Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Winter Photography Advice

No, this is not a how-to on how to photograph snow. There'd be another post for that. This post is actually about what you can do to better take care of your photography gear, and electronic gears in general, during the winter time. Though freezing and below-freezing temperatures have not yet reached the Tristate area those who experience temperatures in the 60s and 50s  should also pay heed.

When you go outside, the gear you have, naturally, will be in thermal equilibrium with the environment - that simply is the nature of things. You see, when you go from a cold environment, like the outdoors into the welcoming arms of the warm indoors, your gear will experience a certain amount of "shock". Because it is cold outside, when you go indoors, there will be an energy transfer from the warm indoor air to your cold high tech gear. What this will do is cause condensation to form on your precious gadget.  Imagine wearing eye glasses and suddenly, when you walk indoor, your glasses becomes foggy - that's the same thing. And condensation equals water; water plus electronic gadget is never good. Want to know how condensation affects your camera? I have this picture of the wife taken some years back when winter was still new to us:

I was still a point-and-shooter back then and, since freezing temperatures were new to us, I didn't bother to think what a warmer, humid indoor would do to the camera. That glowing thing you see on the lower left quadrant of the picture is the condensation that formed in front of the lens. After that, our old Olympus point-and-shooter was never the same...

So what to do? An all-weather bag should do the trick, like the Lowepro Nova AW series. After a shoot, what you can do is, before going indoors, pull out your CF or SD card, put it in a "warm" pocket, like the inside breast pocket of your jacket. Once inside, resist the temptation to open the bag for, say, two to three hours. Why that long? Well, a DSLR is a large piece of equipment and even though the outer shell is warm enough, the core of the camera would still be cold - energy transfer takes time. (Ever microwaved food only to find out that even if the outer layer is scalding hot the core is still cold? Yep, energy transfer takes time.) Still, why that long? Well, the bag is padded, which is a very good thing, but because of these same paddings, energy transfer from the outside to the inside of the bag takes time. Why take out the card before going in? Well, so that you can already enjoy your pictures while your gear warms up.

But, what if you stay outdoors for a long time but your actual photo shoot is indoors? Well this is what I do:

Get a gallon-size resealable bag and put your camera inside. When you enter, you will see that, if the room is humid enough, condensation will form on the bag. And, since the plastic is relatively thin, you don't have to wait as long to pop out the camera. (I usually wait around 20 minutes before I open the bag. You will also notice that the air inside the bag will expand when it's warmed up.)

Is it worth the effort? Well, for me, I'd rather spend some cents on the resealable bag than knock my head on a wall when condensation forms inside the camera.


Note that this advice is not only valid for those in the upper latitudes experiencing winter right now. This also applies to the upper latitudes in the Southern Hemisphere and the tropics, like the Philippines. The key idea is going from a cold environment, like an air conditioned room, to a warm, humid environment. It is not where winter is actually happening but in the temperature difference of two locations plus the amount of humidity in the warmer place. Of course, the lower is the temperature difference between the places you are going to and coming from the better it would be for your gadget.

This advice also applies to all electronic gadgets like your phone, iPods, laptops, etc. The good thing about small gadgets, like the iPods is that, since they are always in our jeans pockets, they are always warm enough.

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