Weather Service Predicts Record Highs for Central Texas this Week. Time to break out the shorts and the lighter cameras...

Actor/Talent/Model and Friend, Noellia, and I spent a couple hours one Summer 
making photos on one of the hottest days of the year. 
That's the Barton Creek Spillway in the background.
We were using a Sony Next-7 and the 50mm f1.8 lens at the time. 
Lots of fun stuff to shoot when everyone is out playing in the water.

The national weather service is predicting that we're about to get socked with some record high temperatures near the end of this week and over the next weekend. There's a high pressure zone parked right over the top of the Austin and San Antonio area. You would think that Austinites would head indoors and find places like cold, dark movie theaters and chilly malls to lurk around in, and I'm sure some of our recent transplants will, but most of the city's core population will see it as an excuse to hit the local pools; natural and manmade.

I'm trying to be better about too much sun exposure so I've shifted to the 7:00 a.m. swim practice for the Summer months. The water is getting warmer but that didn't stop our masters swimmers from hitting the pool in force today. We had four and five people circling per lane and another group stepping in at 8:00 a.m. as we exited the early workout. As the water temp goes up our yardage tends to go down a bit. It's just as easy to get over heated in a warm pool as anywhere else.

So, what are the long practiced tips for surviving photo shoots in the outdoors in the Texas Summer?

Here are mine:

1. Start early in the day. Get to your locations at first light instead of waiting for the sun to warm everything up. If you start early you can finish early. While the sun might be at its peak around noon to one p.m. the heat continues to rise until about 5 p.m. Finishing by 2 or 3 pm is how the landscapers do it....

2. Don't wait until you feel thirsty to start drinking water! By the time you feel thirsty you are already getting dehydrated. Start with a big glass of water even before the first cup of coffee and then repeat all day long. And, actually, yes; coffee counts as part of your hydration, if you are an acclimated coffee drinker.

3. Just as oil companies transition from Winter gas to Summer gas formulations it may be time to leave the Nikon D5 or Canon 1DX and the big ass zooms back at the house and transition to "Summer" cameras. I'm back to packing the much smaller and lighter Panasonic GH5's and a smaller assortment of lenses. The heat makes for different priorities AND the light levels seem abundant. 

Less weight makes for less work which makes for less thermal build up in your own system.

4. I own a bunch of black camera bags but I also own a big Domke camera bag that is a very light beige color. All those black bags and cases do a great job absorbing heat. The beige one does a decent job reflecting it. I also take a FlexFill (circular collapsible reflector) along and use it as a bag cover when I have to stop and shoot in an area where there is no shade. I put my bag down, pop open the reflector and put it on top with the silver side facing up toward the sun. 

You may think that cameras are built to handle heat but anything over 104f (and a black camera can hit 140 in direct sun) causes increased noise and artifacting. If you are shooting video you'll find shooting in direct sun can also cause so much heat build up that your camera shuts down! I'm always trying to find ways to keep black cameras and lenses covered when I shoot in full sun. 

One more thing, if you are used to relying on hard stop infinity settings on your lenses be aware that the heat can cause metal lenses and glass to expand and will change marked focus accuracy!

5. Wear a freakin hat!!! You need to create your own shade and when the sun is brutal a good hat will make a big difference. Get one with some good front overhang so it can help keep sunlight off your viewfinder. 

6. Dress for coolness but be sure to cover up exposed skin or douse it regularly with sunscreen. I prefer to cover with loose, thinner clothing than to coat myself with chemicals. There are lots of technical shirts, even long sleeved ones, with high SPF ratings.

7. It may be a perfect shot that you are waiting for but if you feel too hot it's time to make for the shade, douse yourself from head to toe with water and stay still for a while, letting evaporative cooling do its work. If you feel ill effects then get into the air conditioning. Another shot will certainly be there tomorrow. Heat stroke takes all the fun out of photography...

