Every year with the approach of winter months, analogue photographers face a choice between the timelessness of black and white or the vibrant palette of colour film.
Although the grey rainy UK days may suggest otherwise, winter is far from monochromatic, and both black and white and colour films offer distinct ways to capture its essence. It's not a matter of deciding which one is superior but of understanding the opportunities and drawbacks each presents to winter film photography.
So, as the days shorten and the air chills, don’t stow your camera away waiting for the return of summer. With thoughtful planning and a little bit of creativity, winter analogue photography promises as many enchanting moments as any summer day.
Photo by Tereza Petricova, shot on Kodak Gold with Olympus OM-10
Why Shoot Colour Film in the Winter
Winter, as dull and grey as it may seem to us in the UK, can offer plenty of colour depending on location, subject, and weather conditions. Colour film, however, takes more planning and consideration than BW film as it’s not as versatile. Colour film excels on those few bright and sunny winter days, when the sky is infinitely blue and fresh snow shines but in the busy city streets, where finding colour is more difficult, it can be a hindrance.
In its essence, colour in photography is more descriptive but it also puts emphasis on the present moment. Be it a snowy winter landscape, a party with friends and family or the cheerfulness of Christmas lights, colour captures these moments and suspends them in time forever as if they happened only moments ago. Indeed, there’s plenty of colour to be found in the winter months, and capturing it in all its shades and hues will also document the atmosphere and feelings associated with the moment in time and space.
Photo by Tereza Petricova, shot on HARMAN Phoenix 200 with Yashica T4
Winter Colour Photography Ideas
Capture the Warmth of the Holiday Cheer
Winter days may be short but despite the lack of light you can find cosy lights and the warmth of the Christmas celebrations an interesting subject to photograph. A decorated Christmas tree, family and friends gathering in front of a cosy fire, or even outdoor activities such as building snowmen bring life and warmth to the winter months so why not document these precious moments? If you want to read a bit more about Christmas photography read; Christmas Film Photography For Beginners.
Look for a Pop of Colour
The general greyness of the winter can be challenging to photograph. Try looking for a pop of colour to add interest to your composition, drawing the eye of the viewer to the subject and contrasting it with a neutral background.
Warm Up your Photographs
For most photographers, the choice of film, especially in winter, depends on how much light is available. An overcast winter sky can often provide a very cool light that can make a scene look lifeless. When choosing a film, consider the natural colour characteristics of the film and how they can warm up the scene and enhance the colours present.
Photo by Paul McKay, shot on Kodak Gold with Lomography LC-a
Why Shoot Black and White in Winter
Many of us photographers don’t shoot in black and white as we fear missing out on colour. But in the winter, we may feel uninspired due to the omnipresent greyness which makes winter the perfect season to explore the language of photography beyond colour. When the world is looking grey, instead of fighting the bleakness of winter, black and white film takes advantage of the lack of colour drawing attention to the composition, light, and the shapes of objects rather than their colour. Such photographs become more interpretative, as opposed to the descriptiveness of colour, instead gaining a classic, timeless quality and a sense of moodiness to them.
Another advantage of black and white films is their versatility. From a technical point of view, black and white films with wider latitude are more suitable for extreme winter light conditions. When some days are dark and others light, using a film that can do both will ensure you can make the most out of any scenario.
Photo by Duncan Gammon, shot on Ilford Delta 100 Professional with Minolta Dynax 7
Winter Black and White Photography Ideas
Shoot for BW, not in BW
The language of colour and BW are vastly different. You can’t rely on colour to lead the eye to the subject of your photo. However, the reduction of colour leads us to focus on the scene itself or a specific detail. By simplifying your compositions, blurring out unimportant elements in your photos, and using the contrast of light and shadow to your advantage, you can emphasise your subject and control the interpretation of the scene.
Focus on the Details
Become a documentarian of winter. Frosted windows, misty clouds of breath condensing in the cold air, and the low directional light make good subjects for interesting photos that illustrate the essence of winter.
Make Moodiness Your Best Friend
Embrace the characteristics of winter to add drama to your work. Ominous long dark shadows, peaceful and innocent snow glistening in the cool sun, mysterious mist, and sorrowful streaks of rain are your tools to create a sense of emotion in your compositions, emphasising their storytelling qualities.
Winter Film Choices According to the SilverPan Team
[Ilford] XP2 [400 ISO] is a good all rounder for my winter landscapes. I prefer BW in general in my photography.
I’ve just shot a roll of [Kodak] Portra 800 and I’ve been super happy with it because it’s a higher speed film for the dark and gloomy UK winter.
In winter I prefer to stick with lower speed films such as [Ilford] FP4 Plus or Delta 100 as I prefer low grain and high detail. I use a tripod to account for lower light. When taking photographs of people or gatherings indoors I make use of an off-camera flash for best results.
I love shooting Kodak Gold and Lomography 400 all year around because of their warm bright colours but this winter I challenged myself to shoot more black and white film. I prefer quite contrasty BW films with rich blacks such as the Ilford HP5 but I’ve had some great results with Fomapan 100 loaded in my Yashica T4 point and shoot documenting the everyday life.
You can purchase these film stocks in our SilverPan lab or on Analogue Wonderland’s website.
The decision between black and white versus colour analogue photography in winter is far from a one-size-fits-all scenario and depends on a variety of factors. Consider your location, subjects, weather, and light conditions, as well as your shooting pace. Versatile films are ideal for a slower pace, while a focused approach may warrant specific film choices.
The type of photography you engage in—portrait, landscape, street photography—also influences the decision, along with the desired aesthetic, be it warm and cheery, elegant, or moody. Ultimately, the choice is a personal one, and both black and white and colour film offers a range of creative possibilities tailored to your unique preferences and circumstances.