Archive for the ‘safety’ Tag

Friday Foto Talk: Point of View & Staying Safe   13 comments

A recent shot from a lovely place in the Colorado Rockies called Bluebird Lake.

Let’s follow-up on the topic point of view (POV) and in particular last week’s Foto Talk on ethics and legality.  As you begin to dream up and try a wide variety of positions to shoot from, you’ll find yourself getting more deeply involved with it.  It’s what photography is all about.  But before you get lost in the moment, take another moment to consider the following cautionary tales.  The phrase “safety comes first”, after all, applies to photography like it does to any undertaking.

Flowers grow on a lichen-covered rock outcrop at 11,000 feet in Rocky Mtn. National Park, Colorado.

Flowers grow on a lichen-covered rock outcrop at 11,000 feet in Rocky Mtn. National Park, Colorado.

POV & Safety:  People

  • Property Territoriality.  I mentioned last week how you might run afoul of property owners or officials.  Yet anybody could take strong exception to your shooting near their “territory”.  One time in a lonely rural area I was getting some sunset shots.  Not far away was a farm house.  I was on the side of a county road, not even pointing the camera directly at the house.  But driving away in the gathering dark I noticed a guy following me in a pickup.  He continued for quite awhile until I stopped, got out and challenged him (something I don’t recommend).  Later I was pulled over by a cop (the guy had called) and had to explain who I was and what I was doing.
While shooting this barn in central Oregon I was approached by the owner who told me I was on a private road. I was honest about my reason for being there and he let me shoot away.

While shooting this barn in central Oregon I was approached by the owner who told me I was on a private road. I was honest about my reason for being there and he let me shoot away.

  • Compositional Territoriality.  It’s not always property owners who have issues.  You can also get in the way of other photographers too.  Although I generally shy away from popular locations and subjects and so don’t run into many others, on occasion I have inadvertently stepped in the way of a fellow shooter.  Some of these guys (they’re always guys) are extremely possessive of “their” compositions (see bottom image).  I don’t know why but they seem to like shining flashlights or (worse) laser pointers at me in a sort of passive aggressive way.  Weird.
  • See Below for more on staying safe in populated areas.
Dusk falls at Bluebird Lake. I balanced on the edge for this shot 'cause I wanted a POV highlighting the metamorphic rock textures in the foreground.

Dusk falls at Bluebird Lake. I balanced on the edge for this shot ’cause I wanted a POV highlighting the metamorphic rock textures in the foreground.

SOLUTIONS    

  • Stay Cool.  I probably don’t have to tell you that situations involving angry people can spin quickly out of control.  But if you remain relatively calm and listen to what the person is saying you’ll thank yourself later.
  • Be Honest.  It’s always best to state honestly what you’re doing.  If you try to obfuscate in any way you’ll just put yourself under suspicion.
  • Be Sensitive but Firm.  I try to strike a balance between (1) being sensitive to both the law and to people’s concerns and (2) being firm about my right to be on public property and my right to use (especially to keep!) my camera gear.
  • Know when to Walk Away.  I don’t always handle people the way I later realize I should have.  The main thing I’ve done wrong in the past is to not apologize and walk away when someone gets very angry.  Apologize even if you don’t think you’re in the right.  If they won’t let you go and want to get physical, just pull out your phone and dial 911.
St. Vrain River, Colorado.

St. Vrain River, Colorado.

POV & Safety:  Animals

People are obviously the biggest danger, but other animals can be dangerous as well (see what I did there?).  How close to that buffalo do you really need to be?  Seems we read on a weekly basis about tourists getting hurt when they get too near buffalo or other wild animals in Yellowstone Park.  And it’s not just tourists.  Pro photographers with not enough wildlife experience or common sense get too close.  Don’t take domestic animals too lightly either.  For example I give Brahma bulls more respect than most wild animals.

This large African elephant in the Okavango Delta gave us a fright when he bluff charged.

This large African elephant in the Okavango Delta gave us a fright when he bluff charged.

