- Bring the longest lens and the most high end camera that you can afford. Unless you are spending time in a comfy tundra buggy, where the bears are curious about you and you are out of harms way and have the luxury of only going outside to take the odd picture, you will need a long lens and a camera that can withstand cold up to -50. I was using a 600mm with a 1.4 teleconverter and a full frame camera body. We were out on the tundra 100 meters away from the bears. At that distance several people were using 800 mm lenses. I would rather have a full frame camera, so I think the ideal would be an 800mm lens with a 1.4 teleconverter.
- Bring extra batteries. Camera batteries do not like the cold. A great trick is to buy hand warmers, put them in your pocket with your extra batteries. At least every hour or so, switch your batteries. One day that I was taking pictures, it was -48 with the wind chill. The batteries in my 5-D Mark II lasted about 30 minutes. The battery in my Mark III 1Ds lasted about three hours and still had lots of life in it at the end of the day. You just never know how your batteries are going to perform until you are in the cold, so keep a spare set and change them out regularly. When they are getting low on power, putting them in a warm place will energize them and give them a little more juice.
- Dress warmly! I rented a goose down parka and snow pants. I bought expensive winter boots and mitts. I also attached the shutter release cord to the camera and kept it in my mitt, so I wouldn't have to touch the camera very often. At -48 with the wind chill, when I had to make adjustments on my camera, my fingers literally burned as they touched the metal of the camera body. Even at -48 with the wind blowing in my face, I was toasty warm (until I had to change a camera setting) It is amazing what a couple layers of clothes and goose down winter clothing will do.
- Use a camera sleeve and an eye piece to prevent your eyepiece and viewer from fogging up. When it is really cold, any inadvertent breath on the back of the camera will fog everything all up. I noticed one professional had a sleeve over his camera and an eye piece. This contraption seemed to prevent the eyepiece and the back of the camera from fogging up, which is more than I can say from my experience. At that temperature, it wouldn't just fog up, it would freeze up if your breath was anywhere near the back of the camera. You may even get a little crazy and breathe through a small tube to ensure your breath is no where near the eye piece. One of the photgraphers had a sleeve that went around the camera. On either side of the camera the sleeve had pockets to keep hand warmers. I don't know how well her set up worked as she was just coming as I was leaving.
Noon time warmers- Around lunch time, it is wise to put your foot warmers in your boots. My feet would tend to get a tiny bit damp, then they would get cold. I took a pair of socks off to make room in my boots, put one foot warmer on the top of my toes and one on the bottom of my toes. (the foot warmers have a tape to keep the warmer on the right place on your foot) I can't say that my feet were "warm" at -48, but they certainly were comfortable and not the least bit cold. Another lesson learned from this trip, I am now keeping hand and foot warmers in my car in case of emergencies. The warmers last for 6-10 hours and work very well! At night remember to take the liners out of your boots at the end of each day and put them on a register or near a wood stove or some place warm. Your boot liners may not appear or feel wet, but they will likely be damp on the inside. They will absorb any moisture and hold it. When you go to put your boots on the next morning, your feet will get cold very quickly if your liners didn't have a chance to completely dry out.
- Take two camera bodies!! Always take two camera bodies in case something happens to one of them. You never know what may happen and for sure, you never know how your camera is going to react when it experiences -40's and colder. The best part about taking two bodies is you don't have to change lenses as often which gives you a much better opportunity to "get the shot".
- Before you bring your camera and lens into room temperature from the extreme cold, make sure to wrap your camera and lens in a plastic bag, so when the camera thaws, the water builds up on the outside of the bag, rather than on your camera sensor and inside your lenses. The last thing you need is water droplets and or water stains on your sensor.
- Bring a thin pair of gloves that you can wear under your mittens to change the camera settings. It is 6 of one and a half dozen of another. On one hand if you wear thin gloves in your mitts, your hands will get cold much more quickly. On the other hand if you don't have a thin glove that you can keep handy, your fingers will just burn when you try to change camera settings at -40 to -50!
- We were photographing bears in Wapusk National Park in Canada. Wildlife is unpredictable, so make sure you spend a little more time out on safari than you think you need. I was originally offered 4 days, then later was able to upgrade it to 6 photo days and we saw the bears on two of those days. The other days we blanked. In the end I am happy with my polar bear pictures but had I gone for only the four days that I originally booked, I think I would have been pretty dissapointed as I would have only had one sighting of the bears at that point.
- Book in advance if possible. Polar bear photography trips are quite expensive. There aren't many places in the world that you can go to photograph these amazing animals and a lot of people would love the opportunity to photograph them. If you are interested in going, save your sheckles and book early.
- One photography problem I had was the sharpness of the photos. I did struggle a little bit here. I think because the polar bears are off white and the background is often white and the little ones are white, I think the camera had problems focusing on the right spot. Speaking of sharpness, just as with photographing other wildlife, polar bears can move around a lot. Even if it looks like she is sound asleep, you never know when she is going to jump up and get the kids moving or when the kids are going to wake up and start playing. Keep your shutter speed at a bare minimum of 320 and your aperature as small as possible. I found the best aperature was to be at least 13 to 20. I found that even an aperature of 7-10 just wasn't enough in this environment.
Monday, March 1, 2010
Photographing polar bears can be very rewarding, but also very challenging. Polar bears live in a very cold environment. Photographing in these conditions can create a host of issues. In this blog, I will list some tips on photographing polar bears, or for that matter any animals in cold environments.
Posted by Greg Harvey at 1:02 PM