Make the most of extreme weather

Wildlife photography often means being outside in all weathers and conditions in order to document and showcase the wildlife that we love to work with. But being outside can pose a number of issues, for us, our equipment and, of course, the picture-taking process. Below are a host of tips to help you make the most of bad conditions.

In many ways working in less than perfect conditions is the perfect time. It allows for the creation of images that would otherwise not be possible, accentuating the harshness of the environment, the issues wildlife face, or just offer a new take on a certain species.

Working in wet weather can add drama to images. Raindrops can look impressive when captured with a slow shutter speed of around 1/60sec, adding streaks that ramp up the atmosphere. Likewise, snow immediately adds an extra dimension to images, with the harsh contrast between white and dark introducing a more graphic element. When shooting in snow, always remember that you’re going to want to overexpose by around a stop in order to capture the snow as white, rather than dull grey.

Protecting your camera
When battling the elements, be it snow, rain or sand, keeping your camera protected is imperative in order to ensure it continues working perfectly. Getting hold of a camera cover is a good place to start – these are available in a range of sizes and types, and range from weatherproof to completely waterproof, depending on how demanding your assignment is.

I often find I use an all-in-one cover that stretches over my long lens and camera, keeping it shielded from the worst of the rain, sand or snow. This allows me to spend longer outside, shooting in bad conditions. A cheap solution, and something that you should always have in your bag, is a hotel shower cap. Very cheap, these simple plastic caps can be pulled over a camera and small lens to keep them sheltered from the conditions, and the fact that they’re tiny means you should never be without one.

If you’ve been working in the cold, it’s important to also be careful when coming back inside. If your cameras warm too quickly they may suffer from internal fogging that can damage the lenses and clog the optics. One way to deal with this is to always have a large plastic bag with you. Place your camera (or whole kit bag) inside and then seal it up with air inside using an elastic band. The cameras and lenses will warm up at a slower rate, reducing the risk of fogging.

Protecting yourself
In addition to protecting your gear, looking after yourself in tough conditions is also a key consideration, not only for staying safe in tough environments, but also because being comfortable and warm will help you stick it out for longer in order to give you more time to capture those perfect images.

Clothing should be pulled together in layers, starting with a good wicking base layer that will keep you warm and help take away any perspiration. Next up you’ll want a warm mid layer, such as a Polartec fleece, before adding an outer shell that’s windproof and waterproof. In more extreme environments, down is the best, as its high loft traps warm air to keep you toasty even when you’re not moving in subzero conditions. For your hands, good gloves are essential, and personally I like to use a thin liner paired with mittens in the coldest temperatures. These allow me to use the thin gloves when having to change settings, while the mittens keep my hands toasty when the action is slow. 

Follow the tips above and you should be all set to get out in the cold and battle the elements for some fantastic wildlife images.

Tom Mason is one of the UK’s most exciting young wildlife photographers and conservationists. He leads workshops and seminars and writes a monthly blog for the RSPB. See more of his work here