Archive for the ‘winter photography’ Tag

Winter Photography, Part VI: Cold Shooting   16 comments

Morning at East Zion, Utah

Morning at East Zion, Utah

I’m not happy right now.  I had to leave Facebook (time for a break anyhow).  Not that it’s a big deal, but still, I don’t like being sort of forced into things.  You don’t want the dirty details.  Suffice to say, much as I believe I was born at least 100 years too late, I don’t think I’m made for today’s photography, at least in the landscape arena.

I’m thinking of giving up landscape photography it’s got me so discouraged.  The way to become popular in LS photography is to follow a path that I don’t want to follow.  In fact, I’m including pictures in this post that, while I like them for a few reasons, I’m really not satisfied with.  Maybe I’m being hard on myself, and tomorrow morning I’ll probably be out shooting happily.  But I’m really ready to move onward and upward, and am frustrated with my lack of artistic progress.  I’m not into this for a hobby.

A frozen pond on 13,000-foot Independence Pass in the Colorado Rockies.

A frozen pond on 13,000-foot Independence Pass in the Colorado Rockies.

Is this fun? An image I got by wading through a cold waist-deep stream, pushing aside floating ice.

Is this fun? An image I got by wading through the cold waist-deep water of Oneonta Creek, Ore., pushing aside floating ice.  P.S. it wasn’t really difficult, just making it seem that way!

So back to winter photography.  Here are a few parting tips for successful winter shooting:

  • Don’t Stay in Bed.  This is the hardest thing, at least for me.  Let’s face it, the best light is usually in the early morning or late afternoon, or with today’s cameras even in the middle of the night!  You can do winter photography at any time of day, but since days are shorter your time is limited.  If you want to focus on the golden hours near dusk or dawn, you have two chances each day, and they are much more closely spaced than in the summer.  So get out early and shoot late; you’ll still get plenty of sleep!
  • Positive Exposure Compensation.  Use your exposure compensation feature and over-expose by about a stop when you’re shooting in bright snow.  The amount you need depends on how bright the sun on the snow is, and on how much snow is in the frame.  The old film rule of thumb was +2 stops, but with DSLRs I’ve gotten away with anywhere from +2/3 to a stop and a half in most circumstances.  If you’re shooting RAW you can always bump up the brightness of the snowy parts on the computer, but it’s always best to get it right in camera.  Just don’t actually over-expose anything.  The easiest way to check for this is to set your blinking over-exposure warning (available on most all DSLRs) and always review the image on the LCD.
The Goblins in snow, Utah.

The Goblins in snow, Utah.

  • Watch the Weather.  Yeah, I know it’s great advice any time of year.  But I’ve found that weather patterns will settle into an area and make it so that one time per day is best, and that these conditions could last for a week or more.  I’ve also noticed that this bias is more prevalent in winter, at least in North America.  (It’s one of those things I pass on in this blog that nobody really talks about.)  That preferential shooting time could be around sunset or it could be sunrise.  If it happens to be dawn that is better than sunset, you better get your butt out of bed!
  • Strive for simplicity.  While this is a good thing to come back to from time to time, no matter the season, in winter the opportunities for simple compositions (and simple themes!) seem to abound.  There’s the obvious fact that snow blankets a lot of chaos with a smooth white, but even without snow there tends to be more simple compositions available during the cold months.
  • Take your tripod.  Winter makes it even more important to consider the limitation of low light.  Even during daytime, take your tripod just in case.
An approaching winter storm at Coral Pink Sand Dunes, Utah.

An approaching winter storm at Coral Pink Sand Dunes, Utah.

Alpenglow lights up Mount Hood in Oregon. Snow-covered Mirror Lake is at bottom.

Alpenglow lights up Mount Hood in Oregon. Snow-covered Mirror Lake is at bottom.

