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DSLR Guide News, Dec. 2005 - Taking Photos in the Cold
December 28, 2005

Delightful Photos Tips for Frightful Weather

Table of Contents

Intro - Photography in the cold
SLR Q and A - Can I use film lenses with a digital SLR?
4 Quick Tips - Winter landscape photography
The Gear - Essential accessories for your new SLR
Recent Updates - What's new at the Guide
Coming Soon - The SLR Guide E-course


Winter is a challenging time of year for photographers.

I have to admit, I am a fair-weather photographer. When the rain starts coming down and the temperature drops, grabbing my camera and heading outside is not high on my list of things to do.

The problem here is that Winter offers a real wealth of photographic opportunities. Snow, fog, ice and rain create exceptional patterns and an interesting mood to photographs that can't be captured in the middle of Summer.

If you do decide to venture out into the elements, just make sure you take proper care of your digital SLR.

Keep the camera in a plastic enclosure when shooting in the rain, and try to keep the camera close to your body when shooting in cold conditions. You want to keep the camera's battery as warm as possible, because digital SLR batteries run out faster when they are cold.

So long as you protect your camera and other gear, there's no reason you can't be out taking great photos during the Winter.

One thing's for sure: you won't have to work around a lot of other people for prime photography moments. All of us fair-weather folk will be indoors waiting for Spring to come.

Digital SLR Q&A

Question: Can I use my film lenses with a digital SLR?

Answer: In many cases you can. The nice part about buying a digital SLR from the same manufacturer as your old film SLR is that you don't have to go out and spend a ton of money on new lenses.

There is a big catch here: this does not apply if you have a really ancient film SLR (say, something that is 30 years old). Here's the defining factor: it all depends on the lens mount.

When you attach an SLR lens to a camera you thread the lens inside the camera body and twist it until it locks into place. It's a lot like screwing a bolt onto a nut.

When you're working with the bolt and nut, they both have to be the same size to attach to each other - the same thing is true of a lens and a camera body.

The camera manufacturers have different designations for their lens mounts - many Nikon cameras use F-mount lenses, while Minoltas use A-mount lenses.

When you're considering a new digital SLR and have a lot of lenses lying around, figure out what type of lens mount they have. If the lens mount type is compatible with the digital SLR model you are considering, then all of those lenses should work just fine.

And even if your really old lenses aren't compatible, don't despair! If you want to save a bit of money when it comes to lenses, just go to a local camera swap. Find 5 year-old lenses that have the right mount type for your digital SLR, and you can save a huge amount of money.

Here's why this works: professional photographers typically upgrade to new gear when it comes out. A 5 year-old lens is not terribly useful to a pro, unless that lens was exceptionally well designed. Innovations in lens design mean that new lenses are sharper and faster than old ones.

If you head to a camera swap you are bound to find some pros offloading really good lenses for modest prices. This is a great way to build up the lens collection for your digital SLR without paying a ton of money.

4 Quick Tips

Since I began this newsletter talking about Winter photography, it makes sense to focus on the most common type of Winter photography: landscapes.

I'm convinced that landscape photography is more popular in the Winter since portrait subjects are either bundled from head to toe, or they are freezing. Neither one of these conditions makes for exceptional portraits.

Since this is the case, let's talk about 4 tips that will improve your Winter landscape photos.

1. Use Manual Controls
If you want to get the most out of your Winter photos you MUST use manual controls on your camera to set exposure. Why? Most camera meters (even really expensive ones) can't handle extreme contrast, and with snow, ice and fog, there is a lot of contrast in most Winter photos. To get a good exposure, you have to take over the camera controls yourself if you want your photos to look the best.

2. Adjust Your Exposure
Once you've got your camera set to manual mode, you are going to want to over-expose your photos, especially when you're taking pictures in the snow. Pure white snow is much too bright for most camera meters, and they want to make it appear as a neutral grey. If you deliberately over-expose every photo you take in the snow, the snow will appear white once again.

Sample Photo

3. Look for Patterns
One problem with landscape photography during the Winter-time is the lack of color. Winter landscapes are monochromatic - there are no leaves on the trees and everything is covered with frost or snow. One way to capture interesting photos when there is a lack of color is to focus on pattern instead. Wind-blown snow in the early morning and late afternoon can create fantastic photographic material.

