Technique: Shooting in cold weather

Don’t put your X-series camera into hibernation for the winter, get outside and make the most of the conditions

We may be in the colder and darker months of the year, but there are still photo opportunities. The good news is Fujifilm X-series cameras are ideally equipped to make the most of the season with a range of features that will help you to get the best possible shots in all wintry conditions. As the temperature drops, there are a few extra considerations for your camera gear.

Power

Battery performance can be severely affected by low temperatures, so it’s worth buying an additional cell if you’re going to be out regularly in freezing conditions. Make sure all batteries are fully charged before you leave home and if they do die while you’re out, putting them somewhere warm – next to your body, ideally – can often grab a few extra frames.

Misting up

Going from a warm house or car into cold air will inevitably cause your X-series camera to mist up with condensation so, if possible, you should avoid subjecting your kit to large temperature changes. If it’s safe to do so, put your kit (without batteries) into your car a couple of hours before you go out so it can acclimatise. Similarly, putting your kit in a colder part of the house will help reduce condensation build-up – just don’t forget the batteries before you leave. The same applies when you come back in after a cold shoot. Reverse the process, placing them in a colder part of the house first, then gradually warming them up to room temperature. Sealing kit in a plastic bag with a silica gel pack can help. While you’re out, keep lens changes to a bare minimum or, better still, avoid them altogether. Should you get condensation, avoid the temptation to wipe it away and wait until it clears naturally. Unless you own a weather-proof X-T1, using a camera cover and keeping a chamois leather close to hand is a good way of keeping your kit dry.

And don’t forget to apply all these rules to yourself, too. Layer your clothing to stay warm and dry and be sure to take warm drinks and food to keep your batteries charged!

After some cold snaps? Try these…

Frosty close-ups

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This is the perfect subject matter for the XF60mm Macro lens on interchangeable lens X-series cameras or the Macro/Super Macro mode on a fixed lens model. Suitable objects abound so keep an eye out for interesting patterns and subjects that can add a welcome splash of colour.

Snow scenes

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For simplicity, select the Snow program setting. For more control, dial in some + exposure compensation – try +2 in sunny conditions – to avoid the snow rendering as grey sludge. Early morning starts are best and use the Velvia Film Simulation mode for vibrant blue skies.

Starry nights

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Grab your tripod and head out on a clear night. Consider using the open flash technique to illuminate foreground subjects. Avoid including the moon in the shot and use an exposure of at least 30 seconds to render some stars.

Mist and fog

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Look for distinct shapes and try using either the Soft Focus filter setting or increasing the ISO to introduce some grain. Shooting in black & white can be effective, as can fitting a telezoom such as the XF55-200mm to pick out more distant details. Check out this blog for more tips for shooting fog.

Winter portraits

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A great option, regardless of the weather. Hats, scarves, big coats and umbrellas all make great props. The XF56mm is the ideal portrait lens and be sure to make the most of that super wide aperture to throw backgrounds out of focus and deliver beautiful bokeh.

HOW TO: Photograph Fog

As winter starts to set in, photographers are looking for ways to capture this cold season. For me, winter is best covered in the morning. This is a personal preference but in the mornings you have frost, a reasonable hour for sunrise and (if you’re lucky) fog or mist.

There are three types of fog,  so you need to decide what you are looking for and this will depend on your location:

  • Ground fog – In mountainous/hilly areas and cold patches you can get ground fog collecting in valleys. After a rainy night or over wet ground you can get shallow precipitation fog.
  • Sea fog – Also called advection fog, this is where warm air passes over cold sea water.
  • Sea/River smoke – Where the air is colder than the water, creating a generally shallow level of fog, this is generally restricted to water areas, hence river smoke.

When trying to photograph fog you need to use the weather forecast to understand what the evening will be like in your desired location. I was fortunate enough to visit Curbar Edge in the Peak District the afternoon before my first morning I was there to scout the location. It was just before sunset and the fog was forming in the valley below and at that point I decided to try it out the following morning to see how it would look.

