December 21st, 2012, and the Apocalypse has arrived in snow form here in Eastern Ontario. We've got about one foot (30 cm) of heavy, wet snow so far, with predictions for continued snow, heavy winds and dropping temperatures. Those ancient Mayan soothsayers could really make accurate predictions. Then, I couldn't post on the 21st, because our internet was out. Today, December 22nd, our power was out most of the day. But the power's back, and so am I. For the 2 readers of my blog, this is riveting news.
Anyways, while the world will likely still be here tomorrow (which means I have to go back to work...dammit), I can share photos taken of the day of reckoning, since it illustrates some issues with taking photos on snowy days.
Weather extremes; the snow was falling very heavily today. Big, wet, lazy flakes that actually made a small noise when they landed, they were so large. So, even though my Canon 7D has a degree of weatherproofing, it pays to protect your investment.
Weather proofing your DSLR; I use an Op/Tech Rain Sleeve (http://optechusa.com/rainsleeve.html). This is a made-in-the-USA product of simplicity, low-cost and general effectiveness. It's a transparent plastic bag, shaped to cover any model of DSLR, with pretty much any lens you can imagine. I use a lens hood on my lens in this sort of weather, and with gaffer's tape, the best friend of any photographer, I secure the Rain Sleeve over the lens so that the plastic stays in place. The Rain Sleeve comes with a string and tightening spring to allow you to snug the plastic over the lens hood, but I find it never holds well enough. By using small strips of gaffer's tape to attach the plastic sleeve to about 6 points of contact on your lens hood, the sleeve stays in place to protect your lens from getting wet. Once you're done your day, the gaffer's tape removes without any residue on your lens hood. You have to play around with the plastic sleeve on the lens hood to prevent vignetting, the darkening around the edges of your image that come from having something (a filter holder a plastic Rain Sleeve) at the edge of your lens. Just arrange the sleeve, tape it to the hood, look through your view finder, and if there's vignetting, re-arrange the tape and plastic until you have a clear field of view.
I tear a small hold in the sleeve where my view finder is. If you don't, when you try to frame your picture, looking through plastic will distort your field of view. I make a small hole in the sleeve, put the hole around my viewfinder cup (I use a Hoodman viewfinder cup, which is larger than average) and this way my camera is largely protected from rain and heavy snow. If I'm going to be walking a while, and if the snow or rain is hitting hard, I just pull the hole away from the viewfinder, to keep it covered with plastic. If you don't, the viewfinder will fill up with moisture.
Carrying in rain and snow: carry your camera with the lens facing down at all times unless you intend to take an exposure. The best way to keep your lens free of rain and snow is to keep it pointing away from the sky. When I want to take a shot, the camera comes up (I carry on a BlackRapid RS7 strap, an outstanding design that allows carry in fairly demanding circumstances with my right hand holding the camera lens down (http://www.blackrapid.com/products/curve). If I'm in the backwoods for a long day, I'll generally use my handy Cotton Carrier to keep my camera on my chest, hands free, but when I need to put a plastic Rain Sleeve on the camera, its just easier to carry it on a strap, even in the backwoods. Which is where I went to photograph snow on this Day of Apocalypse.
Metering your scene for snowy days; exposing for snow; shooting in the snow presents a lot of challenges. The snow obviously reflects a lot of light, making it bright and generally hard on your eyes. I'll talk about taking photos on bright sunny snowy days another time; for cloudy grey days or when its actively snowing like today, you want to set a custom white balance in your DSLR's shooting menu, or if you shoot with a Canon DSLR, use a white balance preset; there are presets for cloudy days, shade, full sun, etc. You can try setting custom white balance in your menu by shooting a picture of an 18% grey photo card or white card, in the ambient light you'll be shooting in, but I find the results much better honestly when I use a custom preset or shoot on automatic white balance.
I always shoot on manual mode; I meter for the lighter-of-center aspect of my photo. Not the brightest area, not the darkest, but just slighter brighter than the mid-point of the scene. That way, I avoid under exposing the dark areas if I meter on bright white snow, and I avoid over exposing the snow by metering on too-dark an aspect of the image.
I generally will use a polarizing filter on snowy days, to help take a bit of the bite and glare out of the light reflecting into my camera. When I have a plastic sleeve taped to my lens hood, I can't get a filter holder on the lens, so the only filters I use on days like today are those that screw onto the lens directly.
Other than that, snowy days present the following challenges:
And have fun! The End of Days doesn't happen every year!
Be safe and keep your camera going, even when the world is ending.
Chris Kiez, a hardcore photographer since the 80's, learned to take a picture before the age of selfies and cell phone photography, training on mechanical cameras and film. After years of taking photos of all manner of subjects and people, he did over a 10 year stint as a crime scene photographer on two continents. Now, he does portrait and landscape photos, and is currently distressing the world with his relentlessly, excruciatingly boring blogging. To buy what you see on this site, click here!