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Photographing Montana's Winter Outdoors

Article © 2008-09 by Jenna Caplette, with tips from our staff at F-11 Photographic Supplies


The magic of sunlight sparkling on new fallen snow transforms the Montana outdoors, enticing us to explore the winter landscape. Made up of tiny ice crystals, as snow warms it goes through various stages of “snow-ness,” from the dry, cold “smoke” skiers love, to hard-to-shovel, heavy, wet “mashed potato” snow, to messy slush and water.


Snow can ruin digital imaging equipment. Marsha Phillips of F-11 Photographic Supplies, explained, “As everyone knows, water and electricity don’t mix. Cameras are no exception. Digital cameras are all electronic. When water evaporates it condenses to the computer boards.”



To prevent damage to your equipment, you need something to protect it while you carry it, and provide quick and efficient access to gear when you want to capture a shot. Your best choices are waterproof and weatherproof bags. Padded compartments protect your camera from bumps. Built-in weatherproof covers offer a simple, efficient way to keep the day’s powder out of your gear if you fall in a drift, or are caught by an unexpected snow flurry.


Two of the most popular types of bags for outdoor excursions are fanny packs and backpacks. Swing a fanny pack forward, unzip it, and it’s easy to get to your camera or a lens because it doesn’t restrict the movement of your arms and shoulders. A backpack carries more gear. Since it‘s a good idea to carry extra clothes to be sure you can keep yourself warm and dry, a backpack may be best for longer winter outings. Many include a place to vertically attach your tripod so it won’t get smacked in to trees or rocks as you bushwhack.


Now, create a first aid kit for your gear. Phillips recommends that you pack zip lock bags, a ground cloth of some kind, a light pair of running or BMX gloves, and a microfiber towel. Storing things in zip lock bags will help keep them dry. The ground cloth comes in handy if you need to spread out your gear to locate essential accessories or dry something off. Gloves with rubber grips prevent the “whoops” of dropping something in to a snowdrift. If you do drop something – your camera, a lens – immediately dry it off with the microfiber towel and you may save it from water damage, or outright ruin.


Cold saps batteries. Have extras on hand. When you get ready to head out, put these in a pocket, next to your body, where they will stay warm. Also carry a packet of Rainsleeves™ to keep your camera dry while shooting an image if it begins to snow, or rain. Brilliantly simple, these clear, plastic sleeves protect your camera and lens, and will even work when you’re using a tripod. Made by Op/Tech USA®, a Belgrade company, a package of two costs only $6.95 – an incredible bargain.


While you're packing, Phillips recommends two items that will greatly improve the quality of your winter images. First, a polarizer minimizes snow glare and makes clear winter skies pop. If you shoot film, you may also want to pack a warming filter to take some of the blue out of snow that is in shade. Digital photographers can accomplish this by simply changing the white balance on the camera to “cloudy” or “shady”. Also recommended for wintertime is a high quality UV filter. It will not only protect your lens from the weather, it reduces excessive blue at high elevations. Depending on the kind of camera you use, be sure to bring extra film and/or memory cards with you, and keep both clean and dry. Be especially careful with memory cards, as a wet card can damage your camera and your card reader.


Now, when you have that chance for the shot you want, your equipment will be ready to work with you. Enjoy yourself and good luck capturing the magic!


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