Photo Cascadia Blog
Posts Tagged ‘winter’
In 2011 I saw a beautiful time lapse video by Terje Sørgjerd. The entire video is of sunset and twilight scenery in the Arctic islands of Norway. Some of the time lapse segments span five or six hours of time and the light continues throughout. It immediately captured my attention and inspired my imagination.
The Lofoten archipelago has become a popular photography destination since the system of tunnels and bridges traversing the 100 miles of islands was finished in 2009. In the winter it is one of the top destinations for photographing the aurora. In the summer, when the sun never sets, you can hike to mountain lakes and scale peaks too numerous to count. But it was the light that Terje found in the spring, a couple weeks before the midnight sun begins, that really intrigued me. In his video, gorgeous glowing twilight stretches on for five or six hours a time. Photographing for hours in my favorite light surrounded by dramatic and surreal sea-to-summit landscapes seemed like a dream. Six years after seeing Terje’s video I finally was able to make the trip myself.
After researching and talking with other photographers who had been there, I knew that the photography locations would be spread out across many islands and hundreds of miles windy roads, bridges and tunnels. Here in the western US my trusty Toyota truck and pop-up camper are essential pieces of photography equipment, enabling me to camp close to photography locations and be ready to shoot when the light is good and sleep when it isn’t. I became convinced that this type of “sleep where you shoot” approach would work well in Norway too, so I proceeded to look for rental RV’s above the Arctic Circle and plot my course on Google Maps.
My friend, Paul Imperia, is a guy who isn’t afraid of a little adventure. When I emailed him with some details about the trip his reply only had two words, “I’m in!” So, in late April we flew to the north of Norway and spent a couple weeks road-tripping in our rented Viking RV. We christened it the Gokstad after the famous historic Viking ship. The weather was suitably cold, windy and wet for the Arctic in May and the light did not disappoint. The lighting would begin getting good around 9:00 PM and the sun would set about 11:00 PM. Then gorgeous twilight would continue through the night until about 3:30 or 4:00 AM when the sun would rise. By 6:00 AM we would call it a day. We would usually take a “lunch” break about midnight when the light was lowest. Paul is an excellent cook so these breaks would really be gourmet food events prepared in the Gokstad with plenty of wine and perhaps a bit of Scotch. Living nocturnal lives meant that we rarely saw people in the villages or cars on the road. It was like being in one of those sci-fi movies where you are the last people on Earth. The upside is that we never got off of West Coast time, so no jet lag going or coming.
What follows are some images and stories from the trip. I hope you enjoy. I’ll include some info and links on the trip logistics at the end of the article. If you are interested in visiting this region of Norway and have questions for me, please leave them in the comments below.
I took this on our first day on the road. We flew into Tromso and picked up the RV, and then waited 24 hours for lost luggage to show up. Mine did, Paul’s didn’t. So we decided to drive all night to get to the Lofoten islands and hope that Paul’s duffle would show up at a local airport in the area eventually. We pulled over at 3:30 in the morning, just before sunrise, for our first photo session. I’m not sure exactly where we were, but it was cold. This ice was a cool phenomenon we saw along many of the fjords. I’m not sure exactly how it occurs, but I think a thin layer of ice forms on the brackish water at high tide. Then, as the tide goes out this thin layer covers the shore like a delicate ice blanket. It was so fragile but great for texture and reflections.
Canon 5D4, 17mm, polarizer. 0.6 seconds, f/14, ISO 100.
This was one of our favorite locations of the trip and we returned here two or three times. The images I took on each visit have completely different characteristics. I enjoy being able to return to a spot and experience it in different light and weather. For me, it is a good reminder that landscape photography isn’t just about the landscape itself, but also the atmosphere, light, mood and experience you encounter while in the landscape. This is one shot, but I did some perspective work on it. My camera was pointed slightly down so the mountains were leaning outward. I copied the upper 1/3 onto a new layer and transformed it so the mountains and reflections would be vertical as they should be…but without losing the wide angle perspective of the foreground.
Canon 5D4, 24mm, polarizer. 6 seconds, f/16, ISO 100.
“70 Degrees North”
This is a second photo from the same location. The Lofoten Islands is a chain of rock teeth that rise from the ocean and stretch more than a hundred miles out into the Norwegian Sea. It was a rare and strange experience to photograph tidepools and jagged granite peaks in such close proximity to each other. This is what the light looked like at 11:00 at night, right before the sun actually set.
