Weather and Nature Photography

Nature photography means going outside. If we really care about the whole range of nature and capturing that in our photographs, that means getting outside in all sorts of weather. This time of year brings on some particularly challenging weather conditions for ourselves and our gear, from rain to snow to biting cold. Seasons bring changes to the weather, and sometimes that weather can be very challenging to a photographer.

It is possible to still photograph under challenging weather conditions in order to bring back fresh and complete views of nature. Nature doesn't exist only on a clear summer day! To respect its connection to conditions at all times and to find images that sunny-day only photographers never get, we need to get outside at all times of the year. Here are some ways of dealing with weather challenges:

1. Any condition. Be sure you are dressed properly for the conditions, whether they are hot or cold, wet or dry. You will not enjoy shooting if you are not comfortable yourself. Cold and wet feet are a major cause of dampening enthusiasm for photographing in difficult conditions.

2. Extreme cold – batteries. Cameras today work fine in cold weather, but the batteries often don't. The easiest way to deal with cold batteries is to keep switching with a warm one you keep in a pocket next to your body. I know that isn't always convenient, but it works!

3. Any cold – condensation. When a camera is cold and is brought to a warm, damper environment, condensation can coat both the outside and inside of the camera. The inside wetness is a big problem and this can happen even going from below freezing outdoors to a car in the sun that has warmth and moisture from melting snow on the carpet. The water can damage the electronics of a camera or put an unwanted film on inner optics of your lens, plus it could freeze again later and further damage the camera. If your camera bag zips tightly, put your camera away while you are still out in the cold, then bring the gear bag in and keep the bag zipped until it all warms up or you go outside again. You can also put your camera (and open types of bags) into a sealed garbage bag until it warms up.

4. Cold fingers. This is a tough one that I have struggled with for years. Super warm gloves are often too bulky to use for photographing, and many gloves are too slippery. Go to a store that sells hunting gloves. These gloves have special surfaces on the fingers for gripping hard surfaces and they are made to be flexible. When it gets really cold, use a pair of mittens or a shooters hand warmer over your gloves.

5. Wet conditions. I love Gore-Tex rain gear for when it is wet. It keeps you dry without making you feel damp inside. I do have a pair of totally waterproof pants to keep my knees dry when I think I might be doing some kneeling.

6. Rain and cameras. Cameras vary considerably in how well they are sealed against rain (and dust). High-end pro cameras usually have the best sealing, but I have never been fond of their weight, so I usually end up with gear that needs additional protection. A great “accessory” is a shower cap that you pick up from a hotel that offers them. They fit most cameras perfectly. I also use a compact umbrella when shooting in the rain. The camera is usually on a tripod and the umbrella makes it a lot easier to keep things dry. You can also buy specially designed weather covers for specific camera and lens combinations.

7. Snow and rain in windy conditions. The wind combined with moisture, wet or frozen, can cause all sorts of problems throughout a camera and lens. First, avoid changing the lens too often or don’t do it at all. Second, keep your camera out of blowing snow or rain as much as you can. Leave it in your bag until you are ready to use it. Protect the front of your lens with a filter or keep that lens cap on until you are ready to shoot. The weather covers mentioned in the last tip also work for blowing rain and snow. When it gets really cold be wary of a warm camera and blowing snow -- the snow will melt on the warm camera, then freeze, which can be a big problem if that is on the front of your lens.

When conditions are particularly bad, go back inside and relax. You've seen the crazy news people "on location" with a hurricane -- seriously, who cares! Neither you nor your gear are going to benefit from being trashed by the weather!

The first photo is winter along the coast of Maine near Freeport, the second a storm brewing in Sedona, Arizona.

A quick note. My new e-book, A Nature Photography Manifesto, is now available for free from the iBookstore. It is made for the iPad. I hope to have a pdf version available later this month, but it won't have all of the interactive features that iBooks have for the iPad.