Sample Photo

4. Take Photos Early
One thing about morning fog and frost: it's gone by 10am. If you're really looking to capture the mood of Winter in your photos you're going to have to get out of bed in the morning. Valley fog is especially dramatic, but it burns off fast once the sun comes up. This is why I take most of my Winter photos close to home, since I am not dedicated enough to camp out at 5am - it's much easier to walk around the neighborhood to find nice photo opportunities.

Sample Photo

What Gear You Need

Let's say that you are a fortunate individual who has received a new digital SLR for the holidays. Congratulations, you're on your way to exploring the engaging world of digital SLR photography!

Before you go running out the door, consider a few additional items to go with your digital SLR. My hope is that the person gifting the camera was savvy enough to get you some of these items, but if they didn't you'll want to get them yourself.

1. A Memory Card Reader
All digital SLR cameras can be connected to a computer via a USB cable. Not only is this inconvenient, it also eats up the already limited battery life of your camera since the camera has to be turned on when you transfer photos. With a memory card reader, you just have to take the card out of your camera, pop it into the reader, transfer photos, then put the card back in your camera again. It will save lots of time and frustration as you take more photos.

You can either get an all-in-one card reader for any memory card you might ever own, or a dedicated card reader for compact flash or SD memory cards.

2. A UV Lens
UV stands for Ultra-Violet, but this is basically just a clear piece of glass that screws onto the front of your lens. This clear filter protects the front of your lens from dirt, dust and scratches. Since a UV lens costs less than $50, it's a good insurance policy for a lens that can cost $300 or more. All you need to figure out is the filter size that your lens uses - just look on the front of the lens for a number in millimeters. Common filter sizes range from 55mm to 77mm.

Sample Selection of UV Filters

3. A Camera Bag
Hauling around your camera in the rain or snow without protection is not the best idea. An easy way to shelter your digital SLR is with a camera bag. Many camera bags are made to fit specific camera models - I don't recommend them. The reason is that these bags are form fit to your camera. If you ever want to attach a different lens, or want to carry a different camera in the same bag, you're out of luck. There are many other general-purpose camera bags that will be more flexible as your cameras (and lenses) change over time.

I personally use the Adorama Slinger Bag, and love it. The bag is big enough to hold a digital SLR with a nice zoom lens attached, and there are plenty of compartments to store additional lenses and accessories as your gear expands. It holds everything that I need to go out and take photos under every type of condition. I also like the over-the-shoulder design, because I can swing the bag to my front when I need to get some gear out. This is much easier than a backpack, which I would have to take off completely every time I needed to change a lens.

Recent Updates to The Guide

There have not been as many changes to the Digital SLR Guide since the last newsletter (I blame the holidays) but there have been some recent developments.

New Articles
I've added 3 new articles to the guide:

New Camera Review
I have just put the finishing touches on my review of the Canon EOS 350D Rebel XT. A reader poll showed that this was the camera that you most wanted reviewed. You asked for it, so I've delivered!

Read the full review

The Carnival of Digital Cameras
No, this is not a traveling show where you get to see the bearded digital SLR. A Weblog carnival is a weekly roundup of news and reviews about a particular topic - in this case, digital cameras. In conjunction with the digital camera guide on, the Digital SLR Weblog is now participating in this carnival. The carnival runs bi-weekly, and provides a lot of good links to web sites in addition to my usual ramblings about digital SLR cameras.

Read some Carnival posts

Coming Soon

What's around the corner for the Digital SLR Guide? More reviews, more camera comparisons and a special tutorial course in digital SLR cameras.

The tutorial course will help anyone who already has a digital SLR camera (whether they found it through the guide or not). It will include an introduction to typical digital SLR features including aperture, shutter speed, exposure, ISO and white balance.

It will also provide you with tips for improving your photographs, whether your favorite style of photography is portraits or landscapes.

Due to the amount of work that will go into this course, I can't provide it for free to everyone, but as a reader of this newsletter you will receive a special complimentary pass to preview the course once it's available.

Look for that in the January or February newsletter.

In Conclusion

I hope that everyone is enjoying a happy, safe and relaxing holiday. Some of my family members were kind enough to gift me some photographic equipment (surprise, surprise) so playing around with that will keep me busy well into next year.

I'd like to welcome all of the new subscribers this month, and remind everyone that I am always happy to hear your thoughts.

If there's some topic that you'd like to see covered in this newsletter, contact me and let me know. I try to accomodate as many requests as I can, and even if I don't get to your request this month, I've still got plenty of newsletters to go!

Thanks for reading - Happy New Year!

--Chris Roberts, Your Digital SLR Guide

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