  • Be Ready.  Unless you are in Alaska or somewhere in high latitudes during that hemisphere’s months of shorter days, you should be ever cognizant of the brevity of the light.  In temperate regions (which includes nearly all of North America & Europe), so-called golden hour is noticeably briefer during winter months.  Of course your style may dictate that you are set up and ready at all times.  That’s not me, I wander even during good light.  Just be willing, during winter especially, to decide on a composition and subject well before the light comes.
New-fallen snow along the skiing trail: La Sal Mtns., Utah.

New-fallen snow along the skiing trail: La Sal Mtns., Utah.

  • Look for Details.  In winter, often the light is very clear but also quite boring.  That’s the time to look for details and macro opportunities.  Ice is a world unto itself, and often snow or ice clings to the most improbable objects, creating unusual and beautiful photos.  That is, if you’re looking for it.  As you travel through the environment, keep looking near and far, close-up and wide-open.

Okay, that’ll do it for Winter Photography.  I don’t like to be too prescriptive about photography, so it’s up to you from here on out.  Just bundle up and do it!  I’ll try to maintain the blog, even during my pause on social media (talk about love-hate).  But maybe I don’t consider this blog as the typical social media platform.  Anyway, have a great holiday season everyone!

Yesterday morning, with dramatic skies heralding coming snow, a simple corral up an unnamed canyon, southern Utah.

Yesterday morning, with dramatic skies heralding coming snow, a simple corral up an unnamed canyon, southern Utah.

Friday Foto Talk: Winter Photography, Part III   2 comments

Mt Rainier from Reflection Lakes at the end of winter, early July!.  Winter sticks around at these altitudes.

Mt Rainier from Reflection Lakes at the end of winter, early July!. Winter sticks around at these altitudes.

This continues the series on winter photography.  In order to get through it before the official start of winter (December 21st), I’m going to begin to post more frequently than just on Friday.  That’s just for this series though.  We’re still on safety, and despite well-publicized incidents of people getting stranded and dying of exposure, in wintertime 90% of the danger lies on the roadways.

I'm throwing in a recent shot:  Zion Canyon, Utah.

A recent shot from Zion Canyon, Utah.

 

Car & Tires

In the last post on winter driving I did not discuss types of cars, chains, etc.  That’s because I believe these come in a distant second to good winter driving technique.  Sure, having a good winter vehicle can reduce the dreaded white-knuckle syndrome.  But never make the mistake of thinking a 4×4 or traction devices allow you to go faster or otherwise drive as if the roads were clear and dry.  I think we’ve all seen more SUVs rolled over on snowy shoulders than we have cars.

  • Four-Wheel Drive:   I think most photographers would rather spend extra money on that shiny new camera or lens than a new SUV or Subaru.   So does it really make sense to buy a special vehicle plus traction equipment for winter driving?  Obviously the more snow you drive in the more sense it makes to outfit yourself with permanent traction aids.  And a 4×4 is a large, rolling traction aid.  Most 4x4s have good clearance, which helps on unplowed side-roads, and sometimes even the driveway!
Pinyon pine cones catch little mounds of pristine snow in southern Utah.

Pinyon pine cones catch little mounds of pristine snow in southern Utah.

  • Non-4wd Snow Cars:  A good alternative to the 4×4 SUV or truck is an all-wheel drive car.  These work great in snow and come in handy when it’s rainy out too.  Small front-wheel drive cars do amazingly well in snow as long as it’s not too deep.  If you tend to frequent unplowed roads, in deeper snow, front-wheel drive and (most) AWD cars have too little clearance.  Pair either the AWD or FWD car with traction tires, of the snow variety if you’re frequently in the white stuff.
  • Chains:  I recommend just keeping a set of chains in your vehicle.  For one thing, chains have helped me get out of mud in situations where a tow would have been extremely expensive.  If you drive in snow or ice only occasionally, chains are enough; a 4×4 isn’t necessary.  Do yourself a favor and practice with them in a dry driveway.  You’ll be lying down, so a small tarp will keep snow and slush off your clothes.
Mount Hood from Trillium Lake on a full-moon cross-country skiing outing in Oregon.