SOLUTIONS

  • Learn.  Start by reading about your animal subjects, paying particular attention to body language, territorial behaviours, “comfort distances” and related info.  But remember to take anything you learn on the internet or in books as a general guide only.  Animals are like people.  It’s not just that each individual is unique; it’s that each situation you find it in is unique.  Animal behaviour depends not just on instinct but on the individual and its circumstances.
  • Observe.  There is no substitute for careful observation of body language while you’re anywhere near a potentially dangerous animal.  Don’t approach until you take a good look.  For example, ears back is a common warning sign with prey animals.  For predators you may get ears back if they’re feeling defensive, or ears forward and alert if they’re on the hunt.
  • Go Slow.  Approaching slowly will not only avoid frightening the animal and blowing your chances, it will also give the animal a chance to get comfortable and keep it from becoming defensive.  It will also allow you more time to observe your quarry and stop if a behaviour indicates you should.  As a rule you should never turn your back on or run from any potentially dangerous animal.  There are exceptions to this however.

I’ve posted this one before, but it shows so well how animals use body language to warn you about getting any closer (arched tail).

POV & the Blinder Effect

  • The blinder effect is when you are dialed in to what you’re doing, changing positions and POV.  Our minds are on the shot, not on possible dangers.
  • As photographers we are more vulnerable than the average person.  To see why, let’s take mountain lions as an example.  If you’re a smaller man or a woman you need to be particularly careful in cougar country.  But even if you’re big and ugly like me, think about it.  As a photographer we often choose to shoot near dawn or dusk when the light is good.  And that’s when most predators are active.  Further, we tend to crouch down (making ourselves smaller) with faces pressed to the camera instead of directed toward danger.
  • In populated areas, simply substitute the word mugger for cougar and the situations are perfectly parallel.

ANIMALS

It’s not just when they’re the subjects that wildlife is a potential danger.  On a couple occasions I’ve been so focused on a landscape shot that I allowed a curious animal to approach me quite closely.  Depending of course on the animal and the situation, this could be either a pleasant surprise or a dangerous development.  For example cougars inhabit even populated areas.  And don’t forget venomous snakes.  Adjusting POV often means walking through tall grass or thick brush.

I definitely avoided turning my back on this Komodo dragon on the island of Rinca, Indonesia.

This Komodo dragon on the island of Rinca, Indonesia snuck up on me while I was photographing a bigger one. It’s a bit chilling to be stalked.

PEOPLE

  • Urban Areas:  In cities, wandering into a sketchy neighborhood near dark is easy to do when chasing a shot.  I did it in Kuala Lumpur once while trying for a photo of the Petronas Towers at blue hour (dusk).  That is, until a kind local noticed and let me know I was putting myself (or at least all my camera gear) at risk.  I got a shot but it wasn’t right, so next night I did something different (see image).

Not as famous as the Petronas Towers, but still worth shooting, the Kuala Lumpur Tower & the perfect POV on my hotel’s roof. I don’t think I was supposed to be there.

  • Remote Areas:  One reason I like wilderness areas is because there’s normally no need to worry about other people.  But the other side of that coin means you are more vulnerable if a bad character does appear.  Several years ago I was in Colombia on a hike through a jungle known for its bandits.  I stopped to watch some very cool-looking monkeys.  There was a small noise and I turned around to find that two young native guys with machetes had caught right up to me.  Chills went down my spine.  But happily they turned out to be friendly and we ended up hiking together.  One even climbed a tree and used his machete to cut a huge fresh papaya down (yummy!).

SOLUTION

For the blinder effect there is really just one solution:  Be Aware of your Surroundings.  Take your face away from the camera and look around from time to time, particularly in lonely places.

Summary

I feel like I’ve sounded a tone that’s a bit too paranoid.  We all know what can result from too much fear: paralysis.  In fact you’ll probably never run into most of these situations.  But they are worth being ready for in the same way that it’s wise to prepare for a natural disaster that’ll probably never happen.  So be careful out there, just not too careful.  Shoot with as many POVs as you think is necessary.  Practice awareness and common sense and all will be well.  Have a great weekend!