Single exposure, Canon 5D4, 16-35mm, polarizer, 0.5 seconds, F/18, ISO 100.
“In The Night”
Three images stitched to create the panorama. Canon 5D4, 70mm, f/11, 10 seconds.
There are some recurring elements in most of the photos I made in Norway: ocean-scapes with mountainous backdrops, moody weather and twilight. But those are the precise elements I went there to see…so mission accomplished from that perspective, I guess. We would stay out until our fingers went numb, then we would duck into Gokstad the Viking RV to warm up. It’s hard to see at screen size, but there is a small village across the fjord dwarfed beneath the mountains.
Canon 5D Mark IV, 16-35mm. Perspective and wave motion blend of three different frames. f/11 and 35mm background, f/22 and 20mm foreground.
A small tree reflecting in a small pond on a small island in a fjord next to the big island of Flakstadøya in Norway. Dreamy light courtesy of all-night arctic twilight. According to Ron Jansen, who lives in Norway, “‘Bu’, or ‘bo’, can mean a little hut or cabin. ‘Øya’ means ‘the island’. Stor means large. So most likely, Stor Buøya refers to a time before the road and bridges were there and this island (the larger of two very small ones) had one or a few little cabins on it.
Canon 5D4, 16-35mm at 26mm, polarizer. 3.2 seconds, f/14, ISO 100. Side note: almost all of the images I took on this trip in the 24-35mm range were taken with my16-35mm instead of the 24-70mm I would normally use. On the second day of the trip, I slipped on some slimy rocks and my beloved 24-70 f/2.8 MKII took the full hit, sacrificing it but saving the camera. I spent the rest of the trip getting by with the 16-35 and the 70-200. I’m waiting to hear from Canon if the 24-70 can be resurrected from the dead.
Endless night is what it felt like we were living after two weeks of photographing through the nights and sleeping during the days in Norway. Paul and I happened on this beach on the Island of Vestvågøy. The maze of fjords, bays and headlands on the islands mean that scenes like this can be found around any corner or through any tunnel. We would look at Google maps to find a particularly jagged shoreline and then see if there was a road that would take us there. Often a long tunnel under a mountain would open onto a remote and windswept landscape like this one. This beach had some cool eroded cauldrons with iridescent algae growing in them. They were fun to work with as foreground elements. Meanwhile, thundershowers moved in from the Norwegian sea, alternately pounding us with wind and hail and exposing small openings in the clouds that would let the late-night light through.
Canon 5D4, 16mm. 8 Seconds, f/18, ISO 100. It has been awesome using the 5D4. The dynamic range capability allows me to capture many scenes like this in a single exposure instead of needing to bracket and blend exposures. I know…Nikon and Sony users have been doing this for years. It’s awesome to now have that as a Canon user.
“The Norwegian Sea”
More deep twilight from Norway, but some warmer tones this time. Throughout our all-night photo shoots small breaks in the clouds would let soft twilight filter across the landscape and keep us transfixed. Once the sun set there would be several hours of light like this before the sun would rise again, around 3 AM. So finding the light was just a matter of being patient for an opening in the clouds to come.
Canon 5D Mark IV, 16-35mm at 24mm. Polarizer. 15 seconds, f/22, ISO 100. Developing included tonal balancing for sky and land, split toning and luminosity/color painting.
“North Of The Wall”
It was about 2:00 AM when I took this. I was alone on the island of Senja, north of the Lofoten chain. Paul had left for warmer conditions (in Cuba) a couple days earlier, but I stayed to continue getting schooled in what spring in the Arctic is about. I knew Norway would be colder and stormier than Oregon in May, but the marine air, wind and below-freezing temperatures made it feel like we were “north of the wall”. Paul and I made frequent GoT jokes throughout the trip. When it began snowing at sea level I didn’t worry too much and celebrated the opportunity to photograph snow on the ocean shore. But it kept snowing and began accumulating on the road. The only way through the mountains on Senja is to go under them…one tunnel after another. But when it snows too much the tunnels can be closed by avalanches. The fact that Gokstad the Viking RV didn’t come equipped with chains also gave me some anxiety. I hung out on this fjord for a full day in the snow, but with my flight less than 24 hours away I decided I had to make a run for it. A couple hours of white knuckle driving later I managed to navigate through all the tunnels and arrived at the ferry dock on the other side of the island.
