Here we are in the middle of another winter. It’s one more reason to get out there and take pictures of the scenery. If I see wildlife, that’s a bonus. Even if I don’t see any animals on a short snowshoe trek or a cross-country skiing jaunt, the white world that surrounds us in Maine makes for great photos.
But lately I’ve been wondering if winter’s tough on my little digital point-and-shoot. Electronics could be susceptible to condensation. Does it damage my camera to take it out in winter’s cold temperatures? And how do I keep batteries from draining in the cold? To find some answers to these questions, last week I visited professional outdoor photographer Mark Picard in Millinocket to ask him about winter camera care.
If anyone would know what the effects of winter are on cameras it would be Picard. He has been shooting images year-round for more than 35 years and conducts workshops in the region throughout the year. His images have been published in Audubon and Yankee Magazine, among numerous others.
My winter photos always have room for improvement. So I hoped he could help me out there, too. The first bit of advice he offered had to do with the effects of condensation on cameras.
“For most people on snowshoes and skis, condensation on their cameras isn’t that big a problem. It will, however, form on lenses and viewfinders when the camera is allowed to get cold and then, when you put it in your jacket where it’s warm it will form,” he said. “Avoiding sudden changes from cold to warm is the important thing.”
“Condensation can also occur when you breathe on viewfinders and lenses. Even the warmth from your eye can fog up the viewfinder,” he said.
“To avoid that, try not to get too close to the viewfinder and instead use the LCD screen — if your camera has one, and most do — to compose your shot,” he said.
He suggested leaving your camera in your pack or in a fanny pack where it doesn’t get too warm. There’s another solution to avoiding condensation if you think it will occur. “If you put it in a resealable plastic bag and then put it in your jacket, the condensation forms on the bag instead of the camera.”
“Typically though, you’re not going to be standing around for an hour and a half taking a picture. The camera won’t get cold enough for condensation to occur,” he said. “Condensation never occurs from taking a warm camera out into the cold.”
Cold itself doesn’t pose a problem for digital cameras the way it did for film cameras. “Today’s digitals have fewer moving parts, therefore there’s less need for lubricants, which used to congeal at cold temps in film cameras. What moving parts there are have much better lubrication.”
As far as batteries being susceptible to cold, he recommends a simple solution. “Alkaline batteries are the most susceptible and drain quickly in cold, so I recommend using lithium batteries, which last much longer. Just in case, bring extras to swap out with warm ones that you carry in an inside pocket.”
Next, he offered some advice on improving my winter photos.
“The best thing you can do to improve your winter photos is to take your camera’s settings off automatic exposure, because the auto setting tries to average the light that it’s reading. It reads all that white snow as too much light entering the camera and snow ends up being gray instead of white,” he said.
He suggested I learn to use the manual exposure settings. “Take a lot of shots at different manual settings. Then, when you get home and have them downloaded on your desktop, you can find the correctly exposed image,” he said.
“You can always delete them if they aren’t correctly exposed once you get home.”
Another tip he gave me was what to wear on my hands. “To keep from taking off your mitts to work the controls on your camera, wear fingerless gloves or better yet, mitts that convert to fingerless gloves. Then you’re not always taking mitts off and on to take your images,” he said.
To prevent photos from looking blurry he suggests using a tripod. But, he realizes that it adds to your pack weight and is a hassle to unpack, set up and pack away again. “You can buy a monopod (basically a one-legged tripod), or use a ski pole or trekking pole to steady your camera. But you should always use something.”
Last, we talked about what it is about winter that makes for great photography. “Visually it’s totally different. Everything is covered in a blanket of beautiful, pristine snow. Everything is side-lit, because the sun is never really very high. Long shadows create contrasts. Winter light creates strong details at a low angle and the air is clearer because there is less humidity and dust than in summer.”
After our visit I came away some new techniques on how to improve my winter photos. I also learned that what I thought were concerns, such as condensation, are preventable. Which is good, because I plan to be outdoors with my camera a lot looking for those perfect scenes. Even if mine aren’t professional quality, maybe they’ll be better than last year’s were thanks to Picard’s advice.
For a glimpse at Mark’s images stop in at his gallery, Moose Prints Gallery and Gifts on 58 Central St. in Millinocket, or visit his website at www.markpicard.com. All the images there are breathtaking, and especially those of Katahdin, the Penobscot and moose in winter.
Now, where’s my camera? I’ve got to get outdoors.