Whether pounding rain beats on the rooftops, or blazing heat wilts the daisies, there are many opportunities for interesting video in every season of the year. Because it’s snowing outside or the thermostat hits 100-degrees the camera doesn’t need to go in the closet until better weather arrives. Here’s a look at the good and the bad of various times of year, and a few tips to take advantage of and work around the glorious seasons.
Problem: People in the shade with a bright background are too dark.
The challenge of recording good video during a brightly-lit spring day can be surprisingly tough. The sunny hillside behind the subject can ruin a shade-tree picnic video because the camera wants to expose on the dominant bright background.
Solution: Illuminate your subject at least as well or better than the background. Or change your subject’s position (or your own) so the hill and the subject have the same level of illumination. If you can’t move your subject into the sunlight, use a large reflector or strong outdoor-filtered lights to match the level of the sunny background. Your camera’s “backlight” button may help compensate for the bright background but be careful, this may overexpose the background. Try raising your camera higher than your subject and shooting down, this will help diminish the background.
Problem: Spring showers rain on my parade, my camcorder and me.
April showers might bring May flowers, but those showers can also bring fried circuit boards, wet record heads and possibly a dead camera should you be caught in a sudden downpour. Water and electronics are mortal enemies. However, if you must shoot in the rain, there are ways to do it.
Solution: No camera rain cover? No worries. At the first sight of rain, insert the camera into a large plastic bag with the opening at the bottom. Cut a hole near the top for the lens, poke it through and tie the plastic down with rubber bands. Using a clear, loose-
fitting bag allows you to see the LCD screen and reach all of the camera buttons. (See the Gear For All Seasons sidebar for more gear packing tips.) Also, seek cover from the rain under an awning, tree or even the raised hatch of a minivan or SUV. I’ve used variations on this method in several hurricanes with great results. However, at the first sign of lightning, head indoors immediately. Lightning is awesome to capture on tape, but there are some tips to doing it right, see the sidebar for those.
The Toys of Summer
Problem: High heat can cause severe damage to delicate electronics.
Solution: Summer and the heat it brings can kill cameras, batteries and tapes more quickly than any other season. In a closed car, temperatures quickly zoom to 140 degrees or more, melting or damaging expensive gear. Take the gear bag with you when you shoot, if possible, or place it in a dark, shaded area such as a trunk or covered cargo area inside an empty ice cooler.
In a closed car, temperatures quickly zoom to 140 degrees or more, melting or damaging expensive gear.
This will accomplish two goals: One, the cooler has insulated walls and the lid will keep most heat and sunlight out. Plus, it camouflages your precious gear from thieves who might overlook an ice chest. Also wrapping your camera in a thick towel gives it some protection from the heat. Remember that you also need protection from the hot sun! Have plenty of plain drinking water on hand (keep it away from the camera! Remember what happened last Spring?), a wide-brimmed hat for shade and a towel- this time for you- not the camera. Your comfort and health in the extreme heat is as important to a successful shoot as the well-being of the gear.
Problem: Harsh sunlight reflects off light-colored surfaces.
Solution: We’ve often seen (and felt) broad, intense sunlight reflections off concrete sidewalks, water, beaches, windows and snow. This glare causes people to squint during sunny days and prevents your camera iris from seeing fine detail. Remember if you need sunglasses, so does your camera. Too much reflective light makes darker subjects lose depth and clarity. To combat this effect, try a polarizing filter on your camera lens. Polarizing filters remove glare by adsorbing much of the sunlight’s reflected wavelengths, allowing only a small portion through and reducing the light intensity, minimizing distracting reflections. Rotate the filter to achieve maximum glare reduction.
Problem: The seasons are shifting, and tree leaves are changing. How do I make the colors “pop”?
Solution: The perfect times to shoot, called “Golden Hour” or “Magic Hour”, are in the early morning as the sun rises and again at sunset when it’s dipping beneath the western horizon. Casting a warm, golden glow across the leaves, the light at this time of day is ideal for recording the colors of autumn. However, act quickly and efficiently! The warm morning light soon gives way to the harsh light of the full sun and the late afternoon glow quickly changes to dusk’s dull gray. Any advantage is quickly lost (your amount of time is limited to about…um, an hour), so you need to set up long before you plan to shoot.
