Archive for the ‘cold’ Tag

Winter Photography, Part IV – Dressing for Success   11 comments

The first winter snows in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains often fall before autumn leaves.

I love winter.  Not as much as I used to; I blame the effects of aging.  For at least the first half of my life, winter was my favorite season.  And I still crave that clarity of air, that bracing atmosphere,  Winter has a pure and simple beauty.

The goal of this series is to both convince you to of the value of winter photography and to remove all excuses to avoid shooting in winter.  Check out the previous installments.  Today we’re covering winter safety in the form of the clothes you wear.  By the way, if you’re interested in any of the images you see here, be sure to contact me.

Dressing for Winter

You may have heard this expression:  “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing.”  It’s so true!  But you’ve probably also heard that clothing can mean the difference between life and death in winter.  This is not strictly true.  Humans of today are very used to being comfortable.  So we tend to equate our comfort with safety.  While the two are certainly related to each other, and I certainly don’t want to minimize the very real risks of hypothermia and frostbite, clothing in most cases simply means the difference between comfort and discomfort, not life and death.

A trail in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge passes several icy waterfalls.

But we’re talking photography.  It helps greatly to be comfortable when shooting.  Not like when you’re plopped in front of a fire in your favorite chair.  The goal is to be relatively comfortable.  There’s a couple reasons why this is important.  One is that no matter how much you want to go out in wintertime to shoot pictures, if when you do your body is sending signals that it’s cold and miserable, next time your mind will just make up excuses to stay inside.  The other reason is that it’s hard to focus on photography while you are wet or cold.

A very recent shot from a hike into a remote canyon in southern Utah.

A very recent shot from a hike into a remote canyon in southern Utah.

Here is what I’ve learned about dressing for winter in nearly 40 years (longer if you count mom bundling me up):

  • Layering:  We’re often told the most important thing in dressing for winter is layering.  Layering is a great concept, especially if your plans include exercise, but it’s a little like saying the most important thing about walking is putting one foot in front of the other.  Of course if you’re cold you will put something else on top of what you’ve already got.
  • What’s Really Important?  I focus on bottom-up and top-down, and also staying as dry as possible.  Bottom-up refers to your feet, and top-down refers to your head.  More than any other body part, when our feet are cold, we humans tend to object strongly.  More heat escapes through your head than anywhere else.  So if you have both of these bases covered you’re more than half-way there.  Lastly, getting wet, either from the outside or by sweating, can eventually lead to the often-deadly condition of hypothermia.

More of a fall shot, but it was chilly here along the Fremont River in Capitol Reef National Park, Utah.

  • Materials:  This is another thing that people harp too much on.  You may have heard the phrase “cotton kills”.  In wet and cold conditions it sure can.  But if you have three pairs of jeans on I’m guessing you’re bottom half is going to be okay in most circumstances.  Of course you shouldn’t go out in winter clothed in cotton.  The reason is that cotton is unable to insulate when wet.  Also it dries too slowly.  Down is the same way.  Other materials like synthetics and wool are much better because they don’t absorb water as readily as cotton, they dry more quickly, and (most important) they still insulate when wet.

Natural or Synthetic?  For me the answer is both.  Many people will try to steer you away from any natural material, and some even slam older synthetics like polypropylene.  They can become quite ideological about it.  Why?  As mentioned above, I think they conflate discomfort with true danger.  Many forms of clothing can keep you perfectly alive while leaving you very uncomfortable.

Wool:  Wool is time-tested and it works.  It can become a bit heavy when wet, and it doesn’t dry quite as quickly as most synthetics.  But wool doesn’t absorb water quickly and continues to insulate very well when wet.  It’s also pretty inexpensive and lasts a long time.

Down:  Down is superior to all else in keeping you warm.  Nearly every Sherpa I met in the Himalayas had a down jacket.  But it can be spendy, and you must keep it dry.  Down should be worn over at least one wicking layer.  If the temperatures are near freezing, you probably don’t need down.  But if you bring it make sure you have a good waterproof shell that fits over it.  Down is a good choice for photography because of the standing-around nature of many shooting situations.

Synthetics:  Nylon- and polyester-based blends make up most synthetic clothing.  Fleece of various types is most common for sweaters, jackets, hats and gloves.  Capilene tends to rule the long underwear world.  But there is an ever-expanding selection of fancy materials to spend your cash on.  One note: synthetics are overwhelmingly petroleum-based, so they’re not the best for the environment.  Most good manufacturers (Patagonia being the stand-out) offer recycled fleece and other clothing.

