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.