About Rob Sheppard

I am proud of the work I have done as a photographer, author, naturalist and nature photographer, editor and videographer. I love the natural world, and that can be a native bee in my native plants garden as much as a visit to a national park. I am a husband of a beautiful and smart wife, a father to my outstanding son and daughter, and one who lived in Minnesota most of my life, but now loves the variety and very long growing season of Southern California. I have written and photographed a lot of books and magazine articles but what is most important to me about them is knowing that I have helped people become better photographers and gain a better connection to nature. I work to help people connect with photography and nature through speaking and as a workshop leader, too. All of this has gained me a Fellow award with the North American Nature Photography Association. Many people knew me as the long-time editor of Outdoor Photographer magazine and I am still connected with them as a contributing editor. A short list of some of the books I have done: Landscape Photography: From Snapshot to Great Shot, Magic of Digital Landscape Photography, The Magic of Digital Nature Photography, National Geographic Field Guide to Digital Photography, The Power of Black-and-White in Nature Photography and Reports from the Field (an iBook). My website is at www.robsheppardphoto.com; my blogs are at www.natureandphotography.com and www.mirrorlessnature.com.
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17 Responses to Weather and Nature Photography

  1. Marie Read says:

    Great article with very timely and practical information. After spring, winter's my favorite season to photograph birds. Thanks!

  2. Steve says:

    Good article; in winter I say thank God for wide to tele zoom lens's.
    In Summer I had the opposite problem going outside from an air conditioned room can cause condensation and fog up your lens. Back inside for a plastic bag to wrap camera & lens up then wait outside for them to warm up.

  3. Jan says:

    Hi Rob. I couldn't agree more that warm clothing is so important. I have gone to sporting goods stores and bought gloves that are for hunters. These are finger gloves with the finger tips removed but there is also a mitten covering. When you're ready to shoot just move the mitten portion and your fingers are exposed to hold the camera and the shutter.

    One thing I found handy similar to the rain cap idea was a $10 rain cover from an Amazon seller. The bottom has a flap to access your tripod and the sides have sleeves so you can access the camera. This also incorporates a lens barrel covering as well.

    I was reading a British photo magazine and They had made a simple bracket to hold your camera on the tripod. Good idea I thought as long as there is no wind.

    Jan

  4. Rob, I love the pictures. Having already experienced my first snowstorm of the year (in the Adirondacks), I'm grateful for your reminders.
    Re: those shower caps, I'm going to tell you what I once told Kerry Drager about the difference between men photographers and women photographers: Men photographers think they can only get those caps in hotel rooms; women photographers know they can buy them in the Beauty dept. of CVS, Rite-Aid, etc.

  5. Great post and good advice. I highly recommend looking for hunting gloves. I always use tight fitting genuine buckskin gloves. I can work all the buttons on my D4 and D7000 just fine. When it's super cold, I put chemical hand warmers in my gloves and one or two in my pockets.

    I also find it helpful to have a chemical handwarmer in the same pocket as a large microfiber cloth. A warm cloth is real handy for getting frost off the camera LCD.

    One last tip: I put a bandaid on the tip of my nose so my nose doesn't freeze to my camera.

    • Rob Sheppard says:

      Handwarmers can indeed be helpful in the very cold! Some photographers keep one in a camera bag to keep batteries (and gear) warmer. I have even heard of photographers attaching them to the bottom of a camera to keep the batteries warmer. Good idea about the warm cloth, too, and the bandaid if your camera has a lot of metal on the back.

  6. After years of freezing, I finally bought a pair of hunting gloves and they work great. Great reminder that winter can be a perfect time to get out and shoot, not just huddle with the laptop editing all the images you haven't gotten to yet because the weather was too perfect to stay inside!

  7. Donna says:

    Good tips. I have been to mountain tops in white out blizzards to the cloud forest of Costa Rica during the monsoons with a Nikon F2 and no problems. I live by Niagara Falls and shoot the winter ice at the Falls often. My digital Nikons have been in for repair three times due to moisture. They don't make 'em like they used to. I like your tip on the gloves. It is always the one part that gets bitter cold.

    • Rob Sheppard says:

      All of the old mechanical cameras did better in moisture. As soon as electronics became important to the cameras, which started way back in film cameras, they became more sensitive. I remember having my first camera die from cold batteries -- a Canon AE-1 about 30 years ago.

  8. Rob Shapiro says:

    Rob, let me see how I fare in a couple of weeks. 21st-25th of December based in Lone Pine then the 25th-30th at the Yosemite Lodge at the Falls. Organizing my gear now for the job of packing for the flight to LAX - always fun trying to keep the gear down to a minimum. Will I need chains for my rental Rav4?

    • Rob Sheppard says:

      Hi, Rob -- I think you'll have a lot of fun. You can probably avoid areas that would have enough snow for chains. The biggest need for chains is steep inclines and snow and ice.
      Rob

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