At Deadhorse Point, Utah, a popular spot, I arrived pre-dawn & was able to shoot this gnarled juniper while another photog. who arrived after me circled around with his little flashlight.

At Utah’s Deadhorse Point, a popular spot, I showed up very early (rare for me).  While shooting this gnarled juniper a guy who arrived after me but apparently wanted the same shot circled around trying various ways to hurry me.

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Friday Foto Talk: Point of View – Ethics & Legality   4 comments

For this swirling pool on Colorado's St. Vrain River, I went for a POV looking down on it.

For this recent shot of a granite-lined pool on Colorado’s St. Vrain River, I went for a downward-looking POV.

After the recent posts on point of view (POV), I realized I had been taking it for granted.  It’s the kind of thing that experienced photographers model naturally when shooting.  But they gloss over it and don’t talk about it enough when teaching.  Novices tend to be busy figuring out their cameras, exposure, where to focus, etc.  As a result they may not pick up on how important POV is until later on.

But here’s a simple fact: the sooner you learn to quickly and purposefully adjust your point of view, the faster your photography will improve.  Why is POV so important?  Because it’s all about finding the best compositions.  And in photography composition means everything.  So be sure to check out POV Part I and POV Part II.  This week let’s take a step back and look at some consequences of changing POV in the quest for the perfect shot.

Last post I showed the male mountain bluebird. Here is his mate near the nest at 11,800 feet elevation in Colorado.

Last Wednesday featured a male mountain bluebird. Here is his mate near their nest at 11,800 feet (3600 m.) up in the Colorado Rockies.

An image whose point of view is of another creature's point of view (note what the elk is looking at).

An image whose point of view is of another creature’s point of view (note what the elk is looking at).

Okay.  You got the message of the last two Foto Talks.  You’re moving around with purpose, shifting POV in all directions, shooting away.  You’re well on your way to better photos.  And maybe on your way to trouble as well.  Here are some quandaries common to photography, along with ideas on how to handle them.

POV & Ethics

  • Be Kind to the Environment.  Moving closer to your foreground subject could mean trampling delicate vegetation or disturbing other living things (stirring up sediment in a sensitive aquatic environment, for example).  Just last night I saw a portrait photographer trampling flowers while shooting a family, and this was inside a national park.
  • Be Kind to Fellow Photographers.  In places with other photographers around, working a subject with many different POVs (normally laudable) could result in you selfishly “hogging” the subject (next post will have the counterpoint to this).

SOLUTIONS 

  • Strike a Balance.  While a strong commitment to getting the shot is necessary to get good images, it’s also important to avoid being insensitive or rude.
  • Be Aware of where you are and of those around you at all times.  I’m not saying to take your mind off the photography or to worry about what others think of you lying there on your belly.  But at the same time, be conscious about damaging sensitive habitats.  Think about the critters, including your fellow photographers.
The subalpine flower meadows of Mt. Rainier, Washington are a place where you should be careful where you step.

The subalpine flower meadows of Mt. Rainier, Washington are a place where you should be careful where you step.

POV, Legality & Permission

Are you going to hop that fence to get closer to your subject, grab a quick shot and get back before the property owner comes along?  What about entering a questionable area in some foreign country?  Laws are different there and enforced in different ways.  Do you really want the shot that badly?

  • Example 1:  Unexpected problem in a Foreign Land.  In a busy public area in Malawi I was shooting a cute little baby with big brown eyes, after asking her mom.  The unexpected result: a policeman became suspicious, approached me and wanted to take my camera away.  I had to do some quick talking, show them my pictures, and get the mom to back me up.
  • Example 2:  Dangerous & Illegal POV turns out OK.  Another example is the image below, which is a few years old.  I had driven past this spot with a fantastic view of Portland, Oregon many times.  But I could never see a safe way to shoot there.   For the same reason that makes the spot such a great POV:  it’s on a busy, curving freeway ramp that swings out over the Willamette River.

