PHOTOGRAPHING WATERFALLS IN WINTER
Photographing waterfalls in winter isn't easy. I'm no expert in this arena yet, but I've drafted up a list of some tips I can share with you. My goal is to continually improve this page as I learn and experience more out in the field during winter.
You will probably need a pair of gloves or mittens when you shoot waterfalls in winter. You've got some options here:
A down jacket, preferably with high-loft, can help keep you comfortably warm while you shoot.
- You can purchase and wear thin sensory gloves. These gloves will allow you to fully use electronics, including cameras, without taking the gloves off.
- You can also put mittens or gloves on over these thin sensory gloves. I recommend mittens instead of gloves since mittens are easier to take on and off and are typically warmer. You would then take the mittens or gloves on and off as needed.
- You can purchase and use thicker gloves that have removable finger tips.
- Freehands and AquaTech are two brands that offer such gloves.
- You can also purchase and wear thin sensory gloves under these thicker gloves as well.
- You can purchase and wear mittens that have a removable top that allows your fingers to be exposed.
- You can also purchase and wear thin sensory gloves under these mittens as well.
Wear high-cut hiking or winter boots.
- You want to avoid hiking too far in a down jacket though, because you can easily overheat and cause the down jacket to get saturated with seat.
- A down jacket with 650 fill power or more is best. Any jacket with 800-950 fill power is likely going to be premium in quality and price.
- I suggest hiking in a few base layers (including a softshell or fleece jacket and a waterproof, breathable jacket) and then putting on a down jacket only when you arrive at your destination.
Wear foot traction.
- If you aren’t hiking too far, insulated boots can work well. The problem with insulated boots is they can get saturated if your feet get overheated while hiking
- You can also consider using a pair of muck boots.
Consider wearing gaiters over your boots and lower legs.
- Two highly regarded brands are Kahtoola's MICROspikes and Hillsound Trail Crampons
- You can easily risk serious injury or death if you visit waterfalls in winter without foot traction.
Wear heavy wool or synthetic socks.
- Gaiters will keep snow out of your boots and also keep your feet and legs a little bit warmer.
Consider wearing a pair of bib overalls.
- Mountaineering-style socks work well. SmartWool makes some great thick and warm mountaineering socks.
Wear a synthetic or wool hat.
Wear a face mask or balaclava if there is significant wind chill or if the temperatures are below 20 or 30 degrees.
Before your take your camera outside to shoot in the cold, put your camera in a camera case and then put it an intermediary environment that is cool or cold for at least an hour. This will allow the camera to acclimate to colder weather. Here are some examples:
It is perhaps most dangerous to bring a cold camera immediately back into a warm and/or humid environment after shooting in the cold.
- In a mudroom or entry-way that is colder than the rest of your apartment or house.
- In a vehicle that is not running.
- In the trunk of your car, if your vehicle has a separate trunk.
- On a covered but unheated porch or garage.
Many photographers swear by putting their cold and dry cameras in a Ziploc bag before they bring the camera into a warm and/or humid environment. They then remove the Ziploc bag within 2-3 hours of being in the warm and/or humid environment.
- If possible, leave your camera in its camera case and put it in an intermediary environment for an hour or two before bringing it into the warm and/or humid environment.
Do not fully expose your camera to the cold for an extended period of time.
- Freezer-type Ziploc bags are perhaps best.
- Some photographers will also drop a desiccant (silica gel) into the Ziploc bag. This will keep moisture to a minimum. You can save desiccant when you receive them with electronic or other goods in the mail, or you can buy some silica gel at a craft store and make your own little packs by using coffee filters. You can also buy silica gel packets here
- The Ziploc bag must be put around your camera and sealed while still out in the cold. It is too late if you try to put the Ziploc bag on while already in the warm and/or humid environment.
- Never store a wet or snowy camera in a Ziploc bag. This can easily cause damage. Only put the camera in a Ziploc bag if it is dry.
- Do not store your camera in a Ziploc bag for an extended period of time. You must remember to remove your camera from the Ziploc bag after 2-3 hours.
You generally want to avoid putting a camera or lens inside your jacket or close to your body.
- It is better to put the camera away between shots, unless the shots are taken within a relatively short period of time.
Never breathe or blow on your camera or lenses in the winter. If you have to clean the camera or lens, use an appropriate type of cloth.
- There is often too much warmth and humidity, and therefore a high potential for condensation.
You may want to think twice about using your camera below 0 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Try to hold your breath while composing your shots.
When driving to your shooting destination, try to keep the temperature in your vehicle as low as possible.
- While your camera will likely operate at temperatures lower than this, you will need to be even more careful using your equipment in these extreme temperatures.
Make sure all batteries are fully charged before you leave.
Take several fully-charged batteries with you (more than you normally would).
Always try to keep your batteries warm. It is perfectly OK if the batteries are warm but the camera is cold.
Put a warm battery into your camera immediately before shooting your camera out in the cold.
- Keep batteries in your jacket or close to (but not directly on) your skin.
If you see condensation on your camera, remove the battery and don’t put the battery back in until you are certain that the camera is dry.
Consider putting an insulating sleeve or pipe insulation on the top section of each of your tripod legs.
A carbon fiber tripod will operate better in the cold than an aluminum one.
- Touching aluminum tripod legs with your bare hands in cold weather is not comfortable.
Limit how long your store your tripod in a cold environment with the legs condensed and the locks on. A tripod can easily freeze.
- Store your tripod in a warm environment with the legs unlocked. Make sure the tripod is dry, too.
Memory cards typically operate just fine in cold environments.
If you want to immediately upload your photos after shooting in the cold, take the memory card out before you enter a warm and/or humid environment. This will allow you access to your memory card while the camera sits in a camera bag and/or Ziploc bag.
- If you do this, take note that using third-party memory card readers carries a higher risk of data corruption than by uploading directly from your camera to a computer via an official camera's cord.
It's tough to get white balance settings correct in your camera when shooting snowy scenes, so it's best to just shoot in RAW or RAW+JPEG mode.
- Shooting in RAW will allow you to adjust the full-range of white balance later in post-processing software (i.e. Adobe Photoshop).
Your camera's meter will likely be challenged by snow and ice, with the result often being under-exposed images.
- To combat this problem, you will want to shoot at different exposures (i.e. use a longer shutter speed, a narrower aperture, and/or a lower ISO speed). Or you can 'bracket' your shots.
Use a circular polarizer filter often when shooting in winter.
- Circular polarizers will help reduce glare from water, snow and ice.
- Circular polarizers will also allow for a longer shutted speed which can create a dreamy, silk-like waterfall effect.
Avoid or limit the amount of time you spend changing lenses outside in the winter. If possible, try to only use one (1) lens per shoot.
Bring a flask or bottle of hot drink. Take some sips between shots or while waiting for the camera to finish shots with long exposures (long shutter speeds).
Take note that wind chill does not have an effect on metals and plastics. So if it is 10 degrees out with a -5 wind chill, the impact to the camera is still only 10 degrees.
Remote triggers can be very handy in winter in that you won’t need to use your fingertips as much on the camera. In extremely cold conditions, remote triggers may stop working though.
Be very careful around waterfalls because their spray can easily land on your camera and lenses. Any spray in winte rcan quickly freeze. You can bring a lens cloth, but you'll have to be exceptionally quick in using it.
Burlington Falls, Connecticut
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