TIPS: Working in Cold Weather with Olympus Cameras
By Olympus Visionary Jay Dickman – His Website is HERE
Snow, rain, fog, all sorts of “atmospherics” that keep most sane people inside, can be very productive photographic environments in which we can work. While everyone else is hunkering before the fire, the avid photographer puts on their or cold weather gear to brave those elements. Why? Because those conditions can provide so many great photographic opportunities.
So how does that photographer prepare for the elements, especially the cold? Here is my list of what you can do to prepare to walk out into that wonderful world of the cold.
Olympus Visionary Jay Dickman out in the Elements with his Olympus Gear – Antartica
Exposure issues When shooting in snow, if in the Antarctic or photographing the kids building a snowman to shooting the skiers, exposure is impacted by those super-bright conditions. Your Olympus has really intelligent design in the metering system and a specific exposure mode for these conditions. On the E-M10, E-M10 MkII, E-M1, E-M5 and E-M5 MkII, there is a “SCN” mode on the exposure mode dial on the top left of the camera. Turn the dial to the SCN mode, on your monitor you’ll see a choice of scenes (a very powerful tool on the camera, as it offers a number of different choices,) scroll through the choices until you come to “Beach & Snow”.
Canadian icebreaker cutting through multi-year ice in the Northwest Passage
Jay Dickman on Mt Washington, New Hampshire, on assignment for National Geographic
In the Canadian High Arctic, a wave breaks in front of an iceberg in Queens Harbour
Weddell seals and Adélie penguins near Brown Bluff in the Antarctic
When taking photos in conditions of super-bright ambient light, the camera’s meter is trying to make that snow or bright sandy beach an average exposure, which is 18% grey. Normal metering of any camera will, in these conditions, create an exposure that looks a bit “muddy.” This is absolutely correct as the meter’s job is to find a bright area, and present the ideal exposure of that mid-gray of 18%. In normal metering mode, what the photographer does is to actually “add” light thru exposure compensation: anywhere from 2/3rd’s of a stop to 1 ½ stops of “+” exposure compensation. “Add light to make it bright” is a great mnemonic to help recall this process. When looking at your histogram, it should be biased towards the bright side, the right, for a correct exposure..not clipped, but definitely biased towards the right.
Ice fjords near Ilulissat, Greenland
Icebergs in the Southern Ocean
Late day sun breaks out on tabular icebergs in Grand Didier Channel in Antarctica
Here’s where that “Beach & Snow” Scene mode can work for you. The engineers at Olympus have cleverly built this mode for these exact conditions as the camera will automatically create a perfect exposure based on algorithms set into the memory of the camera. Pretty clever and very accurate! You don’t have to make any adjustments to you exposure compensation when in this mode that produces a beautiful jpeg.
Jay Dickman while on assignment in the arctic
Protect your gear: If you are the owner of an Olympus OM-D E-M1 MkII (or E-M1) your camera is already well protected from rain and snow, as are your Olympus Pro lenses. Still, I always carry a chamois cloth or two in my bag. Not the artificial ones, but the real, leather based cloth found at your local auto supply or Walmart/Target. I use these to wipe of heavy amounts of precipitation, or use it as a “raincoat” to cover my gear in a downpour. It can be used, if very clean, to wipe of rain from your protective filter, but don’t use it on the front element!
National Geographic Expeditions members fight a blizzard on Whalers Cove along the Antarctic Peninsula
Ultra-cold conditions: I was on a shoot on the Arctic ice, many miles north of Barrow. The air temperature was well below zero, which creates a different world in which the photographer is working. Not only battery life being an issue, but being aware of conditions into which I was carrying my gear. We were staying in an ice station, built for this event, so one could walk into a hut that was 100 degrees warmer than the outside temperature. This could play havoc on the gear, that huge temperature differential causing my camera to instantly turn into a blob of condensation, due to warm interior air meeting a frozen camera. First time I did this, I immediately stepped back out, which only caused that drenched camera to instantly freeze the moisture on its surface. Okay, I learned from that one. After that, when entering the temperate climate of a heated building from a cold exterior, I’d put my camera gear into a large plastic freezer bag, squeezing out as much air as possible. This created a “micro-climate” from which there wasn’t much moisture to create that large amount of moisture. Often, if going in only to warm-up, I’d leave the gear outside so its temperature matched the air temperature. Did I mention batteries take a hit in the cold? I’d always carry extra batteries in a pocket that stayed a bit warm.