Ice over the Slickrock: one cold recent morning in East Zion National Park, Utah.

  • Your Head:  Take a good warm hat.  In cold where I know I’ll be hiking or skiing, I sometimes bring two hats.  One is a thin stretchy fleece or other material designed to wick away sweat, the kind runners and other athletes wear.  Running shops (in places with real winters) and stores like REI are good places to look.  The other hat is a thick, warm wool or fleece hat, which you can either layer over the thin one or wear by itself.  In truly frigid places a balaclava (which covers your face too) is in order.
  • Your Feet – Socks:  Good warm socks are a must.  Use nice, tall liner socks plus a thicker wool or wool-blend pair over those.  Stick an extra pair of wool socks in your camera pack and leave them there.  You never know when your feet might get wet, and that can be catastrophic if you don’t have a dry pair to put on.
  • Your Feet – Boots:  Boots made for winter are available.  They’re insulated and usually have built-in waterproofing of some kind.  Be careful though.  Some winter boots (Sorels for example), while amazingly warm and comfortable when you’re standing around, are not really made for hiking.  If you’re short on cash and already hike seriously in summer, good thick leather hiking boots, treated with waterproofing, do very well.  You don’t need special winter boots.
Mount Hood, Oregon sports a fresh coat of snow as it rises above its surrounding forest.

Mount Hood, Oregon sports a fresh coat of snow as it rises above its surrounding forest.

  • Your Hands:  The other important body part to protect is your hands.  One of the main reasons people get frustrated and avoid shooting in winter is cold hands on cold cameras (another is cold feet).  Nearly any glove can be used with a camera.  All it takes is practice.  When looking for the right glove combination for photography, realize you’re looking for the same thing as hunters.  Try shopping where they shop.

Layering for Hands:  Unless the cold is extreme, life will be easier if you get a thin pair of liner gloves for shooting in.  They’re often made of Capilene like long underwear, and they layer under thicker wool, fleece or ski gloves.  Mittens, worn over a pair of thin liners or other gloves, are a great way to keep hands warm between shooting.

Fingerless gloves:  These are obviously nice for operating the camera, but they expose the worst part of your hands to the cold, your fingertips.  Try thin liner gloves under fingerless gloves.  And have a pair of looser-fitting mittens or ski gloves to go over the fingerless gloves.  I have a pair of thick wool fingerless gloves that have an extra piece of thick wool that flips over my fingers, making a mitten.  That piece stays back with velcro when not in use.

  • Other Clothes:  Long underwear is a must.  Capilene is perfect, but so is silk when temperatures aren’t extreme.  Layer over with fleece or wool, then a good water-resistant parka.  Remember, no cotton.  A pair of goretex or other shell pants is important to at least have in your pack.  If it’s very cold, invest in a good down jacket or sweater (that can layer under the parka).
A full moon rises high up in the Oregon Cascade Range.

A full moon rises high up in the Oregon Cascade Range.

Friday Foto Talk: Winter Photography – Safety   12 comments

Skiing near Mount Hood, Oregon.

Skiing near Mount Hood, Oregon.

Winter Safety 101 – Driving to the Shooting Locale

Okay, now that we’ve made sure our equipment is protected (see Part I), it’s time to talk about winter photography itself – how to get the best pictures when it’s cold and snowy out.  Right?  Not so fast!  Be patient, we’ll get there.  There’s no sense shooting in winter if you’re not going to stay safe yourself.

A recent November storm moves into Zion National Park, Utah.

A recent November storm moves into Zion National Park, Utah.

And before worrying about coats, layering, snowshoes and all that stuff, it’s a good idea for all of us to take a good  hard look at our winter driving skills.  Of course most guys (and some girls) think they’re expert winter drivers.  But we’re literally talking life and death here.  So forget about ego.  No matter how much experience you have, before snow and ice arrive, do some brushing up.

  • To Go or Not to Go:  This would be an easier decision if stormy weather did not so often present some of the most beautiful, dramatic light.  So check the forecast, think about your tires, your vehicle, and most of all your skills.  Discretion is the better part of valor, but I don’t think avoidance is a good policy either.  Practice makes perfect in winter driving as in all else.
  • Leave Extra Time:  Being in a hurry when you’re driving can be dangerous at any time, but when it’s slippery out, driving too fast could be the last mistake you will ever make.  Head out to shoot earlier than you normally would.
  • Slow Wins the Race:  It’s worth repeating: going slow, especially on curves and down hills, is the most important thing to practice when driving in slick winter conditions.  Go slower than the conditions dictate (except when starting up a hill – see below).  This goes for every type of vehicle out there, from beefy 4×4 to rear-wheel drive sedan.
Waking up to a snowy morning at the rim of the Rio Grande Canyon, New Mexico.

