Photography in Hot Weather
It’s hot enough to make your eyes cross — in fact, they do cross a little every time your pounding headache pulses with your racing heart. You’ve burned yourself twice by touching your searing hot, black metal tripod, and your sunburned skin feels like it’s covered in fire ants. You’d like nothing more than to get out of this heat wave, order an ice cream and 20 litres of water, and jump in the lake.
Hang on a sec, though. Squint your eyes and look around you — the summer can bring some delightful visual treats your way. What if you could take you mind off the baking hot day long enough to actually make some photographs?
Though clothing can’t actively cool you off, what you wear will hugely influence how you feel on a blistering hot day. Sunburned skin feels hot, so prevent sunburn by wearing light-coloured clothing or sunblock. A hat keeps the sun off your face, though the brim can interfere with your camera’s viewfinder. You can either wear one with a floppy brim or one that can be turned backwards when needed, like a baseball cap. Sunglasses help protect your eyes, and can be pushed up onto your forehead when they’re not needed. Cotton or synthetic clothing will keep you cool during the day, but cotton will stay clammy longer once the sun goes down in the evening.
To stay alert and creative in the heat of the day, stay hydrated. Dehydration, while not as dangerous as some think, will make you listlessness and fatigued, reducing your attention span and making it hard to concentrate. Sweating (which you’ll be doing a lot of) purges your body of water, salts, and calories, so make sure you eat as well as drink. Small, light snacks will keep you awake in the heat longer than large, heavy meals. Sports drinks provide much of what your body needs, but are expensive — juice or water along with a small amount of food should do the same job.
In extreme heat, some mechanical camera components can break or malfunction. Aperture blades will occasionally expand and bind, either not closing to the desired aperture or staying closed after the exposure. The blades can sometimes be freed by gently tapping the lens or pressing the depth of field preview button, but often the lens will need to be cooled before it will work properly. Your camera’s shutter can be damaged if the camera is pointed at an extremely bright object with the mirror locked up (a vibration-reduction feature found on some cameras). Avoid using the mirror-lock function if you’re photographing the sun or a reflection of the sun on a hot day.
Heat waves are a hazard to clear photographs on a hot day. Heat waves are apparent ripples in the air just above the ground, caused by the difference in temperature between hot earth and slightly cooler air above it. Heat waves can confound any efforts to create a clear photograph of a faraway object low on the horizon. This effect is especially obvious when using high magnification lenses. There’s nothing you can do to prevent it — you can only focus on other photographs, wait until the day cools down, or photograph the heat waves themselves!
Though heat can feel like a heavy weight on your chest, great photographic rewards can be reaped by venturing out into the desert or up the dusty summer trail. Midday high summer can sometimes feel eerily like the middle of the night — all is sleepy and quiet as everything alive waits to venture out in cooler temperatures. Take advantage of bright light to use unusually fast shutter speeds, or use the harsh contrasty light to create a mindscape of highlights and shadows. As always, you’re only limited by your imagination!