The weather for my first morning at Curbar was drizzling and there was a thick layer of cloud, which meant it was pretty unlikely I’d witness much golden light, I thought I’d set out and give it a go. I am so happy I did! This was my first real experience of photographing mist and it is incredible how quickly the spectacle evolves in front of your eyes. I one point I was photographing down one end of the valley, taking some long exposures, only to look over my shoulder and see that it had dramatically changed down the other end of the valley!

I used the X-T1 and the XF18-135mm lens for my main set up. As it was a wet morning the weather-sealed kit meant that I could stop worrying about the system and focus on the spectacle. As well as offering weather sealing, the XF18-135mm meant that I had great versatility, meaning that I didn’t have to worry about changing lenses the entire time. However, I also ended up using a neutral density filter to reduce the amount of light reaching the sensor to further extend the shutter speed. This was great but because I was using a filter set instead of screw in filters it meant that the front element was exposed to the conditions. Long exposures and rain drops do not mix! Thankfully a little umbrella tucked away in my bag helped to shelter the filter.

Generally I was not bothered about using a fast/moderate shutter speed so I set up the system on a tripod and used ISO 200 (the lowest RAW compatible ISO) and generally around F8. The addition of the ND filter, which was a 10-stop filter, meant that the shutter speed required was dramatically decreased. This results in the mist smoothing out, giving quite an interesting effect. See the comparisons below (note that despite the fact the ND filter is meant to be neutral it has put a distinct colour cast on the images).

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The ND filter extended the shutter speed so much that I had to use the bulb setting, as the required shutter speed was longer than 30 seconds. For this I used the remote trigger that allowed me to hold down the trigger (lockable) to keep the shutter open for as long as required. The X-T1 shows the length of the shutter speed on the back screen, this is very helpful. There is something to consider thought when using long exposures: the processing time. As soon as you go beyond 30 seconds, the processing time dramatically increases from seconds into minutes, this isn’t a problem but is something to be aware of when trying to photograph a scene that is evolving constantly.

To make sure I didn’t miss any moments while the X-T1 was processing and to get some different shots, I used the X100s with ISO 1600 to produce a fast enough shutter speed to allow me to use the camera one handed. Picture the scene: a wonderful valley filled with fog unfolding in front of me, one camera on a tripod; my left hand sheltering it with an umbrella; photographing the scene with the X100s in my right hand at the same time! Who says photographers can’t look cool…

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The three above photos were taken with the X100s using the monochrome + red filter jpeg preset.

The reason I chose Curbar Edge is because it provides a high vantage point. This is really important to optimise your chances for good mist photography. It generally means that you should be hit by the early morning light and so should warm up faster! This is a valid point to consider on crisp winter mornings, not that it happened this time around. A high vantage point allows you to see for a greater distance, hopefully providing you with a greater number of layers to your picture. At the top of a valley, Curbar Edge allowed me to see for miles along the valley, which offered both valley fog and river smoke. The ability to then use a telephoto lens to zoom in on particular areas can result in some quite striking shots.

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But also having the ability to instantly zoom wide was a great asset to try and obtain a variety of photographs.

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The colour photos were all taken with the X-T1 and I used the Classic Chrome camera calibration in Lightroom which produced wonderful colours in my opinion. I have only just started using this camera calibration and I love it.

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Though on this occasion the sun didn’t break through the thick cloud cover, the spectacle was nevertheless remarkable and I can only imagine what it would have looked like if sun rays had broken through.

The second morning

Despite being very happy with the previous morning I decided to give it another go as the forecast suggested there was a better chance of a proper sunrise. This time round I decided to not focus too much on lengthy shutter speeds, but instead the details in the fog. What I didn’t expect was the amount of fog!

