Almost everyone loves a warm, bright, sunny day…especially on weekends for those that work Monday to Friday, a category I fall into. Those work hours have me mostly into the “weekend” photographer group, so that gives me limited time to practice my hobby. This has also made me adopt and adapt the post office creed to roughly “Neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet, will keep me away from the limited time to photograph birds”.
Photographing in these times does have some challenges not encountered during “good” weather conditions, but the results can be quite dramatic. Most of these challenges have to do with protecting yourself, and your gear, from the elements. Pretty much all else remains the same, so after having dressed for the occasion all that is left to do is brave the weather and head out. But there some things to keep in mind…
Great Egret, Canon 7DII + 500mm f/4 II, manual exposure, evaluative metering, 1/500s., f/4, ISO 1600.
During rainy weather, you will not want to point your gear up, or less raindrops splatter on the front element of your lens. It’s no fun trying to wipe glass clean and dry while it is still raining, fingers wet, and water dripping everywhere, and that is if you’ve found cover! Keeping your lens at least parallel to the ground is very important. Although most DSLRs from the “prosumer” level and up will do OK in light drizzle conditions, it is highly recommended to cover them during heavier rainfall (and even in those light drizzles if you do not want to chance it). I use a dedicated “Storm Jacket” rain cover, but any plastic bag or gortex sleeve can do in a pinch. Water damage is one of the leading causes of camera malfunctions, so protecting your valuable gear is essential, especially that it is rather inexpensive to do so. Pointing your lens down presents another, albeit much minor, inconvenience. That is of the wet and blurry eyepiece. A simple wipe with a dry finger or dry part of a t-shirt suffices, but usually at the expense of a missed opportunity!
American Goldfinch, Canon 30D + 100-400L @400mm, manual exposure, evaluative metering, 1/250s., f/6.3, ISO 800.
Photographing from the dryness of your home, as I did with the American Goldfinch above, or you car, as with the Eastern Kingbird below, are of course excellent options. Just be sure the temperature between the inside and outside are relatively the same (heat or air conditioning OFF) as you will otherwise suffer grave sharpness degradation due to atmospheric, or “heat” shimmer.
Eastern Kingbird, Canon 7D + 500mm f/4 II + 1.4TC III, manual exposure, evaluative metering, 1/200s., f/5.6, ISO 800.
Winter brings another type of precipitation for us in more northern climates. Snow. Not to mention brutal cold temperatures that comes with it too. Snow during very cold weather is light, dry, and powdery – it can simply be blown off your camera once in a while. Snow when the temperature is warmer (near the freezing mark) can be wet, heavy, and melting, and you will want to take the same precautions as with rain. Of course being well dressed is imperative, best done in layers, and especially in the extremities such as feet and hands. Dressing for extreme cold weather can be a whole other blogpost, or small book, so that is all I will say for now about that!
Great Gray Owl, Canon 7D + 100-400L @285mm, manual exposure, evaluative metering, 1/640s., f/7.1, ISO 800.
Snow is great to steady your hands if photographing from the ground: building a simple snow mound to desired height to rest your lens or dig your elbows into is a great and easy way to stabilize yourself and attain sharper images. The Great Gray Owl above, perched only a couple of feet off the ground, was photographed using that technique.
Once you are done with your session, you will want to make sure that all the snow has been blown or wiped off your gear before bringing into warmer temperatures. This is to avoid having it all melt and seep inside you camera (especially if it is not weather sealed)!
Northern Cardinal, Canon 7D + 500mm f/4 II + 1.4TC III, manual exposure, evaluative metering, 1/320s., f/5.6, ISO 800.
Strong wind is another fun type of “inclement” weather to deal with. Here you will need extra good stabilization technique as the wind blows your gear around, even if using a tripod. If raining or snowing, or if on a beach with flying loose sand, you will want to avoid pointing your lens against the wind. You will be sure to have wet or dirty glass. The good news is that birds like to face the wind to avoid feather damage, which means the wind will be blowing at your back when photographing. For those lenses with large hoods, it can be a good idea to remove it when the wind is blowing hard sideways to lessen its’ impact, but be extra careful about protecting your lens’ front element.
Snow Buntings, Canon 7D + 500mm f/4 II + 1.4TC III, manual exposure, evaluative metering, 1/1600s., f/7.1, ISO 800.
To photograph these Snow Buntings fighting off the wind, I placed myself in a roadside ditch, which offered me some protection from the howling wind, and since I was kneeling at a spot lower than the buntings I was able to rest the lens barrel directly and comfortably onto the snow for extra stability and at their eye level.
Again, photographing form the car offers protection form the freezing cold wind. Pointing my lens through the open driver’s side window and with the passenger’s side window closed I could barely even feel the wind, but the photo below proved that it was indeed quite windy.
Purple Finch, Canon 7DII + 500mm f/4 II + 1.4TC III, manual exposure, evaluative metering, 1/400s., f/7.1, ISO 1600.
So next time you go to bed and the weather forecast calls for inclement weather the next dasy, do still set your alarm early and head on out! While others are sleeping in or keeping indoors to avoid harsh elements, you will be getting satisfying, refreshingly different, and many times unique imagery to share and keep!
Barred Owl, Canon 7D + 500m,m f/4 II + 1.4TC III, manual exposure, evaluative metering, 1/250., f/5.6, ISO 800.