Archive for the ‘winter’ Tag

Merry Christmas!   10 comments

This is my most Christmasy image from the past year.  Since I haven’t yet gone out in winter to some forest to find a small fir tree in a meadow, decorated it (including lights), waited for a gentle snowfall, then returned with a small generator to photograph it, this one will have to do!

Merry Christmas to one and all!  (P.S. Friday Foto Talk returns next week)

Wind and snow create spindrift after a rare snowfall at Joshua Tree National Park, California.

Wind and snow create spindrift after a rare snowfall at Joshua Tree National Park, California.

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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.

Merry Christmas!   8 comments

A cold winter's dusk just after one of Crater Lake's typical heavy dumps of snow, followed by a moonlight ski back.

Weather starts clearing on a cold winter’s dusk after one of Crater Lake’s typically heavy dumps of snow, followed by a moonlight ski back.  I miss skiing and I miss Oregon!

Wordless Wednesday: Winter’s Last Act?   8 comments

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Winter Olympics (Share your World)   14 comments

My backyard is a long way from the Winter Olympics in Sochi.

My backyard is a long way from the Winter Olympics in Sochi.

That Cee comes up with some great ideas for challenges.  This is a “Share your World” challenge, where you answer a few simple questions – this week on the Winter Olympics.  I really love the Olympics, I’m not ashamed to admit.  For some reason I’m not watching these games.  Maybe I’ll start.  Since I’m marginally better at winter sports than summer, the winter games have always been a favorite.  I really hope you’ll answer some too, either in the comments below or by going to Cee’s page and doing one yourself.  Now on to the questions:

      • Have you watched or plan to watch any of the 2014 Winter Olympics?  Think I’ve already answered this one.  I’ll probably catch a little, at least some skiing and maybe a hockey game.
      • What is your favorite winter Olympic event? Would you ever want to be an expert in that sport?  The Downhill, without a doubt.  I’ve gone pretty fast on skis but no way would I ever be able to go that fast.  About as likely as hitting a major leaguer’s slider or blocking Terrel Suggs (NFL linebacker).  I’d love to be an expert in the downhill skiing, at least down to the giant slalom.
Oneonta Gorge in Oregon's Columbia Gorge Scenic Area  is not an easy place to access in winter.

Oneonta Gorge in Oregon’s Columbia Gorge Scenic Area is not an easy place to access in winter.

      • Have you ever met an Olympic Athlete?  Actually two.  I ran into a U.S. mogul skier once, in Hawaii, hiking at night to the active lava entering the ocean (of all things).  Think she said she won a silver or bronze, but I don’t really remember much (besides the lava and her blonde hair).  For a time I knew a multiple gold medalist (summer games) named Mariel Zagunis.  She’s still one of the world’s best women at fencing sabre, and has golds from two successive games.  I was one of her high school science teachers.  I remember giving her homework to do while she was off to Europe or somewhere for fencing tournaments.  She always seemed very calm and focused, but otherwise not super-athletic.  I think that’s what it really takes.
Ice-clad wall along Oneonta Gorge.

Ice-clad wall along Oneonta Gorge.

      • Do you have a favorite athlete? Name sport.  Currently, I’ll say Haloti Ngata of the Ravens (American football).  He’s just so huge (6’4″ 350 lbs) but very athletic and dominant.  He plays for my hometown’s team, went to my alma mater (U of Oregon) and best of all, he’s Samoan.  I imagine him on a palm-fringed beach, cooking up and eating whole chicken after whole chicken, and laughing.  Historically there are several more, but I don’t idolize athletes, at least since I was a young boy.
Snow on moss on lichen on basalt, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon.

Snow on moss on lichen on basalt: Columbia River Gorge, Oregon.

Horsetail Falls in the Columbia River Gorge begins to break free of the icy grip of a cold snap.

Horsetail Falls in the Columbia River Gorge begins to break free from a cold snap.

      • What is your favorite exercise or sport? Is there a reason why?  Probably cross-country skiing.  I love all types, from track skating to back-country telemarking.  To go on long tours where you must use all types of skiing technique, plus call upon your navigation and winter travel skills, ability to evaluate avalanche dangers, and your determination, it seems to bring everything together.  The fact that it exercises your whole body, you can do it when the weather is good, bad or in between, the zen state it can put you in, its rhythm and grace, the downhill fun; all that makes it almost the perfect outdoor sport.

Thanks for reading and don’t forget to check out Cees challenge and to add your two cents on any one or all of the questions below.

Oneonta Creek is thawing rapidly in this shot at dusk looking downstream from atop the log jam.

Oneonta Creek is thawing rapidly in this shot at dusk looking downstream from atop the log jam.

Winter sunset near Mount Hood in Oregon.

Winter sunset near Mount Hood in Oregon.

 

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: Winter is Unforgiving I   11 comments

The wind comes screaming down the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon.

The wind comes screaming down the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon.

