In recent years it’s as if Mother Nature has put the weather in charge of protesting against us humans polluting ways. Tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes, typhoons, tornadoes and out-of-control raging forest fires seem to make news on a much too regular basis, and often with tragic and devastating results.
However, when I say extreme weather conditions it doesn’t have to be that extreme. And it’s not that I want to put a dark and gloomy spin on this article, but I just thought I would open up with the above observation. We can all help treating Mother Nature better. You could start by hosting your blog or website with Super Green Hosting.
Ok, ok, let’s get on with the actual article.
Shooting in extreme weather conditions can be a lot of fun and it can yield dramatic photographs, but when the weather turns ‘bad’ most of us tend to stay indoors. But, hey, there is no such thing as bad weather, is there?
“Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating; there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.”
- John Ruskin
If you’re into nature and landscape photography this is the mentality you have to adapt, because braving the elements increases your chances of capturing spectacular images that not many other people will capture.
But whatever you do, just always remember this rule of thumb:
Photographing in extreme conditions means taking extreme precautions!
Not only can you put yourself in danger (priority #01), but your expensive equipment can also be destroyed in one quick moment (priority #02), so you need to protect yourself and your camera.
Famous war photographer Robert Capa once said “if your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough.” Sure, this can often be the case, but in extreme weather please use your common sense before you get too close!
Please be careful.
There are generally four elements that you can face when it comes to extreme weather conditions; Cold, Heat, Water and Wind.
Here are 17 tips on how to prepare and deal with each of these four weather conditions.
TIP #01: ALL CONDITIONS – Always carry a camera
It doesn’t matter if it’s a SLR, a little compact camera or even a decent mobile phone camera. What’s important is that you have a camera with you so you can capture the moment as it happens. No capture device, no images. Simple!
But also don’t forget to have your camera ready to shoot. If there is only 10% battery life left, it will run out just as the moment climaxes. Check that your memory card is in the camera, and make sure it has room for at least 30-40 images or you will run out of space just as the moment happens. As photographers we are all too familiar with Murphy’s Law, so be prepared.
Being ready to shoot also means having your ready to shoot on your most common settings as soon as you turn it on — this means turning the flash off, setting the optimum ISO and, if possible, choosing your exposure accordingly. If you change your settings for a specific image, change them back to your most used settings when you’re done.
TIP #02: ALL CONDITIONS – Research the weather
If you plan to shoot in extreme weather, you can learn a lot about different weather conditions by researching different weather phenomena on the internet.
Obviously the weather forecast is essential for you to be in the right place, at the right time. There are a lot of different services available online and you may already have your own favourite, but www.wunderground.com is one site that offers global weather forecasts in great detail.
TIP #03: ALL CONDITIONS – Shoot fast
While it might not always be the case, you’ll often have to react really fast when ti comes to photographing in extreme weather.
Additionally, you will probably not want to expose yourself and your equipment to the conditions for too long at a time.
So you often need to work fast which means you might want to set your camera to aperture priority or shutter priority and let the camera do the math. There is rarely time to mess around in manual mode in extreme weather. This is especially true if you’re likely to point your camera in different directions where the light may vary.
You will probably also want to set your camera to continuous shooting mode, allowing you to shoot a burst of several images in just one second. If you plan to do a lot of extreme weather photography, it’s worth checking out the burst rate on your camera, so you what you can get.
TIP #04: COLD – Keep it warm
Yeah, yeah, I know, it sounds pretty obvious, but so much of the time we underestimate the temperature, so make sure first and foremost to keep yourself warm, but also your equipment. Keep an extra thermal top in your backpack and find a set of warm gloves that still lets you handle your camera controls with ease.
While most of today’s digital SLR cameras perform pretty well in the cold, you may some cameras playing up in sub-zero temperatures. Shutters can lock up and diaphragms can become inoperative. So when you’re not working with your camera, put it close to your body or wrap it up in that spare thermal top you put in your bag after reading the first paragraph!
