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Severe cold weather photography - Mountaineer, diver, photographer, lecturer and author, Jack Jackson shares his wealth of experiences in this extreme weather photography guide
|Author Jack Jackson
Much is written in magazines about cold weather photography but the advice is often inaccurate, given by journalists or photographers who have never really experienced really cold conditions! Here Jack Jackson offers advice from real world experience.
Simple point and shoot cameras and cheaper SLR cameras will be unreliable in really cold conditions and due to the reduced performance of batteries it is best to use mechanical cameras rather than electronic ones. Modern cameras do not require winterization with thinner lubricants for cold conditions but do get them serviced before you go.
Where batteries are used, Silver Oxide is best where button cells are required and Nickel Cadmium or Lithium batteries are best for heavier use, always carry several extra spares, kept in a warm pocket.
Modern electronics or LED displays often fail until the camera warms up again, then you may have to remove batteries from the camera and then replace them again to reset the electronics.
Many quality camera manufacturers supply remote pocketable battery packs with fragile connecting wires to the camera. These are fine in the rare situations where you can use a tripod but are useless in active situations, if you must use them, tape them to your arm inside the sleeve on the hand that always supports the camera.
At temperatures below zero Celsius, avoid touching metal camera parts with bare skin, it can stick to the metal and be torn off, be especially careful of your face. Some photographers' place stick-on tape over the metal parts that may come into contact with their faces.
Wear silk or nylon inner-gloves inside your main gloves for use when handling cameras. Keep your main gloves attached by tape around your neck to avoid losing them while handling the cameras or to hungry sledge dogs.
Do not keep cameras under your coat when they are likely to be needed for use. If you do, when you bring a camera out, perspiration from your body will freeze on the lens and viewfinder making them unusable. Even if kept in a waterproof bag under the coat, the camera will be considerably warmer than the surrounding air so unless the humidity is zero there will be problems with condensation. Unseen condensation inside the camera can also freeze on the shutter gearing, giving slower than chosen shutter speeds or jamming it partially open.
Hold your breath when holding the camera to your eye, exhaled breath can freeze over the eyepiece.
Most exposure meters give incorrect readings on snow, particularly if you want the correct exposure for any people in the scene, in this situation either use an incident light meter or take a close reading from near-grey coloured clothing. If this is not possible, overexpose readings taken from the snow. For faces, use a spot-meter reading directly from the face.
Pure snow and ice scenes are best photographed with side lighting and slightly underexposed. Snow is a good test for the quality of your skylight filter, cheaper versions produce a pink cast.
Keep a filter over the lens and have a chamois leather handy for drying the filter in snow or spray, be extra vigilant for filters, eyepieces and screws working loose and falling off.
Wind will have an extra cooling effect, to avoid both this and problems with condensation, cameras can be kept ready for use in padded camera bags or pouches. For extreme terrain and pack animals use indestructible, 'O' ring sealed plastic cases with padding.
Never enter a warmer building or a tent without first placing your camera equipment into a sealed case or polythene bag, if you do not, your equipment will soon be covered in condensation. When inside, give the equipment time to reach the new ambient temperature before taking it out to clean it or change film.
If there are rats, a common occurrence in fishing or mountain huts, shut your synchronization cables away as they like to nibble at them.
Due to having less layers of emulsion, Kodachrome film is thinner and more flexible than E6 process film and therefore less likely to tear during wind-on when cold. However, in extreme cold there is still the chance of getting streaks on the film due to the discharge of static electricity so wind and rewind film slowly, it is best not to use a motor wind.
Modern western clothing is considerably more efficient at keeping you warm than any Eskimo, animal-skin clothing. This is particularly true of footwear where double-layer, hunting boots are much cheaper than double-layer climbing boots. It is most important to have dry socks and dry inner layers for your boots, either carry spares and change them every day or dry them out by keeping them next to your body in your sleeping bag overnight. A warm four-season sleeping bag is essential, tiredness from lack of sleep is a prime cause of accidents. Do not forget to wear warm headwear, as a cold brain will imperceptibly cease to function.
ETIQUETTE Apart from asking permission before photographing local people, if you return to an Eskimo or any Third World community carrying prints of people taken on a previous visit, make sure that those shown in the pictures are still alive before passing them around. In the Third World most people die young, often from accidents.
About the author
Mountaineer, diver, photographer, lecturer and author, JACK JACKSON has travelled the remoter areas of Asia, Africa, Europe and the Far East since 1967. Regularly photographing in extreme conditions from the heat of the Sahara Desert to the cold of the Arctic and from high mountains in the Himalayas to the depths of the sea where he specializes in shark photography. Nikon Cameras (UK) staged an exhibition of his underwater photography in 1989.
Author of 14 books, Jack has won several photographic awards and two book awards. He is a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society, a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, a member of the Alpine Club, the Climbers' Club and the Scientific Exploration Society and is a consultant to the Expedition Advisory Centre.
You can see more of his work on http://www.jackjackson.co.uk - best viewed with Internet Explorer Version 4 or above.
Climbing to Camp III on the South Face of Annapurna - Nepal Nikon F, 50mm lens
Machapuchare from Advanced Base Camp on Annapurna South Face - Nepal, Nikon F, 28mm lens
Sledging against the Sun - East Greenland, Nikon F2, 24mm lens
Sledging through mountains - East Greenland, Nikon F2, 24mm lens
Sledging over sea ice - East Greenland, Nikon F2, 24mm lens
Iceberg and Dog Sledge - East Greenland, Nikon F2, 24mm lens