If you’re like most photographers, you probably pack up your camera equipment once the snow starts flying. Sure, you’ll drag it out for the holidays, but for the most part it sits on shelf looking more like a knick-knack than a high tech piece of photographic equipment.
Well, no more!
Some of my best images are taken when there’s snow on the ground. There’s nothing like going out of your cozy house in sub-zero weather, the wind ferociously ripping through your coat, ice pellets stinging your eyes, your boots filling with snow as you struggle through a gigantic drift, oh wait—I mean there’s nothing like walking though the park on a beautiful winter’s day, yeah, that’s it!
So, grab your jacket and remember the following tips:
1. Watch For Underexposure — Camera meters are not perfect, and as a general rule they tend to underexpose scenes with a lot of white in them. So, when you’re out taking photos in the snow, kind of keep that little tidbit in the back of your head. If you think the snow in your photos is looking more gray than white, use exposure compensation to add some light. Here’s more:
2. Keep Extra Batteries Handy — Cold weather sucks the life out of batteries like a thirsty vampire. If you shoot in the cold, be sure to take extra batteries. You’ll be surprised how fast they can go.
Also be sure to keep those extra batteries in a warm pocket—they’ll last longer once you put them in your camera. Oh, and when you switch from the currently dead batteries to the new ones, try warming up the old batteries—sometimes you can put them back in the camera and rip off a couple more shots once they’ve regained their heat.
Another important thing: try to keep any batteries in your pocket away from keys, spare change, and other metal stuff like that. I know from painful experience that if they short out, they can heat up in a hurry.
3. Watch Your Breath — No, I’m not advocating carrying a box of Tic-Tacs with you (although I’ll bum one off ya if I hear that box a rattlin’).
Nope, I’m taking about keeping your moist breath away from viewfinders and lenses. It’s incredibly easy to fog these things in the cold and once you do it takes a surprisingly long time for them to “defog”. And wiping off the now half-frozen mist sometimes just makes matters worse.
4. Keep Stuff Dry — I’m always surprised how wet all my equipment seems to get in the winter. Snow turns into water as soon as it warms up, ya know? That, and whenever I take the camera out, seems like the tree above me decides to lighten the load of snow on its branches. Down the neck and on the equipment with more precision that a smart missile.
My advice? Keep an old rag with you and be prepared to use it. If you get snow / water onto your equipment, gently brush it off as quickly as possible.
5. Careful Where You Step — Know what I hate? Finding out that I just traipsed across what would have been the perfect composition for a pure, untouched snow scene.
If you’re coming upon a spot you think would make a great photo, don’t go walking all over it before you shoot. Trust me, Photoshopping the footprints out later is not nearly as fun as it may sound.
6. Dress Properly — No, I’m not going to give the that stupid “dress in layers” speech you’ve probably heard on TV every time the weatherman notices the temperature is dropping. Nope, you already know how to dress warm, so I don’t think you need me to preach it to you again.
However, I do want you to consider two things specifically for photography—gloves and handwarmers.
First, get a set of those gloves with the tips of the fingers cut off. Camera buttons are made for the tips of fingers, and gloves are way too clumsy. With just the tips of your fingers poking out, you’ll be able to make all the adjustments, and still keep most of your hand warm. I also carry a set of mittens or gloves with the fingers intact for when I’m not using the camera.
Next, I’d recommend getting some handwarmers. These are fantastic if you’re using the aforementioned fingerless gloves and need a quick warm up. I suggest doing it before the tips of your fingers turn that nasty bluish-black color, but to each his own.
Well, that about covers it. After all this talk of winter photography, I think I’ll go check the weather and see if it’s going to snow anytime soon. Maybe stop off for a bit of hot chocolate too…