Canon 5D4, 16-35mm at 16mm, 30 seconds, f/20, ISO 100. Single exposure worked in Lightroom and then finished in Photoshop. I did quite a bit of contrast and localized luminosity work until I felt I had communicated the mood.
“Lunch Break In The Gokstad”
The mid-night sun begins around May 24. The period between the end of April and late May is when the long Arctic twilight happens. The light quality is similar again in late July and August, but then the weather isn’t so dramatic and the snow has melted off the peaks.
We flew to Tromso and picked up the RV there. We rented from Motorhome.no but there are other rental companies in Tromso. It was a 10 or 12-hour drive from Tromso to the very end of the Lofoten Islands. There are airports in the Lofoten chain, but I’m not sure of the availability of RV rentals.
Norway has a general public right, called Freedom To Roam, which means that you can hike and camp just about anywhere as long as you take care of the land. It also means that you can park an RV in just about any pullout along the road. This enabled us to find places to cook and sleep within a few yards of where we wanted to photograph.
Restaurants are expensive and almost non-existent way out in the islands. We stocked up on groceries in larger towns and cooked almost every meal in the RV.
The temperatures ranged from the low 20s to the low 40s, Fahrenheit, but the wind and damp ocean air made it feel much colder. I wore several insulating layers including down, a Gore-tex shell, hat and gloves. I decided to pack a pair of Boggs neoprene waterproof boots and they proved critical for keeping my feet warm and dry.
Sean is a full-time photographer and photography educator. You can see more of his images and find out about his video tutorial courses and upcoming workshops, tours and classes on his website at www.OutdoorExposurePhoto.com.
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.
By David M. Cobb
Over the years I’ve spent a great deal of time visiting art museums, searching out the European masters, the cubists, the impressionists, the Hudson River School, and others. But it wasn’t until I saw Edward Weston’s Pepper #30 that photography entered into the equation. Western art influenced my sense of design and light, and my schooling reinforced those Western perspectives of art.
Later in life other influences came into play, specifically art from Asia. A number of years ago a photographer suggested I read Empty and Full: The Language of Chinese Painting by Francois Cheng. That was the beginning of change for me. I now find myself seeking out Chinese reliefs and Japanese block prints when I roam art museums; their influence helps me incorporate Eastern perspectives into my work. My photography changes but that change can seem frustratingly slow, and sometimes I end up with more failures than successes. With my changing perceptions, the scenes that are more difficult to come by are the asymmetrical compositions—that sense of unbalance that “feels” odd to me. But I’m learning to adapt and must let all that go. There’s now more of a visual emphasis on negative space in many of my compositions, and with that comes an economy of line.
However, it is a struggle. My old eye fights with the new, and the old ways usually win. Some scenes play to my new eye easier than others; for instance a landscape with fog or a mountain shrouded in mist is easier to compose and capture in a new way. With a complex scene in a forest or a desert landscape, I tend to fall back on my western influences. Thoreau stated “simplify, simplify, simplify” and that is what I strive to do more often than not. My compositions succeed when I’m more open to change in my photography and when I’m compositionally deliberate as I reflect on my Eastern influence. With time, my hope is to make this an intuitive thought process.
Examples of current photographers who excel at capturing this Eastern aesthetic in their landscape photography are John Einarsen, Leping Zha, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Hiroshi Watanabe, and John Sexton. A photographer like John Paul Caponigro uses negative space extremely well, especially in his more surreal images. Symmetry and not asymmetry plays a larger part in his photography. His photos have a spiritual and even mystical sense to them (especially his celestial images), which connects well with the Eastern ideal and the land he photographs.
My struggle and creative journey will continue, but that’s part of the challenge and fun that comes from growth.
Photographing the Klamath Basin
By David Cobb
One of the West’s great photographic treats is visiting the Klamath Basin on the Oregon and California border during the fall or spring bird migration. I’m not a birder, but the site of so much wildlife surrounded by a beautiful stark landscape always makes me excited to take photographs. My recent spring trip with Sean Bagshaw was brief, but the birds were ample, the light fantastic, and we were able to break in his new camper on its maiden voyage.
I’ve photographed here during the fall and spring migrations, and I find the success rate as a photographer better in the spring than the fall due to fall hunting. When the hunters are out the birds are more wary and skittish, and who can blame them? I also find the water reflections more abundant and interesting during the spring migration, which helps with landscape photo opportunities. Fall light offers nice rust tones in the trees and fields for colorful background, but I still prefer photographing here during spring.
