The afternoon sky is gray and there is a definite chill to the air. Winter is fast approaching in NEPA – and not just the sporadic snow showers we had a few weeks back, but full-on winter, with three inches of snow across the frozen ground. So with the season – and it’s incredibly photogenic beauty – drawing near, I feel that it’s time to point out some tips and tricks for shooting in winter. So here’s 4 ways to shoot in a winter wonderland:
1.) Protect your camera
This seems like it should be common sense, but far too often it isn’t. The reason being that winter hazards are sneaky. You obviously need to be careful when you take your camera out in a snow storm; that’s little different from shooting in the rain, which we all know is chancy at best. So if you are going to be out in the snow, take an umbrella with you, or take shelter under overhangs. Anything to keep the camera dry.
But what about that sneaky hazard? It’s condensation. Taking your room-temperature camera gear from your heated house outside into the cold will almost never be an issue. But the reverse is a very real hazard. A cold-soaked camera and lens coming into a warm house is just begging for condensation. Condensation is water, building up on the inside and outside of your gear, and next thing you know the electronics are shorting out.
The solution? It’s simple: 1 gallon ziplock bags. Take the bags outside in your pocket and before you come in, shake one open, let it cool down for a few moments, then pop your camera inside and seal it up. Do NOT try to squeeze the extra air out! In fact, keep the bag as full of cold outside air as you can. That way when you take it inside, the temperature variance doesn’t occur on your camera, it occurs on the ziplock bag; condensation forms only on the outside of the bag as the air inside slowly comes up to room temperature, as does your camera. After an hour or two the camera is warmed back up with no risk of damage and can come out of the bag.
Alternatively, pop your flash card out of the camera while you’re still outside and put it in your pocket. It will warm up that way just fine so you can download your images when you get home. As for the rest of your gear, zip it up tight in your camera bag and leave the bag zipped for a couple of hours once it’s inside, just like for the ziplock. Most camera bags are “sealed” enough to bring their contents – air and gear – slowly up to room temperature without any problems.
2.) Pack extra power
Cold weather eats up battery power, no matter what device you’re using. If you’re going to be shooting in the cold for a while, bring extra batteries with you, and keep them in the pocket of your parka where they’ll stay warmer. As one battery wears down, swap it for one from your pocket. Chances are as the “dead” battery warms up, it will regain some of its life, and you’ll be able to use it again. Same deal if you’re powering accessories like a flash – bring extra AAs and keep swapping them out.
3.) Use a polarizer
Want gleaming white snow and crisp, vivid blue skys? A circular polarizer is the answer and will cut the glare coming off the snow. It will also eat up between 1 and 1.5 stops of light, which can be a real help when you’re trying to shoot with a wide aperture on a sunny winter day. Polarizers work by managing reflected light and let’s face it, on a sunny winter’s day, every snow and ice covered surface is reflecting. Alternately, they’re a great way to punch up the reflections on any open water, while bringing out more vivid colors.
4.) Dress for the weather
You’d be surprised how many people overlook this point; they’ll head out with all sorts of extreme-condition camera gear, but they won’t remember to put on heavy socks or a hat. Fact is, if you’re not comfortable and warm, your photography is going to suffer. And it would really stink to miss that perfect shot because you ended up half-frozen and had to quit early. So remember what your mother told you: dress in layers for extra warmth (and that means bottoms as well as tops – wearing three shirts and a parka, but just a pair of blue jeans is a dumb idea).
Gloves are a constant problem for photographers. We need our fingers to be warm, but bulky gloves make it impossible to press those little control buttons. The trick is finding gloves light enough to keep you protected but not too heavy to interfere with the controls. Or, as some prefer, buy the gloves with the removable fingertips. Myself, I stick with lighter weight gloves, but I throw one of those one-time-use glove warmer packs in my pockets. That way even if my fingers start to freeze, I can stick them into my pockets and grab the hand warmers to erase the chill.
Likewise, invest in the proper footwear. Sneakers are a definite sign of failure, whereas good hiking boots might work for light snow, and real winter boots are absolutely necessary for slogging through the drifts. In fact, if you’re really planning on hitting the outback in the snow, it’s worth looking into a pair of snow shoes or possibly cross country skies as a way to get around (my preference is snowshoes). Either will make it much easier for you to access remote locations, and do so without expending huge amounts of energy plowing through snow up to your waist.