Waking up to a snowy morning at the rim of the Rio Grande Canyon, New Mexico.

  • It Helps to See:  Keep your windshield clear.  Stop and scrape it if necessary.  If visibility is extremely poor, you may need to pull over and wait for things to improve.  Don’t push it whatever you do.
  • No Cell Phones Here:  Winter driving demands maximum attention.  First, increase your following distance by quite a bit.  And look further ahead than usual.  Keep a special eye on other vehicles to catch on to out of control drivers.  Use your mirrors when you slow to make sure somebody is not ready to rear-end you.
  • Light on that Brake!  As much as possible, stay away from the brake.  To slow, let off the gas well ahead of time, shift down (auto transmissions also have low gear options – use them) and avoid turning the wheels sharply.  If you must use the brake, alternate pressing and releasing, looking out for areas of better traction to hit the brake in.  If you have more distance, you can try feathering the brake.  Never press and hold.  If push comes to shove and you must stop quickly, stomp on and immediately release the brake, and keep doing it until the emergency is over.  This is one of only two times that it’s okay to make strong, aggressive movements when you’re driving in snow and ice.
A pause while descending a snowy slope near Mt. Hood, Oregon.

A pause on a ski descent near Mt. Hood, Oregon.

  • Momentum is Your Friend:  Keep momentum up on hills.  At the approach to an uphill, get up speed.  On the way up, if you slip, back off a little on the gas.  Knowing when to hit the gas is a feel thing when it’s slick out, and like braking, it helps to look out for areas with more traction and hit the gas there.  On downhills it’s the opposite.  Slow down on the approach and shift down before the steep part.  Gently feather the brakes if you need to slow more.
  • Curves: The Approach.    Recall what you were told when you learned to drive – slow on the approach, gentle acceleration through the curve – and take that to heart.  Slow well ahead of the curve then gently accelerate through it.  You should never have to touch the brake on a curve.  
  • Curves: The Fish-tail.  If your rear end slides sideways (a fish-tail), it means one of two things.  Either you are going much too fast or you hit the brakes when you shouldn’t have.  Turn your wheel in the same direction as your rear end is going, toward the outside of the curve.  The sooner you do this the better; the second you notice it starting is good.  By the way, this is the only other time it’s okay to make quick movements on slippery roads.  Just make it quick and smooth.

**But there’s a catch: it’s very easy to overdo steering into a slide.  Back off the second you feel your rear end coming back out of the skid and be ready to swing the wheel quickly the other way, in case you fishtail in the opposite direction. Again, it’s about feel: steer smoothly and no more than necessary.  Feel what’s happening and adjust accordingly.

  • Keep your Cool:  In any emergency situation, keep calm but react.  The sooner you make the (correct) adjustment, the better things will be.  The key is to not freeze up but also not to panic and over-react.  A relaxed focus plus action will get you through a lot!  Your attitude should be one of confidence up to a point; don’t get overconfident and go too fast.  If the conditions deteriorate, just turn around.

Next time we’ll talk about equipment specific to winter photography.  Have a great weekend!

The entrance to Zion Canyon, Utah.

The entrance to Zion Canyon, Utah.

Single-image Sunday: Frozen Portal   11 comments

I titled this shot Frozen Portal because it is the entrance to Oneonta Gorge.  Located in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge, it’s a popular place to photograph anytime and very popular to wade in hot summer weather.  It is a follow-up to Friday Foto Talk – Winter is Unforgiving.  Check that out for a few tips on photographing in wintertime.  This picture is copyrighted and not available for free download without my permission, sorry.  Please contact me if you’re interested, or just click on the image.

The infamous log jam that must be negotiated in order to enter the gorge is visible behind the snow-covered rock at left-center.  I’ve never seen this particular view of Oneonta posted in a picture before, so thought I’d give a different perspective on an oft-photographed place.  I had to stand in thigh-deep freezing water to get this shot, but what is temporary discomfort when you can capture rare frozen Columbia River Gorge scenery like this.  My apologies to any of you in the southern hemisphere who are sweating through the dog days of summer.

Oneonta Creek in Oregon's Columbia River Gorge is gripped by winter.

Oneonta Creek in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge is gripped by winter.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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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