Near Baffin Island, a polar bear luxuriates in the cold weather
Whaler’s Cove in the Antarctic, penguins hunker down in teeth of a blizzard
One of the other fun thinks that can happen (and did, several times) is inadvertently placing the frozen camera to my eye, having slid down the protection of my face mask, only to have the camera freeze to my nose. Remember the scene in “A Christmas Story” when Flick stuck his tongue to the pole in freezing temps? Well, it does happen just like that.
Don’t try to blow snow off your camera or lens with your humid breath. This can result in the snow melting to your gear, and possibly refreezing immediately, creating a frustrating situation. Instead, brush that snow or ice off with a small brush or that chamois I convinced you to carry.
At Elephant Island in the Southern Ocean, the spot where Shackleton’s men over-wintered as he sought help, ocean ice with Point Wild landmark in background
Tabular icebergs and sea ice in the Grand Didier Channel in the Antarctic
Keep your Battery Warm: Batteries are such a necessary part of today’s photographic experience as everything in digital is power-based. I always carry a couple of back up batteries, fully charged, and usually residing in a pocket of coat or jeans. This ensures that the battery will operate at its top capability.
Handwarmers: Obvious idea, but too many of us forget these small wonders until the morning we want to go out and photograph in cold conditions. Pick up a package from your local outdoor store—REI, Cabela’s, Sierra Trading Post, Bass Brothers or your local sporting goods store will be a good source for these. In really cold conditions, I’ll stick one in my pocket with the batteries as well as one inside each of my gloves, and interior of boots. A battery of any kind will work better when warm.
Macaroni penguin “porpoising” through waters of South Georgia
A polar bear near Baffin Island in the Canadian high arctic
Gloves: This suggestion will elicit a big “Duh,” but are your gloves ideal for photography? Traditional mittens, which are the warmest hand-coverings are very efficient for maintaining warmth when outdoors, but if not photo-specific, these can be a barrier to the shooting process. The availability of your digit finger & thumb, to press the shutter or change settings is critical, so I’ve listed a few popular styles of photographers gloves. These have either a very think covering over your fingertips, or the fabric can be pulled back to provide that critical tactile feel.
Polar bear walking across ice in Canadian high arctic
Two King penguins in morning light on Gold Harbour, South Georgia
Rucpac Professional Tech Gloves for Photographers won’t allow you to pull covering off of digit finger and thumb, but a thin glove that’s well insulated and is touchscreen compatible.
Freehands Stretch Thinsulate Gloves gloves with good insulation and provide the ability to pull back covering for digit and thumb, critical for total tactile feeling.
AquaTech Sensory Gloves—I use these in polar conditions where I may have my hands in or very near frigid water.
The Heart Company’s Heat 3 Smart Cold Weather Gloves—I’ve worked in the arctic (below -45 degrees) and in those conditions, you really can’t expose your skin for more than a few seconds before frostbite or serious freezing can occur. These gloves provide an internal membrane, under the mitten cover, with a fabric that not only provides a great tactile feel, but will work with electronic touchscreens.
Polar bear considering going back into water in Canadian high arctic.
Iceberg melt, Svalbard
In Canadian high arctic, a polar bear shakes after emerging from the cold water
Polar bear in Canadian high arctic diving back into water
If you’re going to Yellowstone in the winter, or Gates of the Arctic to photograph the aurora, you can be in dangerously cold conditions, be prepared.
Boots: Nothing will bring your cold-weather adventure to an early end quicker that cold feet or hands. A good investment before you go, there are a number of very good brands. Sorel, Kamik, Muck Boot Company, all make good boots for frigid conditions.