During my fall visit a few years ago, I paid for a permit to the wildlife refuge which allowed me to reserve time in different photo blinds. There is a raptor blind, a cramped songbird blind, a water fowl blind, and a wading-bird blind. Some are better at sunset or sunrise, and some are better in spring than fall, so choose your blind accordingly. (For example, the wading-bird blind is better in the spring, since the area can dry out by fall and then wading birds are elsewhere.) If you schedule a blind for the morning expect to be there before sunrise to escape the watchful eyes of your subjects. You may also apply for an afternoon session, but there are limits on how long you can stay in any one blind.
For this spring season visit, Sean and I drove the back roads of the refuge looking for flocks. We traded information with other photographers and locals, and then relocated as necessary to find the next flock. Usually a drive along Stateline Road is a good starting strategy. Local etiquette asks that you keep your distance from the birds, so bring a lens with enough power that you’re not chasing the birds away. And remember to be respectful of the other people who are there to observe.
During sunset we found some ponds which offered opportunity for reflected light, and for morning we chose to photograph a flooded field with Mount Shasta standing sentinel in the distance. At the southern end of Tule Lake, you’ll find Captain Jack’s Stronghold where the Modocs defended themselves for a year against soldiers and settlers until surrendering in 1873.
I haven’t been here for the winter raptor photo opportunities, but I’ve heard it’s a regular smorgasbord of birds. If you’re interested in photographing raptors feasting on waterfowl, the best time to arrive is February. The “Winter Wings” festival is usually held mid-February, so around this time you’ll be there near peak.
If you’re planning a trip here, there are neighboring camping opportunities and the nearby town of Klamath Falls, Oregon offers ample lodging. Also note that many of the parking areas require permits, which can be picked up from most of the surrounding markets.
This past week I had the opportunity to visit Yellowstone National Park in the winter. I have wanted to photograph this special place in winter conditions but never had the chance. Well my wishes came true this week and I was given the opportunity to co-lead a Yellowstone Winter workshop with three other great instructors. Being that is was my first time in the park I was a novice and was prepared to make some mistakes. I believe each park has its own special qualities that capture the essence of it. Needless to say, I learned so much from this past workshop. Not only from the other instructors but the students as well. So if I went back I would do a few things different that will help other photographers visiting Yellowstone in the winter. The following are some helpful hints if you decide to photograph this majestic place in the winter.
Firstly, bring all your lenses from widest to telephoto. You will need a lens capable of at least 300mm. I only brought a 70- 200mm L and I found out quick that was not nearly enough. I was constantly finding scenes that were stunning but did not have the lens to capture it. If you have a 100-400L lens that should appropriate for most scenes in the park. Whether you are shooting wildlife or landscapes I found that I was restricted to where I could shoot from because of the snow. In past situations I would move closer to the subject but when you are photographing with others this is not something that can be afforded to you. When getting around in Yellowstone during winter conditions park access is restricted to snowmobiles and snow cats. During our time in the workshop the group was divided into two snow cats. To book snow cats you can do that in West Yellowstone where we made it our home base. In West Yellowstone you can find adequate accommodations and food as well.
Secondly, I would have held my camera in my hand while in the snow cat. Many chances to capture wildlife happened in a split second and by the time you reach for your camera it was too late. You have to be open to the idea of hand holding your camera and shooting through the snow cat windows (they keep the windows very clean) as this is your only opportunity in many cases. I have always been a tripod kind of person, so I had to adjust to new circumstances. This included shutter speeds and aperture which are completely different if you are hand holding. The other problem is the snow cat does not stop every time you see something you would like to shoot. The snow cat only makes stops where the majority of the photographers in the vehicle would like to stop. The emphasis was primarily on wildlife in the park.
Thirdly, I did not bring a wide enough range of clothing with me on the trip. The mornings were very cold, well below zero but the afternoons really warmed up. I found I brought enough cold apparel but not enough clothes for warmer weather, which was also breathable. Especially when the snow cat would stop for long periods of time. You would get cold exiting the snow cat but as soon as you moved around you would sweat immediately. I needed some clothes that adapted to all the particular situations. For example, clothes that were not just breathable but also have zippers down the side making it easier for quick access depending on the situation. Also make sure to bring gloves that can provide access to your camera controls, as you are not going to be taking your gloves off. Many students did not have this option and unfortunately ended up back in the snow cat due to the cold conditions.
