Photo Cascadia Blog
Posts Tagged ‘winter photography’
Abraham Lake is an artificial lake found in the Canadian Rockies. It can be reached by taking the David Thompson Highway off the Icefields Parkway and driving North for around 20 minutes. On the right, you will see a pullout parking lot called Preachers Point. This pullout is a great place to access the lake. From here, you can easily walk down to the lake. Once on the lake, there are many opportunities to photograph within a short distance of your car.
Over the past few years, I have had the chance to visit Abraham Lake in different seasons. By far my favorite season is winter because of the unique conditions that occur due to the colder temperatures. It can reach as low as -30 in the Abraham Lake area. These frigid temperatures create conditions to develop on the lake that is one of the most unusual natural phenomena of the world. The decomposing plants on the lake bed release methane gas which freezes as it gets closer to the much colder surface causing “Frozen Bubbles.” As the temperature drops the bubbles start to stack below each other forming a pretty incredible and unique sight.
Photographers from all over the world come to Abraham Lake to capture this unique occurrence. I’ve written this article to list some of my most essential tips for successful images when photographing Abraham Lake.
- Abraham Lake is often very windy and cold. Due to its geographic location, the wind channels through the valley. Winter temperatures can be extremely frigid with the windchill. Prepare to bring more clothes than normal to stay warm. Bring a balaclava or facemask to keep your face warm. Bring fingerless gloves so you can operate your camera while keeping your gloves on. I combined fingerless gloves with a second layer of gloves that are known as touchscreen gloves. I have included a link below for what I believe to be the best on the market.
- Give yourself lots of time to find compositions that will interest your viewer. The first comment that most people say to me on a workshop is how overwhelming it can be when you first see the lake. Due to its size and vastness, there can be many choices to photograph, which may seem at first very daunting. I arrive several hours early to explore several different compositions. I research ahead of time some of the images that appeal to me. I then work up a theory and pre-visualize the story I would like to translate through my image.
- Bring several camera batteries with you as the colder temperatures shorten how long a battery will work. It is not unusual to go through two or three batteries in one hour when photographing during the winter on Abraham Lake. It is helpful when trying to conserve battery life to keep a couple of spare batteries in a jacket. Finding a way to storing the extra batteries continually in a warm place will go a long way to extending the battery life while photographing.
- Related to the previous tip, bring hand warmers and feet warmers. I can’t stress the importance of using some accessory to keep warm. It can make the difference between a pleasurable time and a challenging one. With the combination of a good warm winter boot and gloves, you are ready for any conditions on the lake.
- Bring a good heavy duty tripod. Having a good sturdy tripod will help immensely in keeping your tripod from slipping on the ice. Place the tripod low to the ground to avoid vibrations from the windy conditions. As mentioned before, winds can get very active on the lake. It does not take much to make your tripod shake. The wind and camera shake will cause your image to go soft and blurry.
- In windy conditions, raise the ISO of the camera to 800 or even 1600. The faster shutter speed will help prevent camera shake and blurry images.
- Don’t be afraid to try several different types of compositions as you continue to look for ways to piece together elements within a scene. I will often try to keep the camera low to the ground at roughly a 45° angle. As I continue to try different compositions throughout my scouting, I develop a story of how I want to approach the final image.
- Bring a very wide-angle lens with you to capture the bubbles and enhance the size of the textures that are nearest to the camera. When using a wide-angle lens on the lake and photographing very close to the bubbles within the ice, the wide angle lens will accentuate elements that are near the lens and make objects in the distance appear smaller. The placement of the lens and camera near to the ground gives the image the appearance of three-dimensional depth throughout the scene.
- Have a microfiber lens cloth close at hand to keep the lens as clean as possible. Watch for any condensation that might build up on the front of the lens in colder conditions. Also, avoid changing lenses on the lake when winter conditions are present.
- It’s a good idea to bring a medium telephoto to photograph some of the distant mountain peaks in closer detail. The look of the longer lens will offer a different look than the wide-angle images that are often seen at Abraham Lake. I like to try different lenses at Abraham Lake to give the viewer several different looks. Also, don’t be afraid to bring a macro lens to photograph the unique textures of the bubbles found just underneath the ice.
