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 Post subject: Winter Photography
PostPosted: Mon Oct 29, 2012 11:59 pm 
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Joined: Sun Feb 22, 2009 5:06 am
Posts: 1977
I wrote the following just over a year ago for a magazine. Now that I can post it in other places I thought I would do so here in case anyone had any questions about winter photography... This is the original draft version and varies little from the final thing but I appologise for any errors in grammer or spelling as I did not do the final edit on it.


Winter

It is late October and as I sit here in front of the warmth of the fireplace looking out at the leaf covered landscape through my living room window I cannot help but think of the winter to come and the snows that should start any week now. This weather and I are by no means strangers and I am fully aware of what is to come when the temperatures plummet and snow engulfs the world around me. So before that first sprinkling of white blankets the forests around me and holds mother nature in its grasp until spring it is time to take note of all the challenges that lay ahead for any wildlife photographer willing to venture out into the wilds in the dead of winter.

For me winter photography brings to mind words such as stunning, pure, pristine, untouched, unforgiving, breathtaking, and cold. Being able to bring life and emotion to these words through my photography is my passion during this time of the year. Mother Nature however does not relinquish her gifts easily especially during the winter in the heart of Canada’s prairies so with a hot chocolate at my side I mentally prepare for the coming months and revisit the notes of winters past to see if my methods can be improved on or if the old standbys of yesteryear are still applicable today.

The cold, sometimes unbearable, is ever present once winter takes hold and as such needs to be addressed in the most serious of ways for both your physical wellbeing as well as peek camera performance. If you are unprepared or unable to deal with the cold your outing will turn disastrous very quickly. A few years back I witnessed the worst blizzard I have seen in my life. The city was closed down and people were advised to stay indoors. A couple had car problems just outside of town and decided to try and walk to the nearest house for help. They were found the next day less than 100 meters away from their vehicle frozen to death. Winter’s cold must never be taken lightly especially when venturing out into it. Be prepared with the best clothing and gear available which has the proper rating for the weather you are about to venture into and always dress in layers paying special attention to what you wear on your head, hands and feet as these are the most vulnerable to cold.

For photography purposes I always wear two pairs of gloves consisting of an inner pair which are made of an ultra thin material and which I purposely buy a size to small and an outer pair which will protect my hands against any cold. To the outer set I have also attached a string which runs inside the coat up one arm and down the other connecting the two gloves exactly as you see on children’s mittens. This allows me to pull off the outer gloves and not worry about putting them away, dropping, or losing them if I have to take a photograph quickly. With the inner set being a size to small they allow my fingers to change camera settings quickly and precisely without any fumbling about with even the smallest of controls. I also always carry several packs of hot pockets as at times I have the outer gloves off for some time and after 5 minutes or so I can start to feel the cold penetrating the inner gloves. When this happens it is easy enough to place my hands in my pockets with a hot pocket in each hand to quickly warm my hands so I can get back to taking pictures.

Cameras themselves, especially lenses, do not react very well to cold temperatures and condensation in particular so with this in mind there are several tips I would like to share which help protect my camera, at least a bit, when the cold hits. Lens Coat is a company which makes protective sleeves for your camera’s lenses which come in a multitude of camouflage patterns. My original reason for getting these protective sleeves for my lenses was to help camouflage my bigger lenses so they would be less noticeable to wildlife and also as a protective sleeve to help against unwanted scratches. Along with this they act somewhat as an impact buffer against the inevitable bumps, bangs and occasional drops which will occur when spending any time in the wilds. I quickly found out however that on cold days they offered a small amount of insulation for the lens against the cold and more importantly, because they are made of neoprene, act as an insulator between your hands and the metal of the lens keeping your hands from getting cold just a little longer. Finally I find that they give me a more secure grasp on my lens due to the neoprene during absolutely any weather conditions.

Cold, as we all know, plays havoc on batteries and camera batteries are no exception. As such keep extra batteries in an inner pocket close to your skin and this will prolong their life greatly. Along with this I also carry extra spare batteries.

I am sure many have heard photographers say they keep their cameras under their coats when out for a hike in cold temperatures to keep the camera warm. Please do not be tempted to do this as this may well cause condensation to occur on and maybe within your camera. It is better to keep your camera cold when out in the winter to alleviate any chance of condensation and also to make any snow removal off the camera that much easier if you are out while it is snowing. It becomes much easier to brush snow off your camera then to dry melted snow off your camera which may even refreeze into ice if you are not careful and temperatures are low enough. Keep in mind that when water freezes it expands and even the smallest amount of water freezing between your lens and camera, or in other cracks in your camera, has the potential of causing serious damage. Also never attempt to blow snow off your camera with your breath as this will once again cause condensation to occur. While talking about our breath it is important to be conscious of your breathing while taking pictures as breathing at the wrong time may well cause condensation on your viewfinder which will in turn freeze causing a film of ice to form which will need to be removed before taking your next photograph. This is not easily done in freezing temperatures without heating the camera or at least the viewfinder area.

