Friday Foto Talk: Shooting in Winter, Part II   6 comments

Easy Zion, Utah.  Many of this post's images are not too wintry looking, being from recent travels in the desert southwest.

Easy Zion, Utah. Many of this post’s images are not too wintry looking, being from recent travels in the desert southwest.

This is the second of three parts on photography in winter.  Part I highlighted some of the great reasons for keeping your photography going through the winter months.  This post will focus on some of the challenges and how to deal with them.  Next Friday, Part III will continue with even more challenges and opportunities presented by wintertime image-making.

I appreciate your interest in my blog and images.  Note that the images are all copyrighted and not available for free download without my permission.  Just click on them to go to the gallery part of my website.  You can purchase prints or rights to the images from there.  But I also welcome personal requests.  Just contact me and I’ll get right back to you.  Thanks a bunch!

A rainbow this bright is rarely possible without getting wet!

A rainbow this bright is rarely possible without getting wet!

Challenges (and Solutions) to Shooting in Winter

      • EXPOSURE:  First off I want to highlight a rather obvious benefit to shooting in winter, one I didn’t include in last Friday’s post.  Maybe it’s too obvious to mention, but the ability in winter to capture scenes with snow and ice in them presents real opportunity.  The white stuff lends a special mood to your pictures and enables you to tell stories you are not able to tell with your pictures at other times of year.

Of course there is a challenge involved in shooting snow and ice.  It can easily mess with your camera’s metering system.  If most of the frame is white or very light colored, your image can end up underexposed by as much as two stops!  This will render snow a dull grey – not good.  Ice, which is usually more of a light grey, doesn’t fool your camera quite as much as snow.

Solutions:

This is an easy one.  All you need to do is over-expose by a stop or two.  A lot depends on how much of the frame is occupied by white snow/ice.  If only half of the scene or less is white and depending on how good your meter is, you might find a half to one stop over is all you need.  Maybe even none at all.

For example, say you have snow in the lower part of the frame and green trees plus blue sky in the upper part.  Here you might not need to overexpose at all, or to be safe perhaps 1/2 stop.  But if it is all snow and bright cloudy sky, you will probably need to go over by one to two stops.

Use your camera’s automatic feature and dial in positive exposure compensation.  If you’re shooting in manual mode, just open up your aperture, slow your shutter speed, or lower ISO by the correct amount of stops.  Although you can certainly brighten things up later on the computer, that is a bad habit to get into.  Get exposure as close as you can at time of capture.

This scene after snowfall in Zion's Kolob Canyons required only 2/3 stop positive exposure compensation.

This snowy scene in Zion’s Kolob Canyons required only 2/3 stop positive exposure compensation.

Hiking through a gap in Valley of Fire where winds deposit sand dunes.

Hiking through a gap in Valley of Fire where winds funnel through, depositing sand dunes.

 

      • WET:  In my home area of the Pacific Northwest, rain is a given during winter.  It can fall each day for weeks at a time.  In many temperate latitudes, cold rain and wet snow are the rule in winter.  This can cause real damage to your camera equipment, damage that will cost hundreds to fix; to say nothing of the damage to your spirits.

Solutions:  

This is probably the toughest challenge to deal with.  There are many “raincoats” made for your camera and lens.  My experience is that very few of them are worth much.  As with a disturbing number of photo accessories, this is one where it’s definitely “buyer beware”.

Don’t buy off the internet without checking it out personally.  If you belong to a camera club, push for a meeting where everyone brings in their favorite camera rain-gear and explains pluses and minuses.  Check them out using your camera, looking for ease of use and coverage, along with overall quality.

Another shot that is difficult to get in comfortable conditions.  Water from a spray bottle just isn't the same.

Another shot that is difficult to get in comfortable conditions. Water from a spray bottle just isn’t the same.

MY METHOD

To keep my camera well protected from rain or wet snow I normally keep it inside my pack with the rain cover on.  Does your pack or bag have a rain cover?  Sometimes I just sling the camera around my neck inside my waterproof parka, only taking it out when I need to shoot.  If you find a very good raincoat for your camera, you could mount camera and lens onto your tripod and put the raincoat on before you even go out into the deluge.

I have a towel thingie that I bought at Walgreens.  (I like that word “thingie”.)  It’s made of thick terry cloth material, is quite absorbent, and takes quite awhile to get wet.  I use it not only to protect the camera from the rain but to mop up droplets on all non-glass surfaces.  Its best feature is a sort of pocket on one end, which curls right around the back of my camera, helping it to stay put.  The long end gets draped over my lens.

