Red River Paper Blog
By Arthur H. Bleich—
The violent winter snow storms sweeping through the county are really an invitation for you to shoot some outstanding images. You need to RSVP by getting your camera and yourself outside so you don’t miss the fun.
There’s way too much emphasis on sitting by a crackling fire while the winds blow and the snow falls, but it’s no time to be a complacent couch potato, viewing re-runs of TV series you really didn’t like that much the first time around.
Get up and get going!
First off, you’re need proper clothing because, without it, you’re guaranteed to feel miserable and not capture the plethora of fantastic images that await you.
For more than a decade, Vivienne Gucwa has been roaming the streets of New York City, day and night, in wind and blizzard to capture visions of the world’s most famous city that have rarely been seen before. And I have shot thousands of images in both the North and South Polar regions as well as in the frigid flatlands of mid-America. So we’re both well seasoned at knowing how to protect ourselves when shooting in frigid weather.
Vivienne has photographed every single snowstorm in NYC as long as she can recall and is still waiting for snowfall to arrive this year (it’s been a record-breaking snowless year so far), but she’s hopeful.
“It’s my passion project and what I love the most, she says. “During the first storm I ever photographed, I nearly got frostbite. I was shooting with a broken point-and-shoot camera, covering it between shots with my useless gloves.”
But she’s come a long way since then. “My camera bodies (all Sony) do really well in snow and rain, but my lenses are not weather-sealed and I am paranoid about ruining them. So to protect them I use . . . drum-roll . . . a plastic bag! To be precise, a trash bag—the thickest I can find. I take the bag and snip one of the corners with scissors. I then put the bag over my lens with the snipped corner in the center of the lens. Then I stretch the bag over my lens so only the glass of the lens exposed.
“When the lens is covered (this bit is important!), I take the lens hood and put it on the lens with the bag stretched as already detailed. Sometimes I take a hair-tie or rubber band and put it around the lens near the body. The hood is useful protection when walking around for miles.”
She then points the camera down between shots so that blowing snow only collects on the outside of the lens hood, where it can easily be brushed off. “Since I always shoot in manual mode, and because I’m mainly shooting these photos at night, I check and adjust my settings every single block so that I don’t miss a shot. I have to shoot very, very, very quickly due to the conditions.
As for clothing, she says she wears a waterproof, insulated, down-filled, knee-length parka, and insulated, waterproof snowboard/ski pants with “waterproof snow boots that have a great grip, which is a must”
A balaclava, ski goggles and a beanie hat along with keeping her hood up and drawn to her face keeps the blowing snow away from her head. “I have giant Thinsulate gloves that I wear with thin gloves underneath so that my skin is never exposed when I mess with my manual settings.”
For inner clothing she wears thermal leggings, shirt, and socks, a breathable light layer over the thermal shirt, and breathable thermals over the leggings.
“Something I have learned,” she emphasizes, “is that breathable fabrics are essential. When you’re walking several miles, even in below in below zero temperatures, you can get hot. If you are too hot in your gear you can become dehydrated from sweating too much, and in extreme conditions this can contribute to hypothermia.”
Now you can see why most photographers don’t go out in cold weather. It’s too much a hassle! Ah, but that’s where you can create great images if you’re using the correct gear.
Now remember that Vivienne is out for hours at a time and you may be able to make do quite well with less clothing. So plan your early journeys as short ones and it will then become apparent just how much warm clothing protection you’ll need.
When I was shooting in places where minus 50 degrees F was not uncommon and where your spit could freeze before it reached the ground, I limited my outings to an hour or less before seeking shelter. My cameras were always tucked inside my parka for warmth and only emerged when I wanted to shoot. I wore thermal underwear, pants with either flannel or fleece lining and a thick wool sweater (or two).
I also wore a ski mask and the fur ruff around the parka hood cut the wind coming from either side. When walking directly into the wind, I learned to turn my head slightly to either side. Finally a pair of wool socks and thermal boots— you’d be surprised at how quickly your feet can become stone cold. I also had some some bottled water (you’re going to get thirsty and need fluids) and a few candy bars for shots of energy. I learned this breathing trick in Alaska: Place your tongue against the roof of your mouth and let inhaled air pass under it. That way your lungs don’t get stunned with cold air on each breath.
Now let’s talk cameras. Digital cameras do very well in the cold but you should also take long an extra battery and memory card. If you do change memory cards be sure to have a secure place to put the one you’ve used. With bulky pockets and stuff crammed into them, it’s really easy to lose one.
If you’re a bit squeamish about using your costly camera in bad weather, there’s an alternative. Either buy an inexpensive camera as your go-to in bad weather, or pick up a used one on the web. You’re not going to be doing a lot of adjustments in bad weather so you don’t need one with all the bells and whistles.
A digital camera’s autoexposure system is calibrated to producing correct exposures in lighting that has a range of light and dark objects. When it sees a blast of white (such as snow or sand) it will, in it’s automatic function, produce images that are usually too dark. (You can look up all the technical stuff on the web).
Therefore you should be prepared to OVER-expose your images if they begin look too dark. It’s the remedy for getting snow that’s white instead of dirty gray.
You don’t have to fiddle with manual mode to do this. There’s an exposure compensation button on your camera that allows you to set over (or under) exposure once and every image shot thereafter will be exposed that way. Set that button to +1 (in the viewfinder or the on-screen menu) and you’re good to go. Just don’t forget to reset it when your session is done.
Another method is to use bracketing if that feature is available. Set the bracket mode to shoot one image at normal (0) and two more at (+1) and (+2). Each time you press the shutter button, three differently exposed images will taken in quick sucession. You’ll use more memory, especially if you shoot in RAW mode, but bracketing should totally cover you in all situations.
Once you see the results from your first foray into bad weather photography, you’ll either be hooked or never want to do it again. But either way you’ll have some images that are knock-outs. And that’s the name of the game, isn’t it!
Excerpts above from New York In The Snow by Vivienne Gucwa © 2017, has been reprinted by permission of the publisher, ilex Press, a division of Octopus Publishing Group, Inc. The 192-page photo book s currently available from Amazon in both hardcover and ebook versions.
Check out Vivienne Gucwa’s website here.to see more of her work.
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