Cold Weather Tips

Winter photography can be very rewarding
Winter photography can be very rewarding. Subjects blanketed in snow, skeletal deciduous trees with eerie shapes and form, exhaled carbon dioxide of wildlife, and locations with no crowds all await the eager photographer. But before you venture off to capture these winter opportunities, there are some precautions and technical considerations to take into account. Dress smartly to keep the body warm. This allows the mind to function more agilely and perform more efficiently. This is important when it comes time to make important decisions with regards to composition and exposure. Be aware of your exposures where white dominates the landscape. It’s also important to keep your cameras operating properly in cold or wet conditions. These are just some of the factors with which to deal when you make winter pictures. Take command of them to get a great start.

Layer Up: My first layer is a pair of fleece or polypropylene long johns. If I begin to sweat, these materials wick moisture away from my body so I don’t wind up getting a chill. Layer two is another fleece garment that has a front zipper so I can control how much body warmth I need to vent. On very cold days, a fleece vest is added to the mix. My outer most layer has a water resistant wind blocking exterior. For my hands, I use a pair of glove liners that allow me to use the controls of the camera. On top of these I use a pair of fold back fingerless mittens into which I place a hand warmer if it gets very cold. My feet are protected with a pair of fleece socks and good hiking boots. Most importantly I wear a good hat to prevent heat loss through my head.

Camera Gear: Make sure you have a freshly charged battery in addition to a back up that’s kept close to your body to keep it warm. Turn the meter off when not using the camera. This will conserve precious battery power. Refrain from reviewing every image as this draws energy from the battery. Make sure you have a plastic bag to wrap around the camera if snow is flying. Regarding your tripod, I recommend a few additional modifications. Wrap foam pipe insulation around the top part of the legs to prevent the transfer of the cold to your hands. This provides a warmer area where the tripod is gripped. There are commercially made versions available for specific tripods. If you know you’ll encounter deep snow and don’t want your tripod to sink, snowshoe like accessories can be purchased that strap onto the feet. They resemble the basket of a ski pole and provide a platform for the tripod.

Outdoor Photographer Tip Of The Week

Exposure: Camera meters are calibrated to recreate all tones and colors to 18% gray. Simply put, a camera aimed at nothing but snow will turn it gray. The result is an underexposed field of white. To compensate, the meter must be tricked to make the snow white. Check the histogram to make sure the whites don’t blow out. If the sun shines on the snow, this becomes more critical. If pixels butt up on the far right side of the histogram, dial in minus compensation. If there’s a lot of contrast, bracket and merge the images to HDR. An alternative is to blend layers in Photoshop or post process a single capture, once for the highlights and once for the shadows, and blend the best parts of each with a layer mask.

Get Creative: Use slow shutter speeds to exaggerate streaking lines of falling snow. To arrest the descending flakes, use a shutter speed of 125th or faster. Avoid using flash. It illuminates the flakes directly in front of the lens and appear as undesirable, bright white blobs. I do use fill flash when I’m close to my subject if the falling flakes are small and intermittent. I love to exploit the beauty of a fallen or falling snow. The setting becomes a monochromatic wonderland in its expanse or a miniature world of white on white in macro. Subject wise, the possibilities are endless. The world takes on an entirely fresh look. Whether you look to the left, right, in front or behind you, there’s something new and different to shoot.


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