You could also fashion a towel/camera cover of your own with a simple sewing job.  Or you could always use the old standby, a shower cap.  But go a step further and try to find a shower cap with a soft terry-cloth interior.  I found one at Walgreens.

My towel cover is over the camera inside my pack, so I have protection from the moment I take the camera out.  I also have ready in my pocket a large microfiber cloth (or two).  You will constantly be drying your lens surfaces, though this is minimized if you use a lens hood.  You don’t want water drops in your photos.  They’re a hassle to remove on the computer.

You can also use an umbrella.  I find it’s just one thing too many to mess with, but I can see the value (especially if you have an assistant!).  My method above is only really useful in drizzle or moderate rainfall.  A heavy downpour and things just get wet no matter what you do.  My camera gear is inside my pack during these times unless I can find some overhang to shoot under.

If you have a pro-style camera such as a Canon 1Dx or Nikon D4, you are one step ahead of everyone else, since your camera is sealed well enough to handle all but heavy downpours.  Sadly, even expensive second tier cameras like my Canon 5D Mark III are not sealed well enough to be safe in direct rainfall.

Winter's heavy flows are a great time to shoot waterfalls in Oregon's Columbia Gorge, but it also presents a challenge dealing with moisture.

Winter’s heavy flows are a great time to shoot waterfalls in Oregon’s Columbia Gorge, but it also presents a challenge dealing with moisture, whether it’s raining or not.

Winter-blooming plants bring pollinators in the desert of Anza Borrego State Park, California.

Winter-blooming plants bring pollinators in the desert of Anza Borrego State Park, California.

      • COLD:  Though nearly all cameras have a temperature below which the manufacturer does not guarantee correct operation (check your manual), most of the time the problem you’ll have is with condensation.  When you bring your camera from the cold back into the warmth of your home or vehicle, and to a certain extent vice-versa as well, there is a good chance of moisture building up even on interior components.  Wet electronics mean large repair bills.

Solutions:

Buy a large plastic bag that seals out moisture, big enough to put camera and lens in.  You can find heavy duty ziplock-style bags in various sizes. Aloksak is one brand.  They work wonderfully for DSLRs.  You can also use a larger dry bag like white-water rafters use.  You can put your whole camera backpack into the larger models, though you wouldn’t want to hike around with one.  Check out your local outdoor sporting goods store, like REI.  If you have a small mirrorless or point and shoot camera, gallon-sized Ziplock bags will work just fine.

Here is the procedure:  Before you take your equipment out into the cold, and especially before you come in from the cold into a warm place, place your camera and lens into the bag(s) and seal them well.  Let them cool down (or warm up) to the ambient temperature before you take them out of the bag(s).

To save time with this, I often turn off the heat in the car about a half hour before I get to the shooting locale.  Then I don’t have to worry about it.  I crack the windows to make sure the interior is nice and cold when I get back in.  A bonus is it doesn’t feel as cold when you get out!

Stay tuned next Friday for the final part of this series: more challenges that winter throws at the unsuspecting photographer; more tips on how to deal with them.  In the meantime, I sincerely wish you a happy and safe New Year!

Shadow and winter light play games in the sand dunes of Death Valley National Park, California.

Shadow and winter light play games in the sand dunes of Death Valley National Park, California.

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6 responses to “Friday Foto Talk: Shooting in Winter, Part II

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  1. Great info, I really appreciate it. Happy New Year!

  2. Happy New Year to you and thank you for being there and giving useful advice!

  3. For very cold weather double bagging in normal grocery bags may work better than a single air tight bag, the two layers permit the condensation to accumulate between the layers and not on the camera. Of course on coming in from the cold tho means the camera is colder for longer. This works for me and was suggested to me by a long-time Canadian photographer.

    • Thanks for the extra idea; that would certainly work too! Covers for sleeping bags work off the same principle. Still need to be careful to not leave it open to the air, plus there are usually holes in grocery bags where moisture from the condensation can seep through. In airtight bags it’s possible to get condensation if you leave a lot of air in the bag. So one thing I didn’t mention is you need to make sure the bag isn’t filled with air. By habit I always push out the air before I seal any airtight container. Then it’s physically impossible to get condensation inside, since you don’t have anywhere for the moisture to come from other than the little bit around and inside the camera. And that doesn’t produce enough moisture. The camera should warm up and cool down at the same rate either way you do it. The whole problem of condensation gets worse the more radical the change in temperature and also how humid it is. Some condensation is a given when it’s below freezing, and the colder it is the more careful you have to be. With either method, if you’re dealing with really extreme cold you can wrap the camera in a towel to absorb any moisture that comes from the air inside the bag(s).

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