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Top Cold Weather Photography Tips - John Gravett shares his top tips on how photographers can take photos and survive the cold weather.
Although we're currently in the mildest start to Winter I can remember, it won't be long before the temperatures drop and we're venturing out over the Christmas break with cold weather photography in mind.
Here's a few ideas how to prepare yourself – and your camera equipment – to ensure you get the most out of your cold-weather photography.
Photo by Peter Bargh.
Dress wellRemember, when you're out walking, activity generates a good deal of warmth, so a 6-mile walk in cold weather may only need moderately warm clothing. Photography, on the other hand, often means hanging around waiting for the light, composing pictures etc., and this lack of activity can mean you get colder more quickly, so it's really important to dress well for the conditions.
Layering is importantA few layers of thinner clothing will trap more heat than a single, thick coat, and looser clothing will trap more warm air then a load of tight layers. I start with a base layer, designed to wick-away moisture from the body, add a second layer – polo-necked shirt or similar – keeping the neck warm stops draughts! - a fleece layer on top of that, and a windproof / weatherproof layer on top of it all. If the weather is extremely cold, I might add a thin microfleece between the second layer and the fleece layer, or may just substitute the microfleece for the second layer. I usually wear a Buff round my neck, which can be pulled up over my face if it gets really cold.
Thermal leggings are a must, a second insulated layer and waterproof overtrousers are a good idea, or a single insulated waterproof outer trouser can be substituted.
It is really important that your outer layers are breathable, otherwise moisture will condense inside your clothing and you'll get very cold quickly.
Hats and socksDon't forget your extremities either, a fleece hat or similar – especially if it can cover your ears - will work wonders, and although gloves seem awkward when using cameras, it is important to keep your hands warm somehow. Either fingerless gloves, or those with a flap that can be pulled over your fingers – (mitten style) can be good, but remember, fleece or wool gloves will get saturated and cold if it's wet. So waterproof gloves are also worth considering. A few years ago I picked up a pair of hunting gloves – with an opening on the thumb and forefinger of the right hand – ideal for using the thumbwheel and shutter release of a camera!
Good walking socks, with a thin lining sock will help keep your feet warm, and if you have room in your boots, a pair of Alpaca insoles will keep your toes toasty-warm. Boots are generally preferable to Wellies as they are better lined against the cold, although neoprene-lined wellies are better than ordinary ones for keeping feet warm and dry if you're wading through water.
Don't go hungryIf you're planning to be out for a few hours, leave room in your camera bag for some food and drink. Hunger is the best way to get cold, so take some high-energy foods, a good sandwich, cereal bars, fruit (bananas release energy quickly), Kendal mint cake and even chocolate won't do you any harm either. If you have room for a small flask, either soup or I often take a lemon & ginger tea – the ginger kick is really warming. I strap a sit-mat on the outside of my bag – it's great to have a dry seat – or even kneeling pad – at times, there's no fun in a wet bum!
Tell people where you're goingIf you're venturing into the hills at all – make sure you let people know where you're going, and what time you intend to be back. Preferably don't go alone, it's much better if two or more are travelling together – don't be too optimistic on your return time, as you can get caught up with “the light” all too easily, but similarly, you need to have an agreed time when if you're not back – you might need help. Take your phone with you as well – although don't rely on it too much – there are vast areas of countryside with no signal, but if you are delayed for some reason, at least you can let your contact know you're OK as soon as you get a signal.
Take a survival blanket – it takes up no space, but really can save your life in an emergency. Make sure you know where you're going and take a head-torch or at least an LED torch – certainly as far north as the Lakes, it gets dark really early and it's so easy to get caught out, something as simple as a head torch lights up the way back to you car easily.
Finally on to cameras!
If you're taking your cameras from a warm room into very cold conditions, they can suffer from condensation within the lens – which in cold weather can take time to clear, although you'll probably get worse condensation when you return your cold cameras into your warm house. To avoid condensation, put the camera into a plastic bag before you subject it to the extremes of temperature, and leave it in there until it reached the correct ambient temperature.
TripodsAluminium tripods are very cold to the touch in the winter, many now come with leg-covers fitted, if yours doesn't, pipe insulation makes a very effective, if less attractive alternative, and is comfortable to hold. Carbon-fibre tripods don't conduct the cold nearly as much, so tend to be warmer to the touch. But do beware – carbon fibre at temperatures below -30ºC (not common in the UK – but if you're travelling to the Arctic!) can shatter if knocked. I've never photographed in this temperature, so I have no personal experience.
If you're taking pictures without a tripod, as the lighting levels towards the end of the day start to drop, and especially if you're feeling cold, increase your ISO, to keep your shutter speeds reasonably high – there's no point in taking noise free, low ISO pictures if the combination of low light levels and you shivering in the cold is creating camera shake – much better to ensure a higher shutter speed and a sharp picture.
So wrap up, keep warm, plan a little ahead and make the most of the short, but wonderfully cold days.
Article by John Gravett of Lakeland Photographic Holidays - www.lakelandphotohols.com
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