What Gets You Through the Winter


It was cold today, which officially makes the winter redundant. The Northeast has been brutal this year, with wind chills in to the negative degrees. I haven’t been as active as I would have liked in the last two months, due to one thing or another, but somehow when I do manage to find a good sign to shoot, I manage to choose the absolute coldest of cold days. Earlier on in January, I got shots of the Kwik Shoppe in Shoemakersville. Beautiful sunshine, wind chills below freezing. The needle didn’t hit double digits (that’s Farenheit, metric system fans) until I got back home. It was so cold during this shoot, I was trying, with varying success, to hit the shutter button on my K-5 with my heavy winter gloves.

Kwik Shoppe, Shoemakersville, PAOh, was this a cold, cold day…

But I couldn’t argue with the results. There’s something about the winter sun that is noticeable in photographs. A harshness, hyper-contrast. Yesterday was such a day. Not a cloud in the sky, brutal sun, and the freezing point of the extremity of a female occultist’s mammary gland.

Check the picture below. I was just starting to take shots of signs in the summer of 2010 when I came across Schmoyer’s Dry Cleaners in the Mountainville area of Allentown. The building, I could tell, was closed, and in my mind I had to get a shot of it before the sign came down for good.

Schmoyer's Dry Cleaners, Allentown, PA

Nearly four years later and the sign still stands, despite the fact that the Dry Cleaners is all boarded up. I passed by a few days ago and noticed the tree that is in the above picture was no longer there. I figured it would be a good opportunity to get the other side of the sign, which is just as rusty and full of lovely neon bullet holes. And I also wanted to see what difference the winter sun made.

Of course, no one wants to go out into the cold, but I love taking shots that you don’t normally get. Different weather conditions, lighting scenarios, you name it. And I wanted to see if I could get the other side of Schmoyer’s, with the sun on it.

I headed down the hill on PA 145 and from a distance I could see it was going to be a challenge. There was still part of a tree obscuring that side, and the early afternoon sun was projecting shadows of that tree on to the sign. I parked and took a few shots, but I could tell this wasn’t going to be the result I wanted.

Schmoyer's Dry Cleaning, Allentown, PA front side

So, not wanting to admit defeat, I stepped through the snow to the other side. The winter sun was blasting away in vain against the cold, right behind the tree, imposing itself into my shot. I made the best of it and worked with it and not against it. I popped the flash on to augment the light on the face of the sign, and the results here were much better:

Schmoyer's Dry Cleaners, Allentown, PA back side

And for good measure, I tried it out in black and white, getting the bloom of the sun:

Schmoyer's in black and white

There’s a part of me that wants to hole up in the winter, but I see these things and I think, why? There’s so much that can be done out there, even though it’s difficult, even though the winds blow, even though the roads are still unplowed (you feeling me, Allentown?). And although the nasty bite of winter does its worst, it can’t stop the summer from coming. In the midst of all this, we press on. The longer we press on, the greater the chance that we capture something beautiful.

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