Thursday, February 24, 2011

Shooting in the Cold by Guest Blogger Richard Hydren

This is a guest entry by Richard Hydren. While Judith is enjoying the warmth of  Hawaii for several weeks she asked me to offer a few thoughts on winter shooting.

Going out into the cold of winter to do anything requires planning. If the objective of the adventure is taking pictures, the planning gets more complicated. In addition to all the things you have to do to keep yourself from freezing, we need to consider the problems your electronic equipment faces.

Condensation and battery life top the list of major concerns. I contacted 2 friends for their thoughts on the subject. First is Mike Hedderman, who runs the video and still photography crews at Raytheon. His team is charged with the responsibility of documenting every project that company is involved in.

Mike’s replay: “The guys said, as I'm sure you're aware, that they keep their cameras under large parkas but this sometimes causes condensation which they rid the lens of it by using a pump ball to blow ambient air onto the lens. If we do need to keep it under our parka we usually keep a plastic bag around it. When the camera is brought out into the cold it slows the adjustment period which reduces the condensation and what condensation does occur is usually attracted to the plastic bag and not the camera. We also occasionally use a cooler with the heat packs. This keeps the equipment warm and allows them to not have to walk around with pounds of equipment on their shoulder all while wrapped in a plastic bag.”

While this is great advice for the photography equipment, many us of now like to work tethered to our computers. Even in the cold! So the second expert on the subject I contacted was David Dion, owner of The Brick Computer Company in Ipswich, Mass.

David’s response: I do not think cameras and their lenses suffer the same consequences as a laptop. The issue with laptops are slow response from LCD, potential hard drive start up issue, and condensation prematurely aging components. Cameras are much more sealed and those seals are very water proof. I think, as you mentioned, the performance of the lens and motors may be the issue with cameras and condensation build up on the lens is just an annoyance until the lens temp comes up.”

My experience with shooting in cold air comes from years of photographing ski racers. Because I would be standing out in the cold for a 2-3 hour first run, followed by a 2-3 hour second run,  the problem of condensation is all over by the time the first racer is flying down the slope. But keeping the battery going was another story.

Of course, keeping your hands warm all that time is project requiring planning and my stand by are those “tea-bag” hand warmers. These come in various sizes now. Small toe warmers with adhesive backs can fit into the tight corners, the large body warmers, also with the adhesive backing, can blanket larger areas. These products work when fresh air circulates inside the sack of herbs, which produces heat until the process uses up the active material which is when they get hard. So a breathable blanket material surrounding both the camera and the hand warmers should be used to trap the heat in.

A couple of toe warmers stuck to the inside of a sock can then be wrapped around the camera’s battery area and held in place with rubber bands. If you worry for the electric motors in your lens and keeping them running as quickly as advertised, wrap a sock with a hand or body warmer around your auto focus lens between races.

To use the computer in cold air, place it on top of a towel or some other breathable cloth with a number of body warmers under. If you have access to regular power, bring a small heating pad with you. I’ve also shot at night during snow storms with the computer tethered inside a running vehicle with the heater running at max. It’s all about thoughtful planning.

Now here is a great secret to add to your bag of money-saving tricks. When the shoot is over, place the “tea-bag” warmers into a zip-lock baggie, squeeze the air out and seal it. Recently a ski buddy was bragging that he was re-using his hand warmers from the previous day. Not to be out done, I handed him my hot hand warmer from inside my mitten and explained that it was from the previous weekend!

The usefulness of the $2.00 product is about 8 to 24 hours depending on size, but that time frame can be interrupted, extending the life over several photo sessions.

I hope you have found this helpful, please feel free to add your comments, thoughts and photos on the subject.

Richard Hydren,
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