But one day I noticed a spot where the ramp widened, with just enough room to park.  It even had a curb for a bit of protection from traffic.  It required a quick maneuver in the heavy traffic.  The first time I did it was on my motorcycle, which made it quite easy.  But I knew it was illegal to be there so didn’t stay long.  I quickly set up my tripod and captured the shot I had been after.

Portland, Oregon is a town of bridges, like the Steele Bridge here spanning the Willamette River at dusk with a crescent moon.

Portland, Oregon is a town of bridges, like the Steele Bridge here spanning the Willamette River at dusk with a crescent moon.

SOLUTIONS:  Asking vs. Apologizing

You’ve probably heard the old expression “better to ask forgiveness than beg permission”.  Sounds good, right?  But in the real world you have to weigh risks and be able to handle things diplomatically if you get caught or challenged.    Here are a few examples:

  • In villages and on treks I’ve seen photographers surround some poor kid doing something cute, with no thought of whether it was okay with the parents.  That is horrible ugly tourist behavior.  With kids you should almost always ask the parents first.  Or be ready to be apologetic and honest about your motivations.
  • For sensitive areas (political or military), I would avoid them outright.  If you insist, always ask first.
  • Photographing someone’s property (including their bodies) also begs you to ask first.  But we’re entering a gray area.  If you make it a rule to always ask, you may not get many good shots.  You could miss the light, for example.  Then in reality you’re asking to return another time.
  • One more example: on a city street photographing people.  Unless you shoot first, you’ll probably miss that great candid shot.  For some subjects, however, it doesn’t matter, street performers for example.  So you may as well ask first.
One of my favorite child images, I didn't ask permission first in order to get this candid. But in an out of the way place, people are more chill, and I smiled a lot. Mom invited me in for tea.

One of my favorite child images, a Sherpa boy waiting for his dad to come home.  I didn’t ask permission first, but in a part of Nepal away from tourists, I was willing to risk it.  I smiled a lot and his mom invited me in for tea.

SOLUTIONS:  The Quandary

The last two points above illustrate a quandary unique to photography.  Do you forego the quick shot and engage first, or do you strike while the iron is hot and talk later?  Each of us have to handle it in our own way, realizing that each situation is different.  Ultimately we need to accept responsibility for our actions.  It’s safest to ask permission first, especially if there is the slightest doubt.  But whatever happens, it’s important to be honest and pleasant.

Okay that’s it for now.  Next week we’ll look at other issues to be aware of when actively changing your point of view.  Happy shooting and have a wonderful weekend!

Sunset over the high tundra of Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.

 

Winter Photography, Part V: Get Away from the Road   6 comments

Are you tired of seeing Mount Hood covered in snow yet?

Are you tired of seeing Mount Hood covered in snow yet?

Let’s continue the series on photography in wintertime.  With the holiday season approaching, we all have more time off from work.  So don’t spend all of it inside baking cookies (not that there’s anything wrong with that!).  Get out and shoot some too.  We’ve covered the getting there part, plus how to dress for winter.  Now it’s time to hit the trail.

This morning I watched a few other photographers in Zion National Park.  They were, as usual, sticking to the roadside.  By far most pictures are captured from within a few yards of the road.  I don’t completely avoid it of course, having gotten some great shots even by standing on top of the car.  But although it’s even more tempting in winter to shoot near the car, getting away from the road is key to making the kinds of photos that are unique to your own vision.

The top of a frozen waterfall in Zion National Park, Utah.

The top of a frozen waterfall in Zion National Park, Utah.

The last post focused on winter clothes, but there are a few other things that can help greatly when you’re traveling in snowy or icy conditions.  So let’s look at how to stack the odds in your favor during a winter outing.