- When exposing for the scene, I will often exposure bracket my images depending on the tonal range. In extreme conditions, I have bracketed my images all the way from three images to nine images for one scene. The highlights of the ice can be very bright as well as the snowcapped peaks. It is essential to capture several exposures of negative value to avoid blowing out the highlights. I will then use post processing methods to combine these images into one image with all tonal values combined.
- It is critical in winter to bring an apparatus that can be placed on the bottom of the boot. It can be any accessory such as spikes, crampons, or any other device that provides traction on the ice. Abraham Lake is very slippery and can cause serious damage if you try to maneuver without some sort of traction on your boot. I like to use spikes that I wrap around the bottom of my snow boot which allows me to walk comfortably and safely on the ice.
- Dress in layers, as you will find yourself quickly heating up while actively walking around looking for compositions but losing heat quickly once stationary in one spot. I use several layers of winter clothing that can easily be taken on or off depending on my activity at the time. For example, while actively searching for compositions I will expend energy and thus create sweat while walking around on the ice. Once I find something regarding composition I’m happy with, I might be stationary for time periods of several minutes or more. Having access to changing or removing clothing is critical to keeping at a comfortable temperature while photographing on the lake.
- Don’t be afraid to lie on the ice and try creative framing and pairing of elements. I often will find myself trying to explore new possibilities when composing images on Abraham Lake. Don’t hesitate to try new things, and photograph the lake in new creative ways. For example, I tried placing my camera on remote focusing at infinity and putting it on a timer or a remote to capture an image from inside the ice shelves to create the look of ice caves.
- Make sure to photograph during the twilight hours before sunrise and after sunset to expand the variety of images you capture. Shooting during the twilight hours will give many different moods to the overall look of the lake.
- Make sure on your LCD monitor to frequently check the detail of each image. I will often go in at 100% on the back of the camera to check that all elements are sharp and focused. Because of the wind, movement of the tripod can occur in small increments but enough to cause the image to move. Without going in all the way on the back of your camera LCD, it is hard to see whether it is sharp all the way through the image
- Use caution when exploring on the lake. The lake can be several layers thick with ice, use common sense if areas that appear to look less safe. For example, during warmer periods, melting and instability can occur.
- Bring snacks and meals with you in your bag. There is nothing very close to the lake regarding food. You will find your body, needs the extra carbs from the colder conditions. Having a snack in your bag that is easy to grab will help keep your body energized and prevent you from wasting time going back to your vehicle.
- Give yourself several days including sunrises and sunsets to maximize your opportunity of capturing several different images. Capture the lake in as many different settings as possible. One option is to rent a camper or RV so that you can be situated next to the lake. The other alternative is to look into accommodation near the lake.
- Try to remember to have fun and take the time to enjoy the experience.
On social media I get asked all sorts of questions but one of the questions a lot of people are curious about is what happens when a photographer takes a photo tour and what can they expect.
So for this blog I am sharing my trip report from my recent travels to Fairbanks Alaska and what we did and some of the places we visited as well as the activities the group did together.
The 2015 Fairbanks Photo Safaris Tour started off with an introduction dinner at Pike’s Restaurant. This gave everyone a chance to know a little about everyone in the group. After dinner with a promising Aurora Borealis forecast for that evening we decided to get an early start and head up to a great hilltop view called Mount Skiland. This 360 view of Fairbanks and the surrounding area gave an excellent place to photograph Northern Lights. We had been blessed earlier in the week with a lot of new fresh snow and this really made for some spectacular winter landscapes. When combined with the Northern Lights we could not have asked for a better setting. The group was given an orientation on where to best to photograph the lights and had a nice hot cup of hot chocolate. It wasn’t long after the orientation that the magic began and the dark sky had now become dancing beams of vivid greens and reds. Our first night had been a success and we all headed back to the hotel exhausted but too excited to sleep.
