Hot Weather Tips

If you intend to head out and do some outdoor photography during hot weather, here are a handful of pointers to help make it go a bit smoother. This (and the cold weather counterpart) started as blog posts, but I figured they'd both be useful as regular pages. I added a few items as well

Let's start with the most important tip for venturing out in sweltering conditions. Don’t do it. Seriously, just stay indoors.

Okay, if you’re dedicated or stupid, I suppose I can give something more useful. I’ve run into this problem quite a few times now, from shooting in Florida, butterfly houses and rainforest exhibits, and now for a couple of abnormal summers in North Carolina. Your camera, of course, should be kept cool — film doesn’t handle heat well, and starts to decay towards color-shifting, but much worse, your lenses can be really messed up with heat. Many have a lubricant inside to keep the zoom and/or focus rings operating smoothly, and this can get a lot thinner as it gets hot. This can make it run onto the lens surfaces themselves, but much worse, onto the aperture blades. These are very light thin pieces of metal that have to snap open and closed very quickly, and getting gummed up with any kind of moisture, even when it’s supposed to be a lubricant, can cause your aperture to become erratic or stuck fast. That’s called a minimum $100 lens repair.

Most especially, don't leave the camera in the car for any period of time, or anyplace else where a greenhouse effect takes place. Keep the bag stored in the shade, someplace with good air circulation. It's better to take it with you out in the bright sunlight, however, than leave it sitting in a car.

But keeping the camera cool, such as remaining in air-conditioning, leads to a problem when you take it out in hot, humid conditions — it acts like a nice cold glass of lemonade, especially the glass. The lens glass, and sometimes even the camera body, will attract condensation and fog up. Your best bet is to leave the camera in the bag out of contact with the humid air until it warms up closer to ambient temperature, but if you have a properly padded and closed bag, this acts like insulation, so warming up can take a while. Whatever you do, however, don’t uncap your lens, and most especially don’t switch lenses, which lets moist air into the insides of the lens and can cause fogging on interior elements. I did this once and it takes forever to clear. Bright sunlight can help bring the camera and lens up in temperature faster, and a faint breeze helps too.

Don’t try to rush things, but instead try to plan your shooting around such conditions. This doesn’t always work — it's easy to spot a good photo subject and run fetch the camera, only to have to wait until it can be used. Don’t count on microfiber lens cleaning cloths to dry off the surfaces, either — they’re usually not very absorbent and only distribute humidity around in droplets. A small towel in your camera bag can help dry off the body, if you need it (and you should have one in case of wet weather and splashing water,) but don’t use it on your lens, because they’re bad about retaining grit and using that to scratch the glass. Patience can save you a few hundred dollars in replacing a favorite lens.

The other issue I encounter frequently is viewfinder fogging. This is made much worse because I wear glasses, so the extra glass surface cuts air circulation right around the eyepiece, and contributes to heat buildup. So does a hat brim, and while I recommend a good shady hat for outdoor shooting, they can contribute to fogging in rough conditions. I have yet to try those pith helmets with a fan built into the brim (I don’t mind looking a little goofy, but there’s a limit,) though this strikes me as probably an effective solution. Battery-powered little fans can be found in most department stores, but this leads to the problem of how to hold it and the camera, and adjust the lens at the same time. A simple sweatband, believe it or not, has proven most effective, if only because it absorbs some of the humidity from your own sweat that would be present near your eye.

For those that like photo vests, or are thinking of purchasing one, here's an important consideration: canvas and khaki vests are notoriously bad in hot weather, trapping heat and sweat against your body. At the very least, go with a roomy and ventilated version, and bear in mind that the more you pack into them, the more is pressing against your body and preventing any air circulation.

Which leads to proper clothing as well. Cotton is always preferred, and I recommend buttoned shirts instead of tee shirts for breathability. Avoid synthetic materials as much as possible, because they simply do not allow the evaporation of sweat like cotton does. Remember that, even if you've worn something comfortably, the straps of the bags or packs change things considerably, and will likely produce stripes of sweat wherever they touch. While I am a great fan of neoprene straps for their comfort and they way they lighten the load, in hot weather they almost appear to be heated internally, so be warned. I use belt packs for any serious shooting, and during hot weather I adjust them so they're a bit looser and can be shifted easily to let some air through. The added shoulder straps/suspenders let me open the belt from time to time to ease the discomfort in my waist area.

Part of the reason I got this shot was that I weathered the preceding cloudburst under a poncho

A broad-brimmed hat is highly recommended, of course. After dealing with the heat trapped underneath for too long, I switched to one with a ventilated crown, which means the sweat only collects under the band now. The sun protection to your face is necessary, though, and the hat can also serve as a handy lens-shade when needed.

Even before I moved to Florida, I knew the value of the disposable rain poncho. Available in little packs smaller than a wallet, they can be whipped out for summer thunderstorms in just seconds, and are usually big enough to cover you and your bags. Trust me, this little investment is invaluable when the unexpected occurs.

When the storm goes through, pushed by a cold front, you'll notice that it's gotten a lot colder now, too. Clothing for a sudden drop in temperature is admittedly just one more thing to lug around, but depending on how far away from shelter you are, it's a serious consideration. Most especially, if you're not carrying a rain poncho, wet clothes are going to make this temperature drop even worse.

Of course you're carrying water bottles, but you're also remembering that they sweat and leak, so they're not anyplace where they can dampen equipment, or even a bag that your equipment is in, right? Good. Just checking.

I'm biased when it comes to footwear, since it seems all of my body heat goes to my feet, but I greatly prefer hiking-style sandals in the summer. Not just for the air circulation, but because they allow me to plunge into whatever water source I find (you have noted the site name, right?) So of course this means waterproof and durable construction. From experience, go for the closed-toe design — when your foot skids and jams into the rocks, you'll thank me. Good rubber soles help prevent this, though.

This is as good a place as any to discuss a wading technique. Even in clear water, the wrong sun angle can prevent you from seeing if the footing is secure under the surface, so there's a method that helps prevent you from tumbling into the water with all of your camera equipment. We typically walk by pitching our bodies forward slightly and catching ourselves with an extended foot, but you're going to forego that entirely. Instead, keep your weight firmly on the planted foot while the 'exploring' foot gets extended out in front of you, gently probing for a secure purchase. Once you've assured yourself that the footing is solid, slowly shift your weight onto that foot — always being ready to lean back if the rocks shift or the bottom seems too muddy. A sturdy walking stick helps of course, and so does the tripod with legs extended but gathered.

Now, here's a funny thing. You might think that wading in a stream or pond is enough to keep you cool, and offsets being out in the bright sun (since you've already included your hat and sunscreen of course.) But take note when I tell you that it's not enough. Aside from the additional exposure to reflected sunlight from the surface, the minimal amount of body immersed coupled with the added exertion of wading can overheat you much easier than you'd expect. I speak from experience, here, so be warned.

Finally, a little tip to keep your camera looking good. With hot weather comes insect repellent, which is fine and often necessary. Just be aware that anything containing DEET will eat into the plastic of your camera body, lenses, binoculars, and so on. Even wiping your repellent-treated forehead and grabbing the camera can mark it. Keep that towel handy.

In fact, something that stays in my bags are those individually wrapped hand wipes (that some people have mistaken for condoms when they see what's in the pockets.) These remove insect repellent, sunscreen, and every encounter with nasty stuff that you might have, and aren't too shabby at cleaning wounds too. They tend not to last long, so swap them out fairly frequently. But be aware that high alcohol content isn't ideal for using them when nature calls. Trust me.

So there's just a few pointers to help you through the summer shooting, that hopefully head off some issues you might have had. Good luck!

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