Winter Photography Tips

Each photographer has his/her own shooting criteria but in general I would emphasize on the following points specifically in winter mountaineering.


Safety first!

  • The great outdoors and especially the mountains are outstanding fields and climbing them poses many objective and subjective risks. Key priority is our physical integrity and photography comes at second place. It is better that you keep safe and miss a specific shot than visa versa…
  • Always wear proper sunglasses or goggles to cope the intense solar radiation. At high altitudes just a few minutes can be enough to temporarily blind you. Choose minimum grade 3 or preferably grade 4 (more dark).
  • The camera neck strap is not always enough to obviate the camera from falling off on the snow or down the cliffs. A small carabiner can give that extra safety attached e.g. on a rugsack loop.

 

Some practical advice…

  • The accessibility of the camera is important for photo shooting. A camera stored somewhere in the backpack usually means very few photos at the end of the day, if any at all. Personally I prefer to carry my DSLR in front of my chest.
  • A small, waterproof and sturdy action camera is always helpful, especially in difficult situations where the handling of a bulky DSLR can be extremely difficult or infringes the “safety first” rule.
  • UV filters, beside from protection of intense radiation due to high altitude, also provide physical protection of the lens from any possible knocks on rocks or other hard and sharp objects. Lens hoods are also useful not only for shading off light rays but can also further protect the lens from physical hits, exactly as car bumpers, and even more prevent any droplets or snowflakes to land in front of the lens. Lens caps usually stay at home since they are often lost in the mountains.
  • The straps of DSLR cameras have a main advantage over the quick-release bases, that you can let the camera fall directly from your hands in case of emergency – safety first… – or if you accidentally drop it from your hands.
  • If there is no time for accurate framing, broaden the perspective a bit more and then correct at post editing by cropping and tilting. Quite few alpine and action photos, especially those on slopes, are oblique without realizing it on-site.

 

Confront the cold – both you and your DSLR!

  • Appropriate clothing is important, especially warm gloves otherwise bare fingers are completely exposed and unprotected on a cold DSLR and the elements. Specifically in cases of pitched or night shooting clothing has a vital role for the photographer sitting mostly motionless in the cold.
  • Battery performance plummets when frozen so always have at least 1-2 spare ones, preferably stored in a pocket close to your torso to keep them warm. Put them in a small and simple plastic bag to prevail any body humidity to moist them. Same protection applies for the memory cards. External battery grips are not suitable due to weight and volume but even more due to more battery exposed to the cold rather stored next to your body.
  • In sudden temperature alternations from cold to warm environment, e.g. entering a warm mountain refuge during winter, liquefaction forms on the cold camera – and even inside it when frozen, so enclosing it in a simple plastic bag for 10-15’ will resolve the problem. Heat exchange will be rapid, since there is no thermal insulation, and all moist will form only on the outside of the plastic bag.
  • Do not breathe near the viewfinder, the lens or even worse to the sensor (during lens change or cleaning), as the respiration moisture will freeze instantly on these surfaces, along with any dust.
  • A simple UV filter will again be salutary, not only for the above mentioned benefits, but also if water vapor forms in front of the lens. Simply remove the filter, take the photo and screw on the filter again, as if it was a protective lens cap. If there is no filter at all, vapor will form just inside the outer crystal of the lens, preventing you to take any photos until it is naturally evaporated under certain conditions.
  • In snow conditions were sunlight can be intense, the automatic exposure does not always work properly. The strong glare ‘confuses’ most DSLRs. A simple solution is to set +1 EV stop in the integrated light metering of DSLR or switch to “snow-beach mode” on smaller compact cameras.

 

Take care and enjoy the winter outdoors!

/ Elias

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