The next morning we awoke to sunny skies and snowy surroundings. Some of the group slept-in while others enjoyed a breakfast. After breakfast the group headed out to watch Dog Mushing at the Alaska Dog Mushers Association. The timing could not have been any better as we got to witness a timed trial race where competitors came from all over the world to race. The race would consist of teams of four and six team dog sled races that would race against the clock and their times would be cumulatively added over the two days. Teams of dog mushers would come rushing down the tracks every two minutes with excitement in the racers eyes and voices. They had a way of communicating with one another that was fascinating to hear. We decided to split the group in half as some wanted to photograph the starting line and others wanted to shoot within the snow capped forest. The event lasted most of the afternoon and everyone came away with some great action shots of the dogs and the dog mushers. With everyone hungry from all the action we headed to a close Italian restaurant named Geraldo’s that served some excellent food that really hit the spot. It was nice as the also had a buffet that people really could dig into and really try different types of food. Later that night after some rest at the hotel we got together for a nice dinner at the Cookie Jar Restaurant. This experience will soon not be forgotten as we had a very funny waitress who was very forthcoming with suggestions and places to eat while in Fairbanks. The group ate well as we had another night of photographing the Northern Lights ahead of us. With full stomachs and dressed warmly we headed back to the same area as the night before. Mount Skiland worked out well as it offered a warm chalet for participants to warm up and eat while waiting. Inside the chalet the TV on the wall were hooked up to the webcams so that everyone could see whether the lights were happening. This was a really nice bonus, as we could all stay warm while we waited anxiously. Within a short period the lights had appeared as promised and we were given another magic show where no of the group left disappointed. With several different areas to shoot everybody got a chance shoot from multiple perspectives in photograph the lights in all directions. Although the temperatures were cold this did not matter to anyone in the group. After hours of dazzling light and excitement the group headed back to the hotel.
With are success from the past day of dog mushing we decided to head out and photograph the dog mushers again but try different viewpoints. We also got a chance to see some of the dogs come out of the kennels and hear some background history on the sport. It was a nice chance to see a wide spectrum of dog mushing and all the events that go into a successful event. After dog mushing we headed to the iconic Daddy’s Barb-b-Que for some excellent ribs. At the restaurant we got a chance to take lots of group photos and relive some of your favorite moments thus far. After lunch the group famished from a good meal headed back to the hotel for some rest.
Later that afternoon we all attended the Ice Sculptures and Carving that presented some of the world’s best ice carvers. We decided to head there around sunset so we could photograph the ice sculptures against the backdrop of the sunset, which turned out very nicely. As the sun disappeared and the night set in we then got to shoot the ice sculptures at night when the lights spotlighted the ice carvings.
After a full evening of shooting the ice carvings we went for dinner at the Pikes Landing, which provided some warmth and time to relax. This was well needed as we headed out for another successful night of photographing the aurora borealis after dinner.
The next morning the group packed up as we had a late lunch and headed out of Fairbanks to the Chena Hot Springs Resort. The resort has always been one of the top destinations in the world to view Northern Lights and has several winter activities to keep everyone busy during the day. Later in the day we got settled into our new rooms and headed back to the restaurant for some tasty food. We got a chance to all eat in a private room and enjoy some of the five star food. We all well knowing we had a exciting night ahead of us photographing the lights. The group assembled together as dark settled in and we had arranged a snow coach to take the group up to the top of the mountain overlooking the resort. The view was second to none and provided and excellent vantage point for shooting the lights. While waiting for the show to start we all enjoyed some hot chocolate inside the warm lit yurt. The group got a chance to listen to a live band while waiting. Shortly there after the sky turned vivid colors of green and the group got another night of shooting under the magic skies of Alaska.
The next morning the group got out together to shoot around the resort as the winter snow had provided some idyllic scenes for photographing. We got to shoot some frozen ponds, hoar frost trees, and the sun rising through the snow capped trees. It wasn’t long after that that our hungry was calling out for lunch while others enjoyed some time in the hot springs which was a highlight for some of the group. With a short rest the group met up again for a private tour of the dog mushing and history of the events. This was a nice chance to get to pet the dogs as well as photograph them. All of the dogs were excited to have company and provided lots of excitement. We met for dinner later in the afternoon and were met with excellent food again.
As the light faded and the night began the group decided to shoot the Northern lights around the resort to shoot different subjects with the lights. There was plenty to shoot as we had igloos, barns, abandoned cabins, rivers, birch trees, and even an airplane to shoot under the stunning sky. We shoot until the early hours of the morning before retiring for the night.