TIP #05: COLD – Keep batteries and media cards warm
If you’re shooting with a digital camera cold conditions sap batteries of their power. Keep your spare batteries in an inside pocket of your jacket as close to your body as possible.
If you’re shooting digitally in the cold, spare batteries are not something you should think twice about, they are a necessity!
For the best care it’s also a good idea to keep your media cards close to your body in cold conditions.
TIP #06: COLD – Wrap your tripod legs
If you’re carrying a tripod for lengthy periods in the extreme cold it’s a very good idea to wrap your tripod legs with foam pipe insulation material which you can get from most good hardware stores along with some duct or gaffer’s tape.
If you’re not a DIY person you can splash out on some professional tripod leg protectors.
TIP #07: HEAT – Bring enough water
Yeah, yeah, I know, another obvious one, but I have suffered dehydration here in Australia once after being out in the midday summer sun for just a couple of hours, simply because I hadn’t had much to eat or drink before I went out. It took me several hours to recover from the headache and nausea that ensued. So don’t take this one lightly. Water is a life saver!
It is very easy to get distracted by what you are shooting and get dehydrated or even worse suffer a heat stroke, so bring enough water with you when set out to photograph in high temperatures.
TIP #08: HEAT – Wear loose fitting clothing
Wear light-coloured, loose fitting clothing. It will keep you cooler by reflecting the sunlight.
Allright folks, this is a long article, it’s time for an ad break, I’m sorry. Don’t go anywhere, we’ll be right back!
TIP #09: HEAT – Wear a hat, the right hat.
A hat will also help to keep you cool. Choose a hat with at decent sized brim – say a least a 3-inch (8cm) – all around. Baseball caps leave the ears and neck exposed to potential sunburns. Also make sure the hat is vented, so that the heat from your head can escape and your head can ‘breathe’. This will also help minimize the perspiration that runs off your face and drips off your chin onto your LCD screen!
TIP #10: HEAT – Consider a small lunch cooler as your camera bag
Sometimes the heat can also lead to battery problems, although it is more likely to have an effect on film or media cards. Consider an alternative to a traditional camera bag in extreme heat considers. A small lunch cooler (or an ‘esky’ as we call them here in Australia) , lightweight and insulated could be a sensible choice. If you choose to use a cold pack, go ahead and put it in its own tightly sealed plastic bag just be extra safe that no moisture leaks out where you don’t want it.
TIP #11: WATER – Cover up your camera
Moisture (snow as well as rain) is the biggest enemy of your equipment. If you go out to shoot in wet conditions bring a large zip lock bag with you. You can use it to place over your camera and cut a hole where the lens is, and then simply use a rubber band to secure the bag to the barrel of the lens.
If you have a separate lens hood, screw it into the front of the lens. If not, even a skylight filter will offer some protection. If you have both, use them! Personally, I keep a Hoya Ultraviolet Pro 1 Digital Multi-Coated Glass Filter on each of my lenses to protect the front of the lens. These are fairly expensive filters, but there is just no sense in spending thousands of dollars on a high quality lens only to put a cheap, poor quality filter on it. Don’t save on your filters!
TIP# 12: WATER – Wear a Shutter Hat
If you want a slightly more sophisticated version of the zip lock bag suggested in Tip #11 then the Shutter Hat is what you should be wearing, or rather what your camera should be wearing. The Shutter Hat is claimed to be the most stable, no fuss, light weight, compact camera cover on the market today. Check it out.
TIP #13: WIND – Protect your lenses with filters
Just as with water you will want to protect your lenses if you are out shooting in strong wind, although I would really recommend to protect your lenses regardless of weather conditions, but strong winds can carry all sorts of small debris which can easily cause small scratches to the front of your lens if you don’t protect it. So cover you lens with a skylight filter or the Hoya Ultraviolet Pro 1 Digital Multi-Coated Glass Filter which I use on each of my lenses to protect the front element of the lens.