I thought I’d take a break from all the metadata talk and get back to the field.  We are getting some snow around these parts and the photography is changing as a result.  But getting to and from the places I like to shoot has been a challenge.  This and next week’s posts will discuss how to meet some of these challenges and safely enjoy photography in wintertime.

I have never been much to worry about footing in snow and ice.  Being a skier and climber, I have pretty good balance and coordination.  But recently I’ve performed a few spectacular face-plants.  Thankfully there is no photographic evidence.  I know, funny, huh?  Maybe for you!

Horsetail Falls in winter, Columbia River Gorge.

Horsetail Falls in winter, Columbia River Gorge.

A lot of hikers around here use traction devices for your feet.  They range from simple “mini-chains” to a lighter version of crampons that ice climbers use.  Some look like the studs on car tires.  There is quite the variety – check them out at REI online .  You can also make your own, but that means dedicating a pair of boots or sneakers.  It’s certainly cheaper than buying, but you lose the ability to use them on a variety of footwear.

As I mentioned, I have always just dealt with slippery conditions.  I wear good boots and turn around when things too get steep and icy (unless I have my crampons and ice axe).  Yesterday I was hiking back from the waterfall pictured below, in the Columbia River Gorge.  About 5 inches of light snow lay over patch ice.  As you might expect I went down, hard.  It was a surprise to me; a wake-up call.  I’m glad my camera was safely stowed in my pack.  It would have likely been damaged.

Beautiful Faery Falls in the Columbia River Gorge is nearly frozen over.well on the way to being frozen over.

Beautiful Faery Falls in the Columbia River Gorge is nearly frozen over.

When I went down a second time, despite using care, I sat there thinking.  Perhaps it was time to get some strap-on traction devices.  Maybe it’s foolish pride that’s keeping me from getting them, similar to the fact I rarely use trekking poles.  I know one thing: it’s more embarrassing to go head over heels than take a moment to put on traction devices at the trail head.

Safety for yourself is most important.  But there’s also a lesson here concerning your camera gear.  I mostly recommend keeping your camera handy when out photographing.  You will certainly miss more shots if your camera is inside your pack or bag.  But winter is an exception.  If you are in snow or in areas where the footing is suspect, you need to take the time to stow your camera away in your camera pack or bag.  This goes for anytime you walk from one place to another.

Wahkeena Falls in the Columbia River Gorge is an easy cascade to visit in wintertime, being just a short hike from the road.

Wahkeena Falls in the Columbia River Gorge is an easy cascade to visit in wintertime, being just a short hike from the road.

If you don’t take precautions and sacrifice photo readiness, your camera gear could easily be damaged.  And if you somehow save it from being bashed against a rock, your camera could end up being encased in packed snow.  I’ve had it happen, and it’s very difficult to clear it before some water gets inside.

So go ahead, feel free to imagine my pratfalls and laugh.  But also use the opportunity to consider traction devices for your shoes when you’re out photographing in wintertime.  The goal is, after all, to not only get the shot but to get you and your camera back safely.  Have a great weekend and happy shooting!

The pink light of a winter sunset catches a snowy Mount Hood over the Columbia River.

The pink light of a winter sunset catches a snowy Mount Hood over the Columbia River.

Weekly Foto Talk: Shooting in Winter, Part III   12 comments

The rugged Sonoma Coast, California.

The rugged Sonoma Coast, California.

Happy New Year!  I’m a day late for Friday Foto Talk, but you know what they say, ‘better late than never.’  No internet access the past few days.  This is the final installment of a three-part post covering photography in the winter months.  I want to encourage you to put in your two cents in the comments below.  Perhaps you’ve found solutions to some of the challenges mentioned, or have other ideas on how to make wintertime shooting more enjoyable.

Be sure to check out Part I, which highlights the very good reasons to continue shooting during winter.  And definitely check out Part II, which provides important tips on exposure plus making sure your camera keeps working in wet and cold weather.

Enjoy the images, even though they are not too wintry, sorry to say.  I wanted to post very recent images, and I’ve been traveling through a very balmy California.  This while the rest of the country freezes!  I didn’t plan it this way, believe me.  Contact me if you’re interested in any of the images, or click on them to go to the main gallery part of my website.  Thanks for looking!

An image from recent desert wanderings, this is from Valley of Fire, Nevada.

An image from recent desert wanderings: Valley of Fire, Nevada.

More Challenges (and Solutions) to Shooting in Winter

      • BATTERIES:  The cold can zap your battery life.  If you’re shooting in frigid weather you can count on this, no matter how good you think your battery is.
      • Solutions:  

        Most important is to go out with  fully charged batteries.  One for the camera and at least one as a spare.  If it’s below freezing, take the extra precaution of keeping your battery in an interior pocket, preferably next to your skin.  Then when you’re ready to shoot just pop the warm battery in your camera.  Keep your extras in a nice warm pocket too.  If you are worried about losing a shot, and if it’s not truly frigid, you can get away with keeping it in the camera.  Just make sure you have a charged backup or two.

