Some people say that photographers don’t have enough sense to come in out of the rain. Little do they realize that rain is often the least of our worries. We often expose ourselves to weather extremes – heat, cold and unpredictable storms to name a few – in search of that perfect picture.
Fortunately, there are some commonsense guidelines that – if followed – will help keep you safe even in the most extreme of weather circumstances.
Who has not dreamed of capturing penguins in the Antarctic, polar bears in the Arctic, or the dramatic Northern Lights that seem to only appear in the coldest parts of the world? The key to successful shooting in extreme cold is to dress appropriately and protect your gear.
Dress in layers-Making sure you are dressed correctly will help protect you in even the most severe cold. Layers make it possible to trap and keep warmth close to the body allowing you to comfortably stay out in the cold longer. A base layer of light, breathable moisture wicking cloth next to the body. Synthetic thermal undergarments are the best while cotton is the worst. Add an insulating layer or two of wool, polyester or fleece to help trap the warmth. And finally add a wind and waterproof outer layer to protect from the elements.
Hats and gloves are a must for shooting in extreme cold. A good investment are fingerless mittens that allow you to operate your camera equipment without exposing your hands with a pair of warm outer mittens you can quickly put on when needed.
Keep feet warm and dry by layering wicking inner socks with one or more pairs of warm woolen ones inside water resistant boots. Disposable hand and foot warmers are a great addition when the temperatures are especially low.
Protect your camera gear– Rain covers for the camera body and hoods for the lenses will keep falling snow, ice and rain from hitting your gear. Some people like to use a clear UV filter, which is easy to wipe dry without worrying about harming the expensive glass, but you need to be aware that this will cut down on your available light and may affect the quality of your shots.
Batteries lose their power quickly in cold environments. A handy trick is to use disposable hand warmers attached with a rubber band around the battery compartment to help keep them charged longer. Keep extra batteries in your inner pockets next to the warmth of your body to keep them from draining too quickly. “Dead” batteries can sometimes find new life if they are warmed up again, so keep your used ones close to you in case you need that extra power.
And finally, have a plan for when the cold gets too much. Having access to a car or shelter to warm up – if even for a few minutes – can keep you and your gear safe and shooting for hours on end.
Preparing yourself for extreme heat – such as shooting in the desert or tropical environs – takes a bit of planning as well. Again, attention should be give to both dress and equipment.
Dress for the Heat-Opt for lightweight, light colored loose fitting clothing. The goal is to cover as much skin as possible to protect from the suns damaging waves. Wearing long pant and long sleeves with UVA/UVB protection if you will be exposed to the direct sunlight for extended periods. Use a well-vented, wide brim hat to protect your face, neck, head and ears from the sun. Add a good pair of sunglasses to complete your protection.
Camera equipment protection– Humidity will cause extreme condensation on your lenses and camera bodies when traveling in and out of air conditioning in tropical conditions. Placing your camera in airtight bags and allowing the camera body and lens to adjust to outside temperature before removing from bag will minimize fogging. Use moisture absorbing desiccant packs inside camera bags if you are going to be exposing your equipment to humidity for extended periods.
Keep unused equipment in airtight plastic bags. Try keeping you kit out of harsh sunlight when not shooting, and NEVER leave your gear inside a car or trunk. Temperatures can reach damage causing levels quickly in hot environments.
And probably the most important consideration when working in extreme heat is to stay hydrated – drink lots of liquid but avoid caffeine, alcohol and sugary drinks. Seek out shade as much as possible, and try restricting movement to the bare minimum during the most intense periods of the day. A good sunscreen on any exposed areas will help to further protect from sun damage.
Enemy number one for DSLR sensors is dirt and sand. While precautions should be taken in any outside environment to avoid contaminating your camera body, shooting in a desert or a beach requires extra consideration.
NEVER change lenses in a dusty or sandy environment. If you think your will want to use more than one lens during your shoot have an extra camera body of each one. If you find yourself in situation where you must change lenses, do so completely within an airtight bag to simulate a clean environment.
Fine sand and dirt can infiltrate even the tightest of seals. In extreme situations it is wise to keep your camera in an airtight container at all times. Underwater casings can be used for this, or you can fashion a casing yourself using zip-type plastic bags.
The next time you find yourself called by the lure of that perfect picture –be ready no matter what Mother Nature may try to throw at you by being prepared to protect yourself and your gear.