Olympus E-M1 Journal: Entry #9: Winter (cold weather) shooting

Here in New England we've had quite a winter so far.  Since the beginning of December, Boston has received over 24" of snow total, in three storms.  I don't know what the "normal" amount is, but last year it was less than 4" during the same time frame.

This last storm dumped up to 24" all by itself, in some of the towns north of Boston and near the New Hampshire border.  Where we live, we were spared, with only 7".

Something that is unusual is the severe cold that accompanied the snow.  Obviously, one expects it to be cold when it snows.  But we've had temperatures far lower than freezing.  We woke up this morning to -6F.

Inside the house we were warm and toasty.  A comfy fire warmed us in the living room, as we enjoyed our morning coffee.

The weather forecast was for rising temps and sunshine.  Normally, I might have gone off for the day with my skis, either skiing cross country locally, or taking the short trip to southern New Hampshire.  But at -6F?  Not so much.  Even the promise of rising temperatures was not enough to move me off the couch.

Then I had the bright idea of testing out the E-M5 and the 12-40 lens, both of which are supposed to be "weather proof".  Who knows, perhaps equipped with this setup winter photography will become a new genre for me.

What I decided to do was to grab the camera, the lens, and a spare battery and head by car to the historic town of Concord, Massachusetts.  The center of the town still has an "old" feel to it, and there is a nice walk out to the Old North Bridge, where (arguably) the American Revolutionary War started.

My Little Excursion to Concord

I spent a total of two hours roaming around Concord.  As you can see, there were not a lot of people about.  When I arrived at the Municipal Parking Lot the temperature had risen to 5F.  When I left two hours later it was a balmy 15F.

The camera operated flawlessly.  It was my fingers that gave me trouble.  I used bare hands the first 30 minutes, then moved to a glove on my left hand for the second 30 minutes, and then decided I'd better learn to do winter photography wearing gloves on both hands... that is if I wanted to enjoy the activity.

Here's what else I learned:

1.  When you have no expectation for creating "portfolio" pictures, wear gloves on both hands and keep it simple.

2.  Create a customized "myset" with all your basic default settings.  For purposes of an outing like this, add 3 shot bracketing to your default settings.  I'm happy with 3-shot 1-stop bracketing.  But you also need to remember to set the drive mode to high speed sequential shooting, so that with one press (and hold down) of the shutter button you will get three bracketed shots.  If you want 2-stop bracketing, use the HDR feature instead.  Don't let the camera create an HDR image, you just want the three shots at different exposures so you can pick the best one of the three when you are home and warm.  The HDR setting is easier to use than the BKT setting because it automatically switches the drive mode to high speed  sequential shooting.  My myset default setting includes the P mode, Auto WB, Auto ISO.  I'm letting the camera do all the thinking.

3. Use the myset in "P mode".  I started out the day using EV compensation to get the "right" exposure.  Actually, this is very easy with gloved hands as EV compensation is achieved with the front dial and the forefinger.  But once I added BKT or HDR, I no longer had to even think about EV compensation.  Why fiddle in the cold trying to get the correct exposure, when bracketing will do it for me?  Basically I turned the camera into a Point  'n Shoot where I knew bracketing would give me at least one suitable exposure.

4. If you want to control depth of field, use your myset in "A mode".  I will probably use this next time now that I have some familiarity with the camera in the cold.  I didn't bother this time because I just didn't want to think about it. This was actually my first time with this camera outdoors.  As it was, the camera basically chose between F4 and F8 with the light I had to work with.  AutoISO always chose ISO 200, and shutter speeds were fast for these essentially stationary scenes, ranging from 1/200 to 1/1000.

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