        If you are storing your camera overnight in the cold (which is probably better than moving it in and out of the cold), remember to take the batteries out and keep them warm overnight.

The depressions in the rock at bottom are called metates, which are "bowls" made hundreds or thousands of years ago by Native American women grinding grains.

The depressions in the rock at bottom are called metates, which are “bowls” made hundreds or thousands of years ago by Native American women grinding grains.

      • LIGHT:  Light is both a blessing and a challenge in winter.  Mostly it’s beneficial.  But when heavy clouds roll in and days are short, it can be quite dim even at mid-day.  Hand-holding your camera while shooting becomes more difficult with the slower shutter speeds you’ll encounter. This is especially true if your lens isn’t particularly fast (i.e., has a large maximum aperture).

Solutions:  

Use a tripod, even during the day.  It’s that simple.  Another solution is to raise your ISO, thus allowing you to shoot at faster shutter speeds for a given aperture.  But as you might know already, raising ISO can introduce noise into your photos, making them appear less sharp and messing with color gradations.

If you want to go out shooting light and fast (say for candid street photography), use the fastest lens you have.  If you need to raise ISO do it.  It’s better than using a shutter speed that’s too slow and getting blurry pictures.  But even here consider using a monopod to help stabilize your camera in the low light.

The Big Sur coast at dusk.  I love those tall wispy plants which grow all over this coast.

The Big Sur coast at dusk. I love those tall wispy plants which grow all over this coast.

      • TIME:  Short days mean your schedule may make it difficult to shoot during the golden hours of sunrise and sunset.  You should be able to hit at least one, but if you live in the far north, maybe not.

Solutions:  

Ask your boss about flex time.  Taking a late lunch can put you right in the sweet spot, light-wise.  When I lived in Alaska I went to work before sunrise (which was about 10 a.m.) and came home well after sunset.  I learned quickly to push for long lunch breaks, at least an hour and a half.  I kept cross-country skis at the office and went out for exercise and light therapy every day, staying behind for a bit longer at the end of the day.  Nowadays I would probably be out shooting as often as skiing.

The important thing is to not make excuses.  Make it happen for at least one time-frame: sunrise or sunset.  Don’t give in to the temptation to sleep in and waste weekend opportunities.

A rare sight in winter, I found these little flowers happily blooming right at the edge of a sea-cliff.

A rare sight in winter, I found these little flowers happily blooming right at the edge of a sea-cliff.

Kelp is a constant along the central California coast, and I so want to take an underwater camera down there someday.

Kelp is a constant along the central California coast.  I want to shoot underwater pictures here someday.

      • COMFORT:  It can be harder in winter to maintain a nice comfort level.  It’s important not to be too uncomfortable when you’re shooting.  You want to be thinking of the shot, not how cold or wet you are.  I don’t mind being a little uncomfortable; it helps me focus on things.  But this is a personal thing.

Solutions:

I put this challenge last for a reason.  In some ways it is the easiest to overcome.  However it is also the most common reason (excuse?) people use, even if they don’t admit it, for not shooting when the weather is bad.

If you won’t be moving much, dress more warmly.  Use that big winter coat.  If you’ll be hiking or snow-shoeing/skiing to your location, layering is the way to go.  You will cool down a lot when you stop, so have enough with you to bundle up.

A good warm hat is paramount because most heat is lost through your head.  Since wet or cold feet can torpedo anyone’s motivation, your socks and boots should be up to the task.  If you’ll be splashing through streams or walking in wet snow, wear waterproof boots and wool socks.  I have a pair of neoprene socks that I sometimes wear under goretex light hiking boots in typically wet Oregon conditions.  This is when I’m wading through streams in search of that perfect shot of a waterfall or dipper (a bird).

Wind demands a good parka to block it. When it rains consider rain pants as well as a waterproof jacket.  Fleece makes a great mid-layer but does little to stop rain or wind.  I like silk long underwear if temps. are only moderately cold, a thicker pair if it’s colder.

Gloves are worth more consideration than usual because of the need for both dexterity and warmth.  When it’s near freezing or below, I like thin liner gloves underneath warm (ski-type) gloves.  If it’s not too cold, fingerless gloves can work well.  An intermediate solution is thin liner gloves under thicker wool fingerless gloves.  Work diligently at keeping your fingers from getting numb.  You want them to work when the moment is right.

This time of year is in many ways the best time to shoot.  Take the extra time to prepare and you will be rewarded with great light and beautiful images. Thanks for sticking with this little series.  Have a great weekend!

A yucca at sunset, Anza Borrego State Park, California.

A yucca at sunset, Anza Borrego State Park, California.

The low setting sun illuminates the historic Bixby Bridge near Big Sur, California.

The low setting sun illuminates the historic Bixby Bridge near Big Sur, California.

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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