The next morning some of the group got together to explore the outer regions of the resort and find new possibilities for the upcoming evening of Northern Lights. With a stunning rustic atmosphere the settings could not have been better for shooting. The group throughout the day got some time to relax and take another dip in the Hot Springs. With some of the new possibilities the group headed out for another night of lights where the group leader had brought out his yellow tent and made some different options for subjects. The group huddled around the tent as the Alaskan sky had not let us down. The night had lit up and the night could be heard with cheers all night from its audience.
Night after night we had been fortunate enough to see the Aurora Borealis and capture it in some of the most stunning winter conditions. The group had a chance to photograph in a variety of settings and even had a chance to experiment with different settings
The next morning we all conversed about how lucky we had been to see the magic of nature and headed back to Fairbanks for one last goodbye dinner at the famous Pump House Restaurant. Here we relived the experiences and talked about our favorite things we had seen. We even got the opportunity to try some of the local food that was pretty impressive.
On a full stomach we headed back to the hotel for a well deserved rest. The photo tour had come to a rest but we knew the memories would last a lifetime.
Winter is a special time for photographers who enjoy the challenges and the rewards that come with winter photography. Dedication comes to mind, when we think of photographers that enjoy adventures in subzero temperatures, to capture images that other photographers would not be willing to even consider.
A trip to the park in summer means hot weather, overcrowding, and congestion. On the other hand, winter is the perfect time to try shooting some unique perspectives of your favorite places. The solitude and peacefulness of a winter scene takes on a new persona and allows the photographer to see it in a whole new light. What really makes winter special for the photographer is the chance to be out in nature on a more intimate level. This time alone in nature makes one really think about what it is they are to trying to capture, and how they are going to relate this to their audience. Winter photography can be very rewarding if one prepares themselves for the challenges of colder temperature. There are a few simple tips that will make your winter adventures more enjoyable.
The following three concepts are equally important to the enjoyment and longevity of winter photography: 1) clothing; 2) camera equipment, and 3) the picture-making process.
Common among these elements is the notion of preparation for all winter conditions you may encounter. An absence of planning in winter can deter any photographer from further experiencing the true beauty of winter.
When it comes to shooting in the winter, weather can be unpredictable. The best way to prepare for weather is to expect anything in the winter. Therefore, dressing appropriate for the situation is fundamental for winter photography. When it comes to dressing, it is necessary to plan ahead for situations of changing weather. Preparing the body for winter includes wearing something light and loose, so the body can regulate the escape of body heat.
Shooting in colder temperatures, the body temperature changes dramatically between hot and cold depending on the activity. As photographers are well aware of, photography can vary in terms of activity levels. Anticipating this level of activity means wearing clothing that can be easily opened with zippers in specific areas of the body for fresh ventilation and not wearing multiple layers that cause the body to overheat. For a photographer who already carries heavy camera equipment, dressing in layers is not ideal. The kind of clothing recommended is some form of loose fitting, breathable jacket that has zippers, allowing the photographer to quickly open and close depending on the level of activity. Also, it is important to wear clothes that leave no area of the body exposed to the colder temperatures. Always wear a warm hat to avoid excessive heat loss through the head. Research shows that seventy percent of one’s body heat can be lost by not wearing a hat in colder climates. In addition to a warm hat, wear pants that are fully waterproof, yet comfortable so that different types of shooting can occur. For example, photographers sometimes like to kneel in the snow to get closer to the subject. The ability for a photographer to move around comfortably and stay dry is critical. In terms of footgear, boots need to be waterproof, insulated, and high enough around the ankles to prevent leakage of snow. Gators, which are water resistant equipment that goes around footgear from the ankle to the knee, and keeps the snow from getting inside the boots are Recommended.
The one piece of equipment that most photographers wear incorrectly is gloves. Although most photographers wear some form of warm lining or gloves, most will wear gloves that do not have fingertips. They believe that fingerless gloves can help the photographer manipulate easier the camera controls. The truth is, most winter conditions are cold enough that exposed fingertips will hinder any finer control movements of the camera, thus being unable to operate the camera properly. The better option is to wear gloves that have removable fingertips that are held by strings from the body of the glove to the fingertips. Depending on the activity the fingertips can be easily removed or put back on. When it comes to enjoying your time in winter, the right type of clothing can make all the difference between a good and bad day. What about the ‘Tech Gloves’ that have a special end on the first and index fingers for working camera controls? I bought a pair at REI yesterday.