TIP #14 WIND – Seal your camera
If you’re out shooting in very windy conditions on or near the beach or in any other sandy or dusty areas, you may want to consider taping up all seals on your camera to avoid sand or dust finding its way inside your camera which can spell potential disaster. However if you’re shooting with one of the high-end prosumer cameras or perhaps even one of the pro DSLR cameras, well then these models are most likely already sufficiently weather sealed by the manufacturer for you not to worry about this point.
TIP #15 WIND – Weigh down your tripod
If you’re landscape photographer shooting in the wind, you’re highly exposed to camera shake in your exposures. If depth of field is critical and your shutter speed is too low to hand hold the camera, then weigh down your tripod with bean bags, your camera bag or – if you want to be really sophisticated – bring a piece of string with you and tie a heavy stone onto it to weigh down your tripod with it.
TIP #16 WIND – Shoot hand held
Drop the tripod and go with the flow and simply shoot hand held when you’re out in windy conditions. Adjust your ISO setting to a higher speed and shoot hand held at a shutter speed you’re comfortable with when you don’t have your three legs with you. In my experience this will often work out a lot better than trying your luck with a tripod in extreme winds. And keep in mind that many of the recent DSLR camera models (2009 and newer) display very little noise problems even at high ISO settings like 400 or 800.
TIP #17 OTHER CONDITIONS – Lightning
Photographing lightning strikes is not without risk. In fact you’re at considerable more risk than the average person when you’re standing next to a metal tripod, cable release in hand, trying to get that magnificent lightning bolt that sets the entire sky on fire. I read somewhere that storm chaser Jim Reed is experimenting with a wooden tripod for his lightning photography! Hmm, he is also very extreme.
Anyway, the bottom line here is that you need to inform yourself about the safety precautions when photographing lightning strikes. Here are a few safety tips:
- Avoid water.
- Avoid the high ground.
- Avoid open spaces.
- Avoid all metal objects including electric wires, fences, machinery, motors, power tools, etc. (and be aware of the risk using a tripod!)
- Unsafe places include underneath canopies, small picnic or rain shelters, or near trees. If you get completely caught out and lightning is striking really nearby when you are outside, you should crouch down, put your feet together and place your hands over ears to minimize hearing damage from thunder and avoid proximity (minimum of 15 ft.) to other people.
Getting caught out in the middle of a lightning strike has happened to me once in the Blue Mountains near the Three Sisters a few years ago. A group of people further down the walking track we were on got swept right off their feet while standing on a metal viewing platform. They came walking back up in a complete daze. When you’re this close, it’s pretty scary stuff and you realize you’re in Mother Nature’s hands.
If you have your car nearby get in your car (most of these things have rubber tires) and shoot the lightning storm from inside the comfort of your vehicle while you enjoy a cuppa from the thermos.
It’s not really within the scope of this article to provide you with tips on how to shoot lightning (it’s a pretty fine art in itself and there are plenty of good articles on the subject out there), but here are a few quick tips:
- Use a long shutter speed, say 30 seconds or even the bulb (B) setting if you have a way of keeping your shutter open (most modern cable releases can do this).
- Point your camera towards the sky where the action is and include only just a sliver of ground as the ground is likely to go completely black (unless you have a nice skyline in front of you).
- While lightning strikes are, well striking (sorry, couldn’t help myself there), you will often still need some sort of foreground interest to balance your composition in order to create a good photograph. An image of lightning bolts isolated against a sky with no foreground interest rarely holds the viewers attention for long. Find one and look at it. They get boring really quickly.
- Switch to manual focus. Since you are shooting in relative darkness your camera is likely to ‘hunt’ around for something to focus on if you’re on auto focus.
- Patience is your best friend you when it comes to lightning strikes, so make (or bring) yourself a nice cup of coffee, wait, shoot and enjoy the show.
And that concludes the 17 Tips When Photographing in Extreme Weather Conditions!
If you made it this far I sincerely thank you for hanging in there with me. I hope you enjoyed the information as much as I enjoyed researching and writing it.
Now, it’s time go out there and get some shots.
P.S. I wasn’t kidding, go and check out that Shutter Hat