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Winter photos, Part 1 (11/30/2003)
By Tom Hirsch
Believe it or not, there is no such thing as bad weather. There is inappropriate clothing and poor preparation; but, photographically at least, no bad weather. Each season and every type of weather condition has something for the prepared photographer to take advantage of.

Winter is no exception. Sunlight glistening on new fallen snow can warm the heart of even the most warm-blooded homebody. Of course, you can admire the scene from your kitchen window, but why not take your camera outside and record the image so you can recall its beauty during the warm summer months. And by the way, while you're outside anyway, walk or drive around and find other scenes that are beautiful during the warmer months of the year. Chances are, they will have an added beauty in winter.

Now for the clothing part of it. Dress warmly, of course, but wear a pair of gloves that will allow you to operate the camera without too much difficulty, and put on a larger than normal jacket or parka. While not actually shooting, keep the camera warm inside the outer layer of clothing and bring it out only to take pictures. This is especially important with digital cameras. Most digitals aren't meant to be used at temperatures below freezing. Make every effort to keep your gloves dry so no snow can be transferred from the gloves to the camera. Frozen snow eventually becomes water, and that can seep into the camera and cause all kinds of problems.

Newer 35mm and APS cameras are more weather worthy than older models, but it's still a good idea to keep the camera as warm as possible. When temperatures drop below the freezing point, cold shutters can stick open or closed, resulting in over - or underexposure. Also, cold batteries lose power quite rapidly, and the battery is the heart of the camera. When it dies, the camera dies, unless you have an older, manually operated camera.

One solution is to carry a spare camera battery inside your coat, as close to your body as possible. When the battery inside the camera goes bad from the cold, interchange batteries - but do this inside a warm car or building, because cold air getting inside the camera can cause additional problems. If you're outside for a long period of time on a very cold day, you may have to switch batteries two or three times.

Then there's the image recording medium. When it gets cold, one or two things could happen to film. Cold film can get brittle. The rapid advance and rewind action of a modern camera can cause cold, brittle film to break inside the camera. Out in the field, there is no way of removing broken film from the camera without fogging the frames you have already shot.

The other problem with cold film is that the friction caused by the rapid advance or rewind can cause static electricity that can produce lightening bolt streaks on the film. These will show up on the pictures. Interesting effect, but usually undesirable. As with batteries, make every effort to change film in a warm enclosure in order to avoid the cold-film syndrome.

Aside from the fact that digital cameras themselves might malfunction in cold weather, the image recording card or disk can also be affected. Very cold temperatures can alter or destroy recorded images, so be extra careful in keeping the digital camera warm.

If flakes of snow fall on the lens or viewfinder of your camera, don't blow them off. Moisture from your breath will freeze, causing a much worse problem. If you can't flick the flakes off with something dry, leave them alone. Two or three flakes probably won't cause a perception problem, but any more than that will.

One way of avoiding many of the potential problems of winter photography is to shoot from a warm location. No, don't stay in the house - shoot from your car. You won't have the mobility of getting out and walking to the most scenic spots, but you also won't have cold film, a sticking shutter, deteriorating batteries, or the corresponding problems with a digital camera.

So much for the don'ts. Next time we will describe ways of getting winter shots that you'll be proud of, if you follow the advice given above. 

 

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