Winter Inspiration

I live in the northwest corner of Montana in the Flathead Valley. Our house is about 75 miles from the Canadian border. Our valley in the wintertime can get kind of dreary. Weather conditions can cause the valley to get covered in clouds and we won’t see the sun for weeks. It’s called an inversion and if you can get up in the mountains, the sun will be bright and you’ll look down into the valley and just see clouds. This is great for skiing but if you’re in the valley, it can get a little bleak. Last weekend, in the midst of an inversion, I was thinking about writing a post about color. I looked outside and all I saw was grey, dull colors. What to do? I took the dogs for a walk and started seeing lots of interesting shapes, line and value changes. Many times, when there is a lot of color, you get overwhelmed by the color and that’s all you might see. But since there wasn’t any color, I could really see value changes in the scenery. Value, is dark and light. So one end of the value scale is black and the other is white with a variety of grays in between. I wrote a post about using a value scale here. 

Frosty Trees

So I went back to the house to get my camera. This shot is from the front of my house.

Because of the freezing fog, ice crystals form on branches and just about everything. This doesn’t happen all the time so it was fun to get some shots of all the ice crystals.

Aspens in Winter

These are the aspen trees covered in ice crystals.

Ponderosa Pines

But then I saw the Ponderosa pine needles and I was entranced.

And the close up shots were amazing. They looked like fireworks.

Lacy Ice

And even the ice under my feet was looking lacy.

Then I turned  a new eye on the landscape. Many times, when you’re trying to work out what values to use, you are told to squint your eyes and see if you can pick out the darker areas in a landscape. Or if you have a photo, then put it into a photo editing program and turn it into black and white. With these photos, I could immediately pick out the dark and light values. Can you?

So why go on and on about value? I think it is one of the most important parts of a composition. If all of your colors are the same value, you end up with limited contrast and the composition isn’t as interesting as it could be. You need to have dark, medium and light values so there is contrast in your composition and your eye will be led from area to area in your composition.

So even in the winter, when it’s dull and dreary, if you look close enough, you can find some inspiration. What’s been inspiring you this winter (or summer if you’re on the other side of the world)?

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21 Responses to Winter Inspiration

  1. koffipot says:

    Lovely photos Ruth and a good example of colour value. Winter can be such a beautiful time of year, I love cold frosty mornings, when the cobwebs are like lace and the trees are rimed with frost, though I do prefer the inclusion of a bit of sunshine. 🙂

    If unsure about values it’s not a bad idea to take a B/W photo.

    • ruthlane says:

      Thanks Judith. I prefer a bit of sunshine too. 🙂

      It is a good idea to use a black and white photo to figure out values but on a day like that, no need.

  2. Pia says:

    I have yet to find inspiration outside in the endless muddy grey winter we have this year… I’m going to have to look inwards instead.

  3. zedster66 says:

    Wow, those photos are gorgeous, Ruth! 🙂 I love the ice needle on the pine needle and the ground ice looks like lichen. I’m sure it must get tiring on the eyes, but your photos don’t make it look dull or dreary at all. Apparently we had the sunniest January for a while (10 or 15 years depending where you read it). I like clouds.

    • ruthlane says:

      Thanks Zed. I agree, the ground ice did look like lichen. The problem is that the ice crystals don’t last very long and usually it’s just grey. So it was nice to find something so beautiful. I don’t mind clouds but after 2-3 months with no sun, it gets old.

  4. Lyn says:

    The largest Ponderosa photo would make a wonderful wall poster Ruth! More beautiful than fireworks.

    Important lesson here about values – and clearly explained – thank you.

    Last week I saw a downy white feather stuck in a thick frost on my wooden slatted picnic bench. The pale, slanty sunshine on it made a beautiful sparkly picture.

  5. Nada says:

    Ruth, your black and white photos are wonderful. Where I live we also have long periods of foggy and dark weather. However, I never think of going out and admiring what nature is offering in such moments. Any inspiration to transfer this atmosphere into felt? You would only need black, grey and white roving )-;

    • ruthlane says:

      Thanks Nada – It is amazing if you look closely enough, you can find something beautiful in nature at all times of the year. I do think it would be cool to use these inspirations for felt. I like to use natural colored wool so this would be perfect for that.

  6. Leonor says:

    Beautiful photos, Ruth. It shows how monochrome can be quite stunning as well. It also really helps with the understanding of colour value without too many distractions, and in a natural setting!

  7. luvswool says:

    Love your B & W photos! I used to do amateur documentary photography with a SLR camera (pre-digital days) and loved the contrast you can achieve with values. I used to print my own photos, as well, as you can really control the contrast.

    • ruthlane says:

      Thanks Cathy. These really aren’t black and white. That was just the day – no light and no color. It is fun seeing the different values though.

  8. Marilyn aka Pandagirl says:

    Beautiful pictures Ruth! The ice crystals are wonderful. We’ve had sun after a snow storm this week and it was really beautiful until it gets all mucky from the cars. I agree wit Lyn some of those pics would make great posters!

    • ruthlane says:

      Thanks Marilyn – I definitely know about getting all mucky. There is a joke here. We have winter, then mud season then summer. I live on a dirt road so we definitely end up with mud season but we still have at least until April for that.

  9. Karen Lane says:

    Stunning photography Ruth! I have always loved monochromatic images….there is so much atmosphere in these, I particularly like the close ups of the pine needles. What camera do you use? I attended a workshop just before Christmas which was a whole day spent looking at, and experimenting with, colour “values”‘. Very interesting topic.

    • ruthlane says:

      Thanks Karen! I love the pine needle close ups as well. Glad I caught it on film as it is all gone now. The camera I use is an older digital Minolta. Your workshop sounds great – were your experiments with paint or some other medium?

  10. Karen Lane says:

    The workshop was run by Sue Denton who is an international textile artist based in the south of England. Sue provided a huge variety of coloured fabrics and pre drawn templates and we were set exercises to explore the effects of colour values and use what we had learnt to develope colour schemes for our quilts. You can see some images from the day here http://lincsinstitches.com/2014/11/08/susan-denton-comes-to-lincolnshire/

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