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Let The Weather Affect Your Photography!

Well, it's that time of year again. I've just come back from the last of my fall tours. I'm satisfied, tired, and mentally taxed. I've had another successful tour season with great folks, and tremendous photographic opportunities. Wow! What's left, I mean the leaves have fallen, the wind is blowing cold air, and all that's worth shooting is gone until spring right? Wrong! 

Ice Storm 98' Vermont

Will I photograph as much as did during warm weather? No, I probably won't, but I won't pack the camera away either. While I tend to slow down photographically around the holidays as most of us do, I still look for opportunities to shoot. I know that after the first chill or so, my body will begin to get used to the change in the weather.

I hear pretty much the same from folks throughout the year when weather conditions are less than ideal: "It's raining, now what?" "The snow is pretty, but we'll have to wait until it stops." "It's so foggy you can't see a thing." "I'm cold!"

Bull Moose, Maine -10

There is no doubt the weather can throw us a few curves from time to time. 100 heat, an all-day downpour, or a heavy snow storm may end your shooting plans for the day, and I certainly wouldn't blame anyone for staying tucked under the covers of a comfortable bed.

You can stay in bed if you choose, but not me! I've discovered that the rest of the time, those drizzly days, those cold days, those foggy days, those snowy days have all brought me some of my most exciting photographic experiences. As I've mentioned in past articles, effort plays an important part in the process and in letting the weather affect your photography.

Here are a few things I do to keep me going when the weather is less than ideal. 

Shower Caps: Have you ever heard of people who take towels from hotel rooms? How about ashtrays? Maybe shampoo? It's free anyway, right? But shower caps? Yes, I know, this guy is strange! I have shown more workshop participants the value of something as simple as a shower cap to quickly cover your camera and lens when it starts to rain or when it's drizzling. By the way, you can buy the ones the beauty salons use. I paid $3.50 for 50 of them at the place where I go. They are even a little bigger.

Plastic Bags: I usually keep a couple of 30 gallon plastic bags folded up in my photo vest so that if is starts to rain hard, I can quickly cover my entire camera, lens and most of my tripod and make a made dash for the van if I want to. I also use the plastic bags to kneel on when the ground is wet, snowy or sandy.

Spring Rain Acadia

Umbrella: Besides having someone hold an umbrella for you, or trying to hold one in one hand while trying to photograph with the other (a near impossibility), I recommend mounting an umbrella to your tripod. There are probably as many ways to mount an umbrella to your tripod as there are reasons to stay inside when it rains. You may have a method that works better.

In a pinch, I have stopped in a nearby pharmacy or department store and purchased small beach umbrellas for about $3.00. They are the ones with a 'C' clamp that you can attach directly to the tripod leg. Don't expect them to come with a lifetime warranty. They will get the job done, but they are cheap.

I've been working on a few other ideas as well. One is by using a golf cart umbrella holder and a golf umbrella. I strip the hardware off the umbrella holder and use a sturdy plastic tie strap to secure it to the leg of my tripod, then put the umbrella in the holder the way you normally would. It is actually very sturdy, although I wouldn't use it in a strong wind.

Lupine Leaf Close-up in Rain

The second idea is to purchase an inexpensive clamp and umbrella system that folks use on those folding chairs at soccer games, and modify it the same way using tie straps. It's smaller and more compact, but works pretty well too. You can usually get the tie straps at any local hardware store.

More Protection: I will also screw a UV filter on the end of the lens just to protect the lens from moisture. A dry cloth towel can be used to wipe down your equipment after shooting.

Keeping Yourself Dry: It goes without saying that a lightweight pair of water-resistant hiking boots, is important to keep your feet dry. A raincoat or rain gear that is both lightweight and comfortable will also be important. Something that keeps the moisture away from your body will keep you comfortable.

I recently broke down and bought a pair of L.L. Bean Outdoor pants -- the kind that un-zip above the knees to make shorts. They have a moisture control system, and are made of 100% Cordura. Being cheap at times (they cost $79 dollars), and not realizing the value of investing in quality outdoor wear, it has opened my eyes to a whole new meaning of comfort (Pam and I now own three pair each). I have worn these pants out west in 95 temperatures, and in the rain photographing here in New England, and I have to say they are nothing short of amazing. Pam and I will finish photographing in the rain, get back in the van, and within ten to fifteen minutes be totally dry.

Cold Weather Suggestions: Most cameras made today are well equipped to handle the kind of winter shooting that I'm talking about here, and they don't need to be winterized the way the old cameras did. However, a fresh set of batteries in a warm pocket is definitely a good idea.

Invest in good quality thermal underwear that allows your body to breath and keep excess moisture away. Another good cold weather idea is to wear layered clothing, warm gloves, and some sort of head and face covering to help retain your body heat.

The inexpensive air activated hand warmers used by hunters and ice fisherman can be a lifesaver. These warmers insert into your gloves or socks, cost about a dollar, are environmentally safe and last well over seven hours in the cold. Please read the precautions on the back of the package, especially if you have sensitive skin.

Don't overlook one other very important tool for successful cold weather photography: your car, or more precisely, your car's heater. If you are not equipped for an arctic expedition, why not find locations that allow easy access from your car.

Remember this important tip: "You can take a warm camera out in cold weather, but you can't take a cold camera suddenly into a warm environment." Condensation becomes an issue if you go from the outside cold into a warm house, or from an air-conditioned car out into the heat of a summer day. You can use a large gallon-size zip-lock plastic bag (or similar) when going from the cold into the heat (from outside, into the house), as condensation will form on the bag and not the camera.

The great thing about using your car during these types of situations is that your car acts as a "decompression chamber" of sorts. When you're outside photographing, your car is cooling down. When you return to the car and start it, it warms up gradually, thus eliminating condensation. To avoid condensation in summer, I would use the air-conditioning sparingly. When you're near your shooting location, open the windows, and let the car gradually warm up, this too will help avoid condensation.

Sheep in Spring Snow

With all that said, and most of our objections handled, let's get outside. I have found over the years just how rewarding it can be to photograph when the weather is what we think is less than ideal. 

When I put forth the effort to shoot in these kinds of conditions, I have come back with some of my most treasured images.

Take a look at the images I've included in this article and see if you don't agree. Better yet, why not let the Weather Affect Your Own Photography! 


North Carolina Spring Runoff

Rain saturates everything adding richness to the colors and interest to your subject.

Acadia Spring Snow

Snowy conditions add drama and a sense that you are in some way experiencing the vast wilderness. 

Maine Coast

Fog adds mystery, a sense of wonder, an ethereal, almost ghostly quality.

Moosehead Lake Maine, -10
Grand Teton National Park, 15
Mt. Washington New Hampshire, Sunrise 5

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