Mount Hood from Trillium Lake on a full-moon cross-country skiing outing in Oregon.

  • Tires:  Even it’s snowy where you live you may not need a 4×4.  If  sharp curves and (especially) hills are in short supply, you can get away with good snow tires and (as a backup) chains.  Going with an extra set of snow tires for winter makes sense, especially where winters last half the year or more.

 

  • Studs:  I only had these in Alaska, and then only because I couldn’t afford a 4×4.  Now I’m anti-stud!  They tear up the roadways and ultimately force gas taxes to rise.  Go with traction tires and chains instead.  People think they need studs because of ice.

On short stretches of ice, you can get through by slowing greatly and practicing good technique as described in the last post.  In more widespread icy conditions, hills or not, chain up and go slow!  The only time studs are appropriate is in extreme winter conditions where roads are snow- and ice-covered continuously, and you rarely if ever drive on pavement.  Then a 4×4 with studs all around is the way to go.  But this is very rare indeed.

Cows seem to handle snow and cold without complaining:  Long Valley, Utah.

Cows seem to handle snow and cold without complaining: Long Valley, Utah at sunset.

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.

Friday Foto Talk: Winter Photography, Part I   8 comments

Winter's first snowfall: southern Utah.

Winter’s first snowfall: southern Utah.

This week I got snowed on for the first time this season, on the Colorado Plateau in southern Utah.  It’s been cold too, well below freezing some mornings.  So I think it’s time to talk about winter photography.

First of all, I’m assuming you want to keep shooting in wintertime.  There really is no reason to stop.  There is a beautiful crystalline light that is unique to winter.  And this is the time to go for fog and other moody atmospheres.  Most important, how else are you gonna get a shot for that Christmas card?

Fairy Falls in winter, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon.

Fairy Falls in winter, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon.

Don’t worry, your camera will be fine.  In fact, excessive heat and humidity are much bigger worries than cold is.  Camera manufacturers publish a lower limit of around 32° F (0° Celsius).  But modern DSLRs can function just fine down to 0° F and even lower with no ill effects.  You just have to follow a few simple precautions:

  • Be Gentle:  Cameras and even many lenses are mostly plastic these days, and plastic gets brittle and will break much more easily in frigid weather.  The metal parts also get more brittle.  So avoid knocks and be especially careful with both camera and lens.  Glass doesn’t care how cold it gets, but you’re already being careful with that spendy glass, aren’t you.

The old one-room schoolhouse in Capitol Reef National Park, Utah.

 

  • Beware Condensation:  When you bring a camera that has been in the cold inside, or anywhere warmer, there’s a risk of moisture collecting inside the camera and lens.  Obviously this is not good.  So before coming in from the cold, put your equipment inside your zipped-up camera bag at least.  A large ziplock or otherwise sealable plastic bag is even better.  Let your gear warm gradually inside that bag before taking it out.  The colder it is outside, and the more humid the warm place you’re bringing it back into, the more important it is to follow this advice.  It’s also a good idea to let it cool off gradually, inside your camera bag, before shooting.
Oneonta Gorge, Oregon.

Oneonta Gorge, Oregon.

  • Battery Blues:  Batteries have shorter lives when they’re cold, and the colder the shorter.  So bring extra batteries and keep the spares in an inside pocket, near your skin.  If you know you’ll be shooting again next day, keeping the camera and lenses inside your trunk, where they remain cold, will avoid the whole condensation thing.  But remember to take the battery out and bring it inside to recharge.  If you take your memory card out to upload photos, stick it in a little ziplock before coming inside and let it warm up gradually.
Late afternoon light hits Silver Star Mountain, Washington, after a mid-winter snowstorm.

Late afternoon light hits Silver Star Mountain, Washington, after a mid-winter snowstorm.

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