Grey skies, muted colours, long nights, and near constant rain. Why would anyone want to drag their cameras out these days? Well, if your gear is collecting dust in the closet, you're missing out on one of the best times of the year to shoot. In fact this time of year is almost tailor made for photographers, and here's why;
The Great Diffuser in the Sky - Take a few months to not worry about lens flare, harsh shadows, and every other issue that results from strong sunlight. That near constant veil of grey cloud overhead acts as an excellent diffuser. Try shooting some outdoor portraits in black and white. Notice how smooth the skin tones are compared to a sunny day in June. Overcast days also give you more constant light, with less moving shadows like the kinds resulting from the more typical cumulus clouds we encounter in the summer.
It's always "The Golden Hour" - Even on a clear winter day the sun is at a low angle in the sky for most of the day, casting a warm glow over everything. You can shoot most of the day in the same conditions you would only get during the early mornings, or late afternoons in high summer. You can now sleep in on your days off and still get lots of shooting time in.
In the Bleak Light, Colours Explode - Take a look around next time you are driving around on a cool, drizzly night. Notice something? In the muted light of a winter night, those colours that survive burst out of grey in a way they don't at any other time of the year. Signs, light displays, building windows lit from inside, all seem more vibrant amongst the grey tones that dominate the landscape. If you are a fan of adding a little colour to a black and white photograph, you can shoot colour photos and turn them black and white with only a minor desaturation in post processing, leaving those strong points of colour to emerge out of the grey.
Clearer Stars, Crisper Horizons - On clear nights outside the city you will find the skies in much sharper definition as the heat shimmer that radiates off the ground, making for wobbly light, is not present like it is in the summer. Even within the city it is greatly diminished. The longer, darker nights mean that you don't need to wait until almost midnight to have complete darkness.
No Crowds - Walk around your favourite architectural subjects, or streetscapes without having to deal with crowds of people walking through your shots. It's nice to shoot a vibrant street scene, but sometimes you want the buildings to be the focus, and that can be difficult with a bustling crowd surrounding it.
So get out there and challenge yourself to find the beauty of the city in the winter time. It's there for the inspired shooter. Before you go out though take a few minutes to read some advice from Jim Richardson on protecting your gear in the rain.
Edit: Of course as soon as I post this we get 7 days of uninterrupted bright sun.