  • Camera Pack – Fit:  Though not unique to winter, it’s even more important to have a camera backpack that fits and carries well.  The typical blocky camera pack isn’t really good for hiking, but its shortcomings are even more pronounced in snow or ice where the simple act of walking is more challenging.  So find one that carries most of its weight closer to your back and doesn’t swing the weight around.  A sternum strap & waist belt are very helpful, for example.

 

  • Camera Pack – Size:  Since you’ll be carrying some extras beyond photo gear, it’s necessary to get a pack that has a roomy compartment for clothes and other non-camera stuff.  If you already have a pack that is fairly large and comfortable, but without a dedicated compartment for extras, try taking out a few velcro dividers meant for extra lenses and making a place for the extra stuff.

 

  • Filling that Pack:  In summer, typically short photo hikes can be done without a lot of the safety equipment that’s necessary both for longer hikes in summer and outings of all distances in winter.  So think carefully about which lenses to take and take out any extra camera gear that you may not need.  This makes room for extra clothes, some food plus the 10 essentials.
Now this isn't how I planned to fill my pack!

Now this isn’t how I planned to fill my pack!

  • Just in Case – Ten Essentials:  Google the 10 essentials, but realize in winter two of them are especially important:  light and fire.  Take a good headlamp with extra batteries (and don’t forget extra batteries for the camera).  Being able to easily make a fire is very important in wintertime.  Waterproof matches and a ziplock full of dry newspaper and other tinder (and perhaps some fire-starting compound) can save your butt!

Horsetail Falls, Oregon.

Feet – Extra Help    

Once you have good warm boots (see last post), consider where you’ll be hiking.  The snow and ice of winter often demands something more for your feet:

  • Traction Devices:      If you don’t plan on going through deep snow much, you don’t need snowshoes or skis (see below), but if you’ll be in icy conditions, consider the small traction devices that slip on over your boots.  Yak-Tracks are a popular brand.  True crampons are too much; they’re for mountaineering.

 

  • Snowshoes are popular with winter photographers for good reason.  They’re simple to use and sure beat wading through hip-deep powder snow.  Buy a pair that is appropriate for your size and weight.  I would avoid the super-small and light kind; they’re for the crazies who run races in them; they normally don’t float enough in soft snow.

 

 

  • Snowshoe Technique:  Practice walking in snowshoes before you carry your camera pack, then add the gear on the next hike.  While you do need to walk with a slightly wider stance and lift your feet more, most novices exaggerate this movement, wasting energy.  The idea is to sort of shuffle, lifting just enough to avoid getting tangled up and tripping.  If you never trip and fall, you probably aren’t learning to do it right.
  • The Ski Option:  I’m biased, but in my opinion skis are the best way to get around in snow.  Sure it takes a little more time to learn than snowshoes, but that time is paid many times over with more speed and more fun when you’re out.   In most terrain, I can leave snowshoers in the dust when I’m skiing.  With short days, trying to catch the light, snowshoes are too slow for some destinations.  And fun?  On downhills snowshoers are plodding while I’m whooping and hollering.
A rare selfie: Enjoying sunshine & powder, La Sal Mtns., Utah.

A rare selfie: Enjoying sunshine & powder, La Sal Mtns., Utah.

  • Using Cross-Country Skis:  Modern cross-country skis are shorter, wider and much more stable/easy to use than the long skinny skis I learned on.  And this kind have been out long enough now to go used.  Just get a basic set of touring skis, boots and poles.  With the money you save I recommend taking lessons.  It probably goes without saying, but your camera needs to be stowed safely in your pack when skiing.  I wear a small bag for my camera (Lowepro Toploader) over my chest, clipped to the straps of my backpack.  Load distribution is even more important when you’re skiing, so make sure your backpack doesn’t swing around as you move.
An alternative way to get around in winter that isn't covered in this post.

An alternative way to get around in winter that isn’t covered in this post.

Near sunset, I skied past this natural ice sculpture high up on Silver Star Mtn., Washington.

Near sunset, I skied past this natural ice sculpture high up on Silver Star Mtn., Washington.

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.

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