There are some great advantages to cold weather photography: Cleaner air, great light, sharper images, habitats in their winter coat and variations in animal behaviours.
I love rocking up for a shoot on a cold winter’s day when the air is free from summer atmospherics and the world just looks different. There is a crispness that lends itself to great images and when the sun is lower in the sky the light can be truly awesome. I could go on and on about the benefits of cold weather photography but this post is more about preparation for the winter shoot and some mistakes to avoid. I think the best way I can explain things is to ‘paint’ a picture of a situation that I regularly choose to be in, the preparation involved and the solutions to a few problems that can occur. It’s all about planning and preparation. So here goes.
Spending a few hours in a hide at a good location in the depths of winter can be very cold: windows will be open and there’s no heating and any slight breeze inevitably blows straight in. But if you plan your trip in advance then the cold no longer presents a problem.
I often arrive at my chosen hide a good half hour before sunrise and it can be bone-chilling cold. But the right clothing allows you to concentrate on creating images rather than focussing on the cold. Layered clothing is best with a wind proof outer shell. And there’s nowt wrong with wearing a thermal base layer. It’s about trapping body heat…so for me it’s usually Helly Hansen thermal base layer followed by Mountain Equipment wind proof pants and a Mountain Equipment wicking long-sleeved top . Over this is a pair of quilted salopettes which ensures my lower back is warm. Then a windproof duvet jacket (again I prefer Mountain Equipment) and if the wind is more than all this can cope with I use a Gortex wind-proof shell. Now you might think that this is overkill but quite frankly I am there to create images…not constantly feel cold. All my jackets have a hood so that’s my head taken care of. Gloves are usually gauntlet winter gloves with slip-off finger tips to facilitate camera operation. Footwear is not so much a problem if they’ve got a thick soles and you’ve got decent winter trekking socks. So that’s the clothing sorted (other brands are available!). Now the bit that everyone forgets: sitting on a cold bench for hours on end is literally a real pain in the butt. Get yourself a piece of insulated matting (sleep mat or Yoga mat) and sit on that…it’ll keep the cold at bay and offer a little extra comfort.
A flask of hot drink and maybe a bite to eat and you’re good to go. Now to the camera gear.
You’ve probably travelled by car with the heater turned up and you’ve had a nice warm journey… but so has your camera gear. And this can cause problems that might be expensive to fix if you haven’t thought things through.
Lenses in particular need careful consideration. Lenses often comprise different types of glass and metals which all contract and expand at different rates so it’s vital that your gear is acclimated to conditions. I never take my gear out of the bag for about half and hour when I go into the hide because I know that sudden temperature change and the way the lens materials react will affect image clarity and sharpness. Be patient…it’s worth it. I’ve seen so many folk arrive at the hide and start taking shots only then to complain that their images are not as sharp as usual. It’s just physics. So just be patient. Camera gear temperature is not self-regulating. Patience! And the same goes for when you’ve packed-up.
It’s very tempting to get back in the car or stop off at a café on the way home and take a look at your images on the LCD screen. NO! STOP! DON’T DO IT! Think CONDENSATION!
If you wear glasses then you’ll understand…how often have your glasses steamed up when you’ve come inside a warm place after being out in the cold? Your camera lenses react in the same way but it’ll often happen inside the lens and the result will be condensation. And there’s very little you can do about it. It’ll do the same to your sensor. All this can result in damage that only a professional can fix. And it ain’t cheap! When I get home after a shoot in sub zero conditions I never take gear out of it’s bag for at least twelve hours so that it acclimates back to room temperature. Patience! If it’s really cold in the hide (sub zero) then I’ll resist putting on the car heater on the way home and in really cold conditions I’ll drive with the window down. Is this extreme? I don’t think so…why would you treat your expensive gear with less than the care it deserves?
There’s an old saying…
‘Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Poor Performance‘