The above paragraph pertaining to keeping your camera cold states a point of view which is held by many photographers. It is not however the view of all as many also feel it is better to keep your camera under your coat to keep warm while out in the cold. This may well prevent any type of malfunction which may be caused by extreme cold. In the end the method you choose to carry your camera will be your choice to make based on your experiences.

One last thing to keep in mind when in cold temperatures is that taking your camera from a moderately warm temperature into a cold environment will cause condensation to develop. The most obvious example of this would be if when driving in the winter you observe wildlife and pull over for a few fast shots. Taking your camera out of the car or even rolling down the car window to shoot through the window and then going back into the car or rolling up the window will allow condensation to occur if your car is really warm inside. As such it is always a good idea, when driving, to keep your window open a crack as this will stop the condensation from happening. This will of course mean your car may not be as warm as you like it but it will stop any condensation from occurring which is the most important thing. Also, after returning home from an outing in the cold, do not rush to open your camera bag or case as this will cause condensation as well. I bring my camera case straight into the house after an outing but I do not open it for two hours or so to avoid condensation from forming and allow the items in the case to warm up. Before entering the house however I do remove my memory cards from the camera so I am in no way tempted to open the case when first returning home to retrieve photos from the camera for a first glimpse.

Many photographers give serious thought to what has been written above but just as many forget about their tripods. The first thing I did to my tripod when I received it was to wrap a layer of neoprene around each leg segment to keep my hands from getting cold from handling it in cold weather. The other thing to keep in mind when using a tripod in the winter, especially in deep snow, is to not open the legs all the way when positioning it. If you have the legs fully spread and then try to push the tripod into the snow for a secure position you may very well damage the legs due to the snow forcing the legs farther apart as they sink deeper into the snow. It is much safer to spread the legs slightly and then push the tripod down firmly letting the snow open the legs until they become stable.

Now let us move on to the photographic challenges of winter photography and how best to deal with them for more consistent results when the entire world around you is blanketed in white.

Many of us when first entering a beautiful winter landscape pick up our cameras and joyfully begin the process of capturing the scene surrounding us only to return home to find our pictures of the white wonderland we had witnessed turned into a landscape of shades of gray or blue. This is due to the exposure setting of the camera and there are a few things one can do to correct this issue. The simplest way to correct this is to reset your exposure compensation to between +1 and +2. Next time you are out take a few minutes and play with different compensation settings to see what works best for the gear you have. I know several photographers who play it safe and actually take 3 to 5 shot bracketed bursts using different exposures to ensure they get the results they want.

The second option you have comes into play if you have a blue sky overhead. If so turn on your spot metering to get a reading off the sky and this metering should in turn give you the correct exposure setting for the white landscape before you.

Your last option and the one which in theory should give you the best result is to use an 18% gray card. To do this hold the gray card in front of your lens so it covers the entire frame making sure the light on the card is the same as the light on the scene before you and that your camera is set to aperture priority mode. Take your picture and remember the exposure setting. Lastly switch your camera to full manual mode and set the exposure to the one used for the gray card exposure.

If you have just returned home from a destination you will not be returning to soon or if you captured a scene that cannot readily be duplicated due to a unique subject within a winter setting or unusual cloud or weather conditions and you find out that your snow has been underexposed do not fret as it can be corrected using the software program photoshop. Although this option is available one should never get lazy when outdoors thinking you can just make these corrections at home as most of the post processing you do using this type of software will add noise to your overall composition. It is my firm belief that post processing should be kept to a minimum to retain as much of the natural image as possible. All too often these days photographers of all skill levels rely too much on post processing to cover up or correct the flaws in their work which to me will always take something away from the image.

Photographing wildlife in winter settings gives the photographer a unique kind of lighting not available during the rest of the year. Snow is highly reflective and along with bright sunlight can bring spectacular results for photographers willing to venture out during this season. Birders especially benefit from this reflective lighting as the various plumages exhibited in birds can at times play havoc on the photographer. If a bird has a dark underside do you expose for the sky or for the underside of the bird realising that exposing one correctly will over or under expose the other. A reflective snow may well alleviate this problem and many others. At times however you will have to decide what is more important in your composition. The subject you are capturing or the white wilderness before you. If you are photographing an animal and that is your main focus in your composition you may at times have to accept a gray or blue snow back round which may not necessarily be a negative in the overall composition. But again much of this, if you like, can be corrected using software when you get home.

One last advantage for photographers willing to venture out into winter’s grasp is that the golden hours just before sunset and just after sunrise are extended tremendously as one travels farther north. During the months of December, January and February in Saskatchewan the sun crosses the sky at about a 2 o’clock position creating great shadows and light for almost the entire day which is in drastic contrast to our summer months where the sun rides across our sky at the 12 o’clock position allowing us but a few hours in the early mornings and late evenings for that ideal light every photographer seeks.