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The range of the 18-135mm meant that I could capture the grand scale of the fog at 18mm, with the car in the first of these pictures giving a sense of scale. Then using the longer end of the lens I pulled out particular parts of the landscape, such as the little cottage that looks like it should be in Harry Potter and the hilltops surrounded by a sea of fog, turning them into islands. As well as the incredible amount of fog, the sun did make a bit of an appearance too. Despite this it was a very cold morning, producing a wonderful frost. I was very happy to have packed a hat and pair of gloves.

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I positioned myself so part of the hilltop was between me and the rising sun, creating a backlighting effect on Curbar Edge, which brings the fog alive.

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Because of the brighter sky this time round I needed to use a ND gradual filter, where unlike the filter I used during the first morning, this one changes from one end to the other, as the name suggests. At one end it is darker (you can buy filters at different stops, depending on how dark you want to make part of the image), while at the other it has no effect on the light. I use these when I am photographing something with a sky that is much brighter than the ground below. With the above image I used a filter which didn’t stop down the light enough to correctly expose the sky but I like it nevertheless because of the frost (it get particularly difficult to expose correctly when the sun is in the image). While the picture below is a slightly better example of a ND gradual filter in use.

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I hope this has proved helpful and now it is your turn to get out there and photograph the wintery conditions. Let us know how you get on.

What to shoot now – A Winter Wonderland

Christmas may be over, but there are still plenty of subjects and techniques to keep you and your X-series camera busy.

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Winter wonderland

The days may be shorter and the temperatures lower, but there’s no denying that the winter months are a very photogenic time of year. Hopefully, we’ll get a good fall of snow over the next few weeks, which means great photos are to be had.

Like any time of year, taking good pictures in winter does involve some planning. If snow is forecast overnight, it could be worth an early start the following morning. If you’re lucky, it will be bright and sunny and you’ll get shots of the landscape before the snow starts to melt or gets covered in footprints. With this in mind, be sure to check the weather forecast the night before.

Make sure you charge up your batteries too, as cold weather can reduce battery performance. Likewise, we’d advise you to leave your camera (minus the battery) by the front door – this tends to be the coldest part of the house and makes it less likely for your gear to mist up due to a change in temperature when you get outside. Buying an extra battery would be a good idea, especially if you plan to be out and about for a while, plus be sure to pack a warm drink for yourself, in addition to making sure you have plenty of warm clothing. Oh, and make sure you put the battery back in the camera before you leave!

Once you’ve set foot outdoors, there will be plenty of photo opportunities to capture – these images above should give you some pointers. As well as going for the obvious landscape shots, look for more abstract images as well as close-up and detail pictures.

Most X-series cameras offer a preset Snow program mode, which should be your first port of call if you want to get great results quickly. To take more control, use exposure compensation to make sure the white snow comes out white. Select +1 in overcast conditions and +2 in sunny conditions to avoid underexposure.

While we’re sure you’ll make every effort to keep snow and moisture away from your X-series camera while you’re out, if it does get dropped in the white stuff or picks up moisture, place it in a plastic bag with a few sachets of silica gel when you get home. Put them in a warm (not hot) place for a day or two and it should clear up.

Shoot a 365 project

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Lots of photographers traditionally start a 365 project at this time of year. The premise is simple: take one picture a day for a whole year. It sounds simple enough, but it will give both you and your photography a real challenge. To add extra spice, you could insist on using just one feature, lens or function on your X-series camera!

Fun of the fair

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Funfairs spring up in towns during the festive period and you can use them to create eye-catching long exposure images. You’ll need a solid tripod and a low ISO (100 or 200), then select a long shutter speed of around four seconds and fire away. Alternatively, try your camera’s Night Portrait exposure mode and get a low light portrait.

Feathered friends

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In colder weather, food becomes more scarce for birds. Attract them to your garden by offering a regular supply of nuts, suet balls and fruit. They’ll keep coming back once they know food is on tap, giving you the chance to photograph them. The XF55-200mm or XC50-230mm lens would be perfect to get in close.

