anniversary pictures in a scenery that embraces the dead, I'm choosing BRIGHT colors. Let yourself pop and shine instead of the landscape! I think a red dress would look so amazing against the bare trees. Ok that does make me think a tinyyyy bit about The Village but I'm going to try to ignore that.

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ESTELLE+JESSE | making early January look like magic

I hope this was a helpful glimpse into embracing winter photography, even when you don't have a Pinterest perfect winter wonderland at your fingertips. Personally, I love shooting through the winter. Locations are less busy because there are fewer people out. You can add cute hats and knit mittens to your shoot, which is freaking adorable. With a later sunrise time, you can easily start a winter shoot at 9 AM and have gorgeous light (in the summer, it would be like 7 AM!). So, which would you choose?

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LANEY+BRIGHAM | wide open spaces shoot in early March
LAUREN+MACK | Christmas evergreens in October
ESTELLE+JESSE | making early January look like magic

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LANEY+BRIGHAM | the day I stopped shooting at golden hour

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LANEY+BRIGHAM | the day I stopped shooting at golden hour

Photographers and golden hour are like peanut butter and jelly. It's one of the most common tips you hear - "golden hour is the best lighting for portraits" and yes. It typically is. Most portrait photographers who use natural light will begin their shoots 1-2 hours prior to sunset, some even prefer starting just 30 minutes before sunset to start their shoot the minute that bangin' GOLD, streaky, sun-flared-filled, warm, epic, sun-on-the-horizon movie scene light is alive. It is truly enchanting. For a long time, I sought this too.

But I didn't super love golden hour. My nightmares, I mean my literal nightmares that I wake up from in the night, are about shoots starting too late and the sun is gone and it's the middle of the night and I've got my camera and I'm panicking. Golden hour is a (relatively) small window of time unless you live in Iceland where they've got 3 hour sunsets half the year (goalz) and if a client is late, you can miss it. Watching the sun dip below the horizon as I get that text "15 minutes away!" has actually probably taken a few years off of my life.

But here's the story. I really misjudged sunset time for this anniversary shoot with Laney and Brigham. We arrived way too early! The sun was still pretty high in the sky and I was like craaaaaaap. To make things trickier, this was a location with no shade at all! I was squinting as I tried to check that my exposure was balanced and using my hand to shade my eyes the entire time. As I was driving home from the shoot, it still wasn't even sunset yet (typically photographers drive home in the dark!) and the thought running through my head was "OMG these might look terrible". I popped them into the computer later that night
AND
LOVED
THEM.

Cue epiphany.

SO BRIGHT. SO HAPPY. Sunset was SO far away that I wasn't stressed at all about running out of light. In fact, I felt more relaxed to take my time with each shot because I knew I could afford to take things slow. We could talk between shots for as long as we wanted. They told more stories of how they met and what was going on in their lives and I could just put the camera down and really listen rather than interrupt.

The colors were all so vibrant and lively! Laney and Brigham's skin glowed against the golden grasses and the blue sky was so vivid. These images truly reflected the brightness and happiness I strive to capture in every picture. Bright and happy is kind of my THING and this type of light, earlier than golden hour, just CLICKED with my style. 

So, photographers and golden hour may be peanut butter and jelly. But Emily and bright light might just be peanut butter and chocolate.

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PHOTO TALK | how to work the ugly times when life itself has been sucked from the earth
MARY JANE+MICHAEL | 41 years and a floral wedding dress

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