Reset your manual white balance every few minutes for a proper color temperature as light changes constantly during these extreme low-angle positions of the sun. Take advantage of a good rainstorm to race outside immediately following a storm to record deeply saturated (meaning rich and bright) colors because the sky is clean and bright, and wet leaves reflect more light and, therefore, more vibrant color.
Winter Blues or Whites…
Solution: Cold can kill electronics and sap the life from batteries. A good rule of thumb: If it’s too cold for you, it’s too cold for the camera. If the camera’s small enough, place it, your batteries and tapes in an airtight freezer bag and place in the inside pockets provided in most jackets. Sandwiched between your body and the insulation of the coat, body heat will keep things warm and the sealed plastic bag will reduce the fogging that would otherwise occur.. No inside pockets or your camera is too large? Carry a small gear bag under the coat instead. Your body warmth will warm up the camera lens and viewfinder, so be sure to let the camera acclimate to the cold before you take it out of the plastic bag to avoid fogging.
Problem: Now that I’m in my warm house, my ice-cold camera lens is fogging up!
Solution: This is normal and temporary, but should be avoided. Just as the outside surface of a cold soda can gets sweaty on a hot day; your camera lens is doing the same now it’s inside a warm, moist house. Again just seal your cold camcorder in a plastic bag before taking it inside a warm room.
Tips for All Seasons
Before you leave your house on your next shoot, review the contents of your equipment bag to ensure they’re appropriate for the weather and the subject you’re shooting. With a little forethought and a few simple, inexpensive supplies, those cold winter days or steamy summer evenings may be the perfect time for shooting some very compelling productions.
Randy Hansen is a television news station Chief Photographer who has managed to keep his camera protected (but not himself) in five Florida hurricanes, a few blizzards and 100+ degree California heat waves.
Sidebar: Flash in the Cam
There are tricks to shooting lightning, but foremost remember you and your camera are lightning rods, so be extremely cautious. Shoot from inside a garage or other large covered building. To capture lightning at it’s best, set your f-top at its smallest setting, and set the iris on manual. Think of how the background will look when the strikes happen. Lightning is more awesome when there are other objects in the scene: a church steeple, a large grove of trees, over looking a cityscape. The lighter the color of the foreground object, the more intense the lightning-lit shot. Watching the first few strikes for direction and placement, point your camera with a wide enough shot to capture the strikes and your desired subject, hit “record,” and wait. You have to be patient. The idea is to capture the same exact scene for at least five flashes, with nearly black between flashes. Then you can edit out the dark scenes, and cut all of the flashes back-to-back for a truly awesome video.
Sidebar: Gear for all Seasons
At little to no cost, certain supplies in your gear bag become invaluable when you’re far from home and you need them the most. You may already have many of these items sitting around the house:
- A small assortment of freezer bags of
various sizes (They’re more durable
than sandwich bags)
- Saran Wrap works as a camera rain coat
- A polarizing filter
- Bounce board or flex reflector (probably
won’t fit in your bag but bring it)
- Ice cooler “camera box”
- Drinking water, sunscreen, hat and
- Fingerless gloves for winter (football
receiver, bike, or weight-lifting gloves.
Leather palms will slip less than wool)
- Waterproof Gore-Tex shoes for stormy
weather or sandals
- Golf shoes for icy conditions
- Hair drier, heat blowing from your car
vent and even heat from a halogen light will defog your lens. (Keep an eye on
the rubber parts near the lens.)
- An old, clean dry towel has unlimited
- Lens tissue and lens cleaning fluid
- A small “blower brush” to dust off sand
particles, blow away pollen flakes, etc.
- Rubber bands to seal the bags, keep
tape cases closed, and a myriad of other uses
- A compactly folded plastic poncho
- A copy of your camcorder owner’s
Rotate, replace or resupply these items as needed during the year to ensure keep your towel stays clean from abrasive sand and you have a supply of rubber bands when you need them most.