Church interiors

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Interiors of churches and cathedrals provide a plethora of photo opportunities. Head to one on an overcast day to avoid strong contrast between light and dark areas and try a range of shots including majestic wide-angle images. Set your X-series camera’s Dynamic Range to DR400 to maximise highlight and shadow detail.

Creative candles

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Warm up those winter shots with a candle. Whether on their own or in groups they make perfect subjects. Combined with a face, they make great portraits, too. Increase the ISO on your X-series camera to avoid the flash firing, which will spoil the effect of the ambient light. Leave the white-balance on Auto to retain a warming glow.

What to shoot in November – Longer wintry nights

Remember, remember, there’s plenty to shoot in November! Don’t put your camera into hibernation just when the nights are drawing in – try our pick of this month’s most photogenic events

The end of October saw the clocks shuffle backwards by an hour across the whole of Europe, giving early risers a little more daylight, and earlier sunsets at the end of the day. Don’t be disheartened by the encroaching dark or use it as an excuse to hang up your camera until the spring, though – there’s plenty to shoot in these shorter days. For starters, why not try your hand at some low-light photography? Before you even leave the building, do a little planning.

Think about where you’d like to shoot, and be sure to tell someone where you’re headed – or better still, convince an equally shutter-happy friend to come along for the ride.

Don’t let your quest for the perfect shot get in the way of personal safety, and be sensible about where you plan to stop and take pictures. Cities and remote landscapes alike can be beautiful once the sun’s gone down, but they can be scary and potentially dangerous as well – so be safe.

Low-light landscape pictures can be incredibly impressive, but getting a great shot when there’s little light around is a real challenge – longer shutter speeds are essential, so make sure you’ve got a tripod or other support on hand to ensure pin-sharp details. Keep your ISO setting low and set a shutter speed of around 15 seconds to capture as much light as you can. Set your lens as wide as possible and ensure your aperture’s also as wide as it can go, which will help to retain details and make the most of available light. Adjust your camera’s white-balance to change the mood of the image: you might find that cooler, bluer tones give you more of a midnight feel, so don’t forget to experiment while you have the chance.

Want to capture a lifelike scene at dusk? You could always test-drive the built-in HDR feature on most X-series cameras to layer exposures and achieve as much detail as possible in your final image. And if your dramatic sunset landscape has turned out cloudy, try using the X-series’ Film Simulation modes to shoot a moody black & white twilight scene with real drama in the skies above. Most importantly, don’t forget to take a torch, keep a spare camera battery cosy in your pocket and wrap up warm, because the more comfortable you are, the more you’ll enjoy your low-light shoot.

First frost

First FrostIf the month lives up to its reputation we’re in for chilly mornings – but this means beautiful images of finely-detailed frost for you. Get close to the fronds of plants in your garden, or seek out a frozen cobweb for a glorious late-autumn shimmer. Just head out around sunrise before any thaw and don’t forget your gloves!

Winter wildlife

Winter wildlifeWild creatures are readying themselves for the rigours of winter, so this time of year is an ideal opportunity to see beasts out and about collecting their food. If you’re a fan of feathered subjects, try setting up a feeding station in your garden and see what local birds you can lure in front of longer lenses like the XF 55-200mm.

Christmas lights

Christmas lightsThe big switch-on seems to happen earlier every year – but that just means more time for shooting the decorations! Larger towns and cities become a festive light show, but make sure you time your shooting for twilight so there’s still some blue in the sky – it’s this contrast of natural and man-made light that will make your shots sparkle.

Festive markets

Festive marketsWith Christmas just around the corner, you’ll find festive markets aplenty in your local towns and villages. Seasonal crafts, twinkling decorations, cheerful crowds and a variety of unusual foods present ideal subjects, and if you’re shooting handheld, remember to switch your Optical Image Stabilisation on for sharper shots.

Traffic trails

Traffic TrailsLong exposures change the way you see the world, and a great example is when shooting the rush hour. Using a shutter speed of around 10 seconds turns crawling cars into an amazing stream of light and with its shortened days November is the perfect time to try it out – you can even shoot a few on your way home from work.