Lastly, the most important thing I would do different is time my visit to coincide with better photography weather. As I was involved in co-leading a workshop I did not have this option. Timing the weather conditions is very hard to do in this park but can be done. If you can see that the weather calls for favorable conditions in the park a few days ahead make the trip, as it will be definitely be worth it. If possible fly in to either Idaho Falls airport or Jackson Hole airport; both airports are within a few hours of the park. The best place to make accommodations is West Yellowstone. Prices are reasonable for accommodations and transportation. Reservations can be made here for transportation into the park. When I visited this past week the conditions in terms of snow were not ideal. If I traveled by myself I would have waited it out in West Yellowstone before making the trip inside the park. There is a high probability of snow most days in the winter so waiting it out should not take too many days.
In conclusion, each photographer will have a set of ideals that are important to him or her when photographing in Yellowstone during winter season. From my experience, these simple tips can go a long way to improving your success in the park.
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.
Excitement always comes over me when I hear snow will be coming my way. For me there is something magical about winter that is hard to describe in words and only can be summed up in an image. The single most challenge to winter photography has to be the preparation. Not having the right essentials can lead to life-threating situations. Learning these lessons can really go a long ways to having fun while out in the snow as well as your safety. The following article is a list of the top ten things I have learned to prepare for winter photography.
Top Ten Things To Prepare For Winter Photography
1) Learn to read and understand snow reports. There are many reasons for this but the most important is to avoid avalanches while out in the backcountry. Avalanches are always imminent after a sizeable amount of snow falling on frozen snow. The frozen snow below acts as a buffer and escalates chances of avalanches.
2) Make sure to try all equipment beforehand to make sure it fits. Nothing is worse then when you are stuck in the snow and the equipment doesn’t fit or will not work. Lets admit sometimes we put on a lot of weight and we are not the same anymore. If you are like me and your weight yo-yo’s do yourself the favor of trying everything on the day before. This is especially true for the first outing of the season.
3) Be honest with yourself about your physical condition and what you are capable of. It’s easy to get carried away with the getting to a certain destination without planning on getting back. Exercise in the snow is a whole new ball game and what you might be capable of on dry land is a different story for snow. The fact is making your way through snow is not as easy as it looks; your body will use different muscles then it is use to and before you know it you are hurting in areas you did not know even existed.
4) This is common sense and partly goes with the above point but make sure to stretch before and after for a period for ten to fifteen minutes to really warm up the muscles and avoid any cramps.
5) Bring a friend if you can and always tell me people where you are going to be and when they can expect you back. Travelling during the winter in the backcountry can be exciting but it also can be very dangerous. Many of us are impatient to get out there to photograph but it is worth it to wait for a buddy to come.
6) Research the areas you are going to see if there are any snowshoe routes laid down or where you might go in case of an emergency. Books that are great for us in the Pacific Northwest are snowshoe routes of Washington and Oregon that specifically lay out the best routes to go, when, and far they are. It also prepares you for what is ahead and what you can expect in terms of physical exercise. When starting out or a lack of knowledge about the backcountry the best plans are to stick to the routes or tracks that have already been laid out. This way if you notify someone of the area and route it makes emergency services reaching you a lot more possible.
7) Make sure to prepare camera equipment for winter. For some people this might seem foreign but the winter weather can really take a toll on your camera and cease the camera from working; I would sure hate to hike all the way in the snow to find out my camera was not working. So what can you do to prepare for this; bring a couple extra batteries, leave a set of batteries in your pocket that stay warm, bring a Ziploc bag to prevent condensation in the camera when taking it from hot to cold environments or vice versa. Another thing to be aware of is the tripod and protecting your hands from colder temperatures; these temperatures can cause your hand to stick to the tripod along the metal outer parts if not insulated. Lastly, bring snow baskets for your tripod to avoid your tripod sinking into the snow.
8) Allow more time that you think to plan for your route; especially if you are trying to make it somewhere for sunrise or sunset. Preparing to photograph in winter takes a lot more time then in other seasons so factor this in to your allotted time.
9) Dress in layers! When exercising in the snow all the clothing one wears can become awfully hot fast causing a lot of sweat that later turns to cold dampness when idle and photographing. It is important that you can shed layers easily and quickly when needed during the physical portion of winter photography. I also look for clothes that are dry-wick and light; I want to have these clothes easily accessible when taking them off and on.
10) Have fun with the outing and don’t get to dependent on getting to the destination but enjoy the journey!