The most neglected area of winter shooting is winterizing camera equipment. What do you mean ‘winterizing camera equipment’? As I understand it, the modern digital cameras do not need to be winterized like the old film cameras. There are a few important considerations to be aware of when preparing camera equipment for winter. Keeping batteries warm should be separate from any winterizing. Do you find that batteries recover when warmed up? Depending on how cold the temperature is, one common problem prevalent among photographers is short-term camera battery life. Results vary on temperature and camera model, but it is safe to assume that batteries might only last a few minutes in cold weather. Do you ever put one of those hand warmers on the camera to keep battery area warm? Therefore, always carry extra batteries in the winter. Carry the extra set in a warm area like a pocket close to the body. This keeps the spare batteries warm and ready to switch out when the current batteries lose their power. Throughout the day continue to switch out the cold batteries with the warm ones for longer shooting.
Another common problem with camera equipment in winter is the condensation that occurs on a camera from changes in environments. Very cold air has very little water vapor, it is dry. When a camera comes from a cold outside environment to a warmer and more humid environment area like a heated vehicle, water vapor can condense on the outside and inside of the camera. Water inside the camera can cause the electrical components to malfunction and corrode. To avoid this, bring a large Ziploc or large trash bag to keep the camera inside until the temperature inside the bag is roughly the same as room temperature.
It is imperative to realize that mistakes are common when you are new to winter photography and every individual will have different things that work for them. Success comes with perseverance, and learning from mistakes is the key to continued involvement in shooting. Try different things by experimenting with different types of adventures, varying length, weight load, and locations. Take some early trips near home and figure what works for your style. These starter trips also give the body a chance to acclimatize to the colder conditions and build tolerance over time. Once everything is ready to go with your clothing and equipment, the only thing is to reward the winter experience with some great images.
Photography in the winter is a lot different than any other time for a variety of reasons. The main obstacle in the picture making process is the challenge of exposure. When evaluating exposure, the camera meter cannot give an accurate reading for white subjects like snow or ice. This is because snow fools the camera meter in trying to average out the luminosity of the snow, and ends up turning the snow grey rather than white. To get around this exposure challenge you must open up one or two stops on the camera to retain the highlights. Proper exposure varies depending on the light available. It is recommended to bracket images whenever the camera’s meter cannot give an accurate reading. Bracketing in one-stop increments beginning at an even exposure bias (0) and extend the exposure bias by plus/minus two stops at either end. A common solution to this exposure challenge is to take an average reading with your camera’s spot meter of a subject such the base trunk of a tree.
The single most important element in improving winter photography is working with the light. In wintertime, the light quality is unique, as frequent changes in weather take place. These weather changes make the clouds susceptible to more movement, thus more opportunities to capture the transient light. Transient light can be described as changing light that occurs as clouds interact with the sun’s luminosity. This diffused light at sunrise or sunset can lead to dramatic lighting that is accentuated by the contrast of the white snow. As well, in winter, light at sunrise or sunset lasts longer allowing the opportunity for longer periods of shooting. To capitalize on this opportunity look for situations that allow for side lightning that pronounces a subject’s features. Side lighting not only enhances the contours and shapes of the subject but it gives the image depth. Depth to an image draws a viewer into an image and makes it more interesting.
To make the most of winter weather, track weather systems in your local area and be present when these weather changes occur. Snow is a natural reflector of light so incorporate subjects into your composition that will reflect color into the image. Subjects that can improve compositions in winter situations are icicles, ice rim, frosted subjects, and natural shapes outlined in the snow. Capturing light in winter can lead to very dramatic images that stand out. Impact is important in pleasing images, and balancing composition with stunning colors is the way to achieve this. Rewarding winter images are possible when you learn to read and understand the light. Preparation is essential and visualizing your subject beforehand and how it will react with the light is important. Once you learn how to control the light you can use the combination of winter elements to make available light work to your advantage.
In conclusion, preparation is the unifying concept that ties all these recommendations together. It’s the combination of successful planning that makes it even more pleasurable when everything comes together out in the field. Success follows those that prepare and envision what they are trying to capture. Winter is a great time to get out and try something new. Take time to enjoy what you are doing and make sure to come back with some great images.