8. If you plan on using a tripod you might want to get a nice light wooden one that won't transfer heat when you grab it to move to the next location. If you don't want to buy a new one then wrap some fabric around the thick, top legs and secure with gaffer's tape. At least when you grab the tripod legs you won't burn your hands. 

9. Don't leave your cameras in your enclosed car; especially if you are parking in full sun. Car interiors get super hot and while the circuitry in your camera may not fry you can imagine the damage cumulative heat does to rubber weather sealing, faux leather texturing and LCDs. Just take your camera in with you like we all used to do in the film days. We all knew that film didn't mix well with heat....

10. Instead of long expeditions think in smaller chunks of shooting interspersed with lots of stops for air conditioning and beverages. Topping off a day of shooting with a nice craft beer might be a good way to restore some lost electrolytes....

That's pretty much my list. We could get more detailed and talk about keeping a couple gallons of water in your car, making sure your tires aren't getting brittle, and a bunch about shoes, but I'm aiming the above advice toward urban shooters who aren't in remote areas. But, Heat is Heat.


Hynee said...

I have some black Low-pro bags that come with light grey rain covers, I imagine that could be useful in sunny conditions too.

Michael Ferron said...

Actually I walked downtown today and it really wasn't all that bad. Some breeze and no humidity made 98 feel tolerable. I prefer say 75 but anytime I can manage to get the camera out for a walk is a good day.

crsantin said...

Many of those also apply to extreme cold weather shooting like I do here in Canadian winters. Which type of exposure is worse, heat stroke or hypothermia? I've never suffered from hypothermia or frostbite but I did experience heat stroke when I was younger. I was very ill with it and it was definitely not fun. Ever since then I have been very sensitive to heat and sun so I really have to be careful.

Mitch said...

Water is not necessarily your exclusive friend. If you are out in the heat and sweating profusely, you need to replace lost minerals and salts. Just drinking gallons of water can actually dilute the remaining concentrations of electrolytes and such in your blood, even though you are properly re hydrating yourself. You'll actually keep feeling worse and worse.

During hours long shoots in the heat (yeah, us northern NY folks get heat too!) I use a custom sports drink that I use while cycling, just watered down a little. Even off the rack sports drinks watered down 50% (as they have way too much sugar) can help in a pinch.

And carry a light colored umbrella. A little shade in a wide open farm field can work wonders for keeping me in the game longer, and my gear a little cooler.

The key is to only schedule 11 hour days out in the field for days that will be 75 and breezy ... Right? Right?

Kirk, Photographer/Writer said...

Mitch, you are absolutely right. We use a product here called Nuuns. It comes in tablet form and is a flavored additive to water that replaces electrolytes and minerals but without adding sugar. One tablet in each 16 ounce water bottle does the trick. I learned about it in swim practice because the osmotic pressure in water increases dehydration. You need to replenish fluids frequently.

As to umbrellas. Also a good call. I bought one from Whole Earth Provision Company a couple of years ago that is reflective silver on the top side and black on the photographer facing side. Works well and keeps the IR off. Also note that you can use a Manfrotto grip head to secure the umbrella to a C-Stand for those times when you are stationary and waiting for recalcitrant models, the right light, on the delivery of coffee by ones first assist.

Laughed at the last one. We did a highway infrastructure project a few years back in the middle of the Summer and we went nearly sun up to sun down for the better part of a week. Slept well the following weekend, for sure.

Mitch said...

Nuun are very similar in composition to what I use. The drink I use was recommended by Iron Man friends and has served me very well for my cycling as well as keeping me in the game while working long shoots in hot weather. (I had no idea about osmotic pressure for swimmers!)

Got to think beyond F stops and Lines/mm if you're going to have a successful shoot, no? Maybe we can have a whole post about comfy shoes...

Might have to look into that umbrella. I still have a clamp from my news photographer days that clamped an umbrella to my monopod while shooting sports. But yours sounds much more ... technical... with the silver side. Who knows, could even serve as an always-in-the-trunk reflector too!