Don’t Put That Camera Away For The Winter!
This week I decided to dig through the archives of some of the “Photo Tips” columns that I wrote for Utah Outdoors Magazine when I lived in Park City, Utah. I thought with Christmas only a few days away and the snow falling around the country that this one would be fitting. I lived at 7,000 feet for 12 years and while it was stunning on a sparkling bright blue bird morning after a fresh blanket of powder fell over night, I can say that I do not miss shoveling that stuff! I am very happy to now be living in Scottsdale, Arizona for the last 1 1/2 years and while I do have to content with extreme heat in the summer I never have to “shovel” sunshine. So this is to all of you that either live in the Snowbelt or visit it on vacation, which is the only way I will ever deal with snow again. Keep in mind that I wrote this column about 10 years ago and as you know the world of photography has changed considerably, but there are still some tried and true winter photo tips that remain helpful even in today’s fast paced “techie-fied” world. Happy Holidays…………
Now that old man winter has a firm grip on the west you might think that it is time to tuck your camera away until the first Daffodils pop up from the frozen ground next spring – wrong! Being a native Floridian with coconut milk running through my veins, I did not know what winter was until I moved to Utah in 1998. Winter for most of my life meant turning off the air conditioner and the humidity being 50% instead of 110%. What a wonderful change having 4 distinct seasons is and what a wonderful variety of images we can shoot all of those seasons, it is like living in 4 different places…such diversity and splendor right out of our own backdoor.
Shooting photos in winter does require a bit more effort but the rewards are great! Winter sports and snowy scenics make great pictures if you know the tricks of ‘snow exposures’. Exposure on snow can be a challenge since our camera meters have been calibrated to see everything in mid-tones, a recurring problem and source of disappointment for many winter photographers is incorrect exposures. Unless you compensate somehow all of your snow images will be gray with no texture and all of the brightness will be gone. It might seem that with all of the bright light hitting your cameras meter that the natural thing to do would be to ‘stop down’ or close down the lenses aperture but it is the opposite you will need to ‘open up’ your aperture. Usually once you meter you would then open up two stops but this is not always the case. To insure a proper exposure keep the word ‘mid-toned’ in mind, look for those mid tones and use them for metering purposes. Ask yourself, which area of the final image you are most concerned with. Do you want the snowy bridge to be exposed correctly, or is it more important for you to have the running water exposed correctly? Successful exposure is achieving the results that YOU want…remember this is YOUR hobby and YOUR time…yes it IS all about YOU!!! We like that!
Once again you will see that photography is all about experimentation and trial and error. There is nobody looking over your shoulder so have fun and do what you want…just keep that word ‘mid-tone’ in mind. Bracketing (trying different ones) your exposures is another way to insure that you will hit the nail on the head. A little ‘tripod warning’, metal tripod legs get very cold in the winter. You would be amazed at what can stick to cold tripod legs; let’s just say it could make for an unpleasant shooting day. I wrap my tripod legs in plumbing insulation and secure it with duct tape not only does it make the legs ‘touchable’ but it cushions them so when you carry the tripod on your shoulder it doesn’t get sore. I keep the insulation on year round. Gentle reminder: if you don’t take your tripod with you and USE IT I will send the tripod police after you! You didn’t think they existed now did you….well they do and You MUST use your tripod if you want tack sharp images and no holding your breath and leaning up against a tree while you shoot does not count…..USE YOUR TRIPOD!
A good rule of thumb is to carry a second set of batteries (or charged battery) with you and store them in a warm pocket inside of your jacket. Batteries can get very temperamental in the winter, it is strange, we can store our batteries in the fridge but take them out in the real cold and they die, what is that all about? Or do what I do, duct tape (I call it wonder tape) a hand or toe warmer to the battery compartment on my camera. It keeps my battery warm and my right hand while I am shooting stays pretty toasty too.
A fun way to get back to those scenic backcountry locations is by snowshoe. I am a huge fan of this resurrected mode of winter transportation. I am sure that an image of Yosemite Sam with those big old clunky showshoes just popped into your mind…snowshoeing has come along way, it has become very high tech, and you’d be amazed. If you can walk/hike you can snowshoe it is that simple, just strap those babies on away you go. What a fun way to capture those sparkling winter scenics and get a great workout at the same time.
Now that we have covered exposures, transportation, tripods and batteries let’s talk proper attire. Dressing properly is key to enjoying your winter photo excursion if you are too cold or too hot you will not be eager to repeat your outdoor experience. Layering to be ‘comfortably cool’ is the way to dress. Yes, it’s snowing like crazy and the temperature is 5 below…but you will be working up a sweat especially if you decide to snowshoe. Choose clothing that is specifically designed to insulate and move the sweat away from you, it is called moisture management, did you ever think we would have to manage our moisture? Cotton is not an option as it holds moisture and will drain your body of its needed heat, garments made of polypropylene or similar fabrics are better choices. Make sure you have a good hat, warm socks and toasty gloves and have fun!
Now you are already for your winter photo excursion. Enjoy the peace and solitude that a lovely snowy day has to offer. And when that first Daffodil pops up in spring you will have the satisfaction of knowing that you had a very productive winter and shared in her gifts. Whether you are in the Snowbelt or the Sunbelt I want to wish you a very Happy Holiday season and much joy, laughter and adventure in the New Year.
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