Winter photography results can be stunning to say the least if you are prepared for the weather and know how to bring these wondrous landscapes to life. Wildlife photography in winter settings as well can bring a whole new perspective to the animals you capture due to the unique lighting opportunities. Put it all together and winter settings may well give you a whole new outlook on landscape and wildlife photography.

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 Post subject: Re: Winter Photography
PostPosted: Tue Oct 30, 2012 1:43 am 
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Joined: Mon Dec 11, 2006 7:01 am
Posts: 1167
Location: bit east of Melbourne
thanks for the article Mike.
Even though I grew up in Germany and recall wearing the winter clothes, after 30 years in Australia I forget how cold it can get. Most I have ever needed here is light waterproof snow pants, jackets, reasonable boots and gloves. Oh and something to keep my bald head warm.
One good thing about snow, easier to get off than dust. :D

Would those silica drying beads in the photograph bag help with condensation?

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 Post subject: Re: Winter Photography
PostPosted: Tue Oct 30, 2012 1:51 pm 
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Joined: Wed Nov 18, 2009 5:23 pm
Posts: 827
Location: Boca Raton, FL, USA
Nice article. Wish it had some use to me...but not here. My winter shooting tips, adjusted for where I live, are:

It's late October, and as I sit here sweltering and beaded with sweat waiting for the AC to cool me down, looking out over the neon greenery of my backyard, I can't help but think how nice it would be if the temperature would dip below 80 degrees for a change.

For me, winter photography brings to mind words such as...just like summer photography. And spring photography. And fall photography.

How to deal with Florida winters and photography:
Wear a t-shirt, and lightweight shorts. Flip-flops, crocs, or boat shoes will do. Wear a hat and sunglasses - that sun is brutal!

Cameras themselves do not react very well to oppressive heat and humidity. The sensor heats up, and all your shots have more noise in them. Waterproof sleeves or rain covers are recommended, as it might rain any time.

One thing to keep in mind with hot temperatures is taking your camera from a moderately air conditioned temperature to a hot and humid environment will cause condensation to develop. Keep the camera warmer, keep a window open so the camera stays equalized to the temperature outside, even if you aren't as cool as you would like to be.

Now let's move on to the photographic challenges of winter photography where everything is ridiculously green and bright. Basically, do the same thing you do in the summer, and spring, and fall. That's it - end of tips.

;)

All tongue-in-cheek - I just had to post something because I'm immensely jealous of those of you who have seasons. You may think winter is oppressive and icky, and try to find excuses to get out and shoot, but feel better in knowing there are some people in the world that would give their left pinky finger to see a winter wonderland full of snow!

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 Post subject: Re: Winter Photography
PostPosted: Tue Oct 30, 2012 6:05 pm 
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Joined: Sun Feb 22, 2009 5:06 am
Posts: 1977
Max.. yup silica beads definately help and I have a compartment in my case especially for them. They actually come with some pelican cases when you purchase the case. And yes they do help greatly.

LMAO zack... too funny but you are right... even though I am not a fan of the "cold" I dont know what I would do without the winter. It really does change your shooting perspective. Landscapes you would never think of photographing in the summer can become portraits in the winter. Some waterfalls freeze up entiely.. the way a heavy snow can sit and stay on trees... I could go on and on...

I have lived in sub-tropical climates a few times in my life and in the end I always come back to canada... another thing that the seasons bring which tropical climates lack is sunlight... yes during our winters up here the sun comes up at 8 or 9am and sets at 5pm or so but in the summer it can start getting light at 4:30am and the sun doesnt set til 10:30pm. That gives you a lot of time to get out and shoot even after a day at work or even before you go to work in the early mornings. I once spent a year or so in Brazil and you have no idea how much it bothered me to really never see the sun or enjoy time in the sun except for my days off as I worked 7:30am to 5pm 5 days a week.

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 Post subject: Re: Winter Photography
PostPosted: Tue Oct 30, 2012 9:49 pm 
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Location: Mexico City, Mexico
Great article! Even if I don't live in a place with any extreme weather at all (it's even hard to distinguish between winter and fall), I really enjoyed reading the article, it's very interesting. Great job :D

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 Post subject: Re: Winter Photography
PostPosted: Wed Oct 31, 2012 6:00 am 
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Joined: Sun Feb 22, 2009 5:06 am
Posts: 1977
LOL thank you pierovera... doesnt anyone live where there is an actual winter :lol: too funny

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 Post subject: Re: Winter Photography
PostPosted: Thu Nov 01, 2012 1:31 am 
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I did but not long enough. I got my camera in June while still in Alaska but got forced to leave early before winter hit :( So now in the deserts of El Paso TX

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