Most people who are glancingly familiar with professional photography probably assume that the "hard" parts have to do with figuring out all the technical stuff as it relates to camera settings, focusing strategies, composition and lighting. In general I think people assume that photography is mostly "clean" work that takes place in comfortable settings. If they consider the professional in more depth they'll probably next come to the conclusion that a good part of being successful on locations involves packing and transporting all the gear. I, on the other hand, place a much higher priority on being able to work efficiently in less than ideal environments... where human frailty becomes a bigger issue than cutting edge technique.
While the central Texas area where I live isn't experiencing the record heat that a lot of the western U.S. is being hit with right now it still gets dangerously hot every Summer in Austin. And by "dangerously hot" I don't mean to say that people with "normal" lifestyles are walking two blocks to get from their jobs to their cars and dropping over from the temperatures, I mean that people whose jobs require them to spend long hours outside, in the warmest parts of the day, are in danger of developing heat exhaustion. But even if they take all necessary precautions the combination of heat and humidity will slow down the most fit person and create situations in which concentration and considered awareness are reduced. It's hard to work if you are uncomfortable and moving slow. Hands and head dripping sweat is also a bad combination when handling cameras and lenses.
I mention all this because I'm trying to get into shape to start a project that we'll begin work on next Friday. The assignment is a series of photo shoots at various wine makers properties in the region. I'm trying to figure out some best practices for working better, but most of all I'm trying to get in better physical shape to withstand the performance robbing effects of continued heat stress.
Sure, I swim a couple of miles every morning and do a lot of casual walks with one camera and lens at a time but it's different when you are standing in the middle of a vineyard at three in the afternoon trying to photograph some interesting aspect of horticulture while the sun is beating down on your black metal camera, your head and any exposed skin.
The only way I know of to get into shape for specific types of environments is to build up a resistance over time.
Yesterday was a typical day in my multi-week regimen of getting used to working in conditions that lead to torpor. I put on a shirt from the Columbia clothing company that uses a techie fabric that not only has an SPF rating of 30+ but also is great at wicking moisture away which gives an evaporative cooling effect. I've got some REI short pants that are made from a similar fabric. You've seen the wide brimmed hat I like to wear in countless recent photos and it works really, really well at keeping direct sun off the tops of my ears and off my scalp. I vacillate on shoes. If I'm just doing urban walking I have a pair of Keen Targhee sandals that breathe well and I wear them on hot, downtown walk days. But in rougher terrain (no streets or side walks) I wear more protective hiking shoes. The final touch is an application of sun screen with an SPF of 30+. It goes everywhere the sun touches.
Added this year are special gloves from Outdoor Research. They are called "Active Ice" and are made from yet another sun blocking but good breathing material that wicks away moisture (sweat) from your hands and keeps them cooler; also through evaporative cooling. The gloves only cover to the first knuckle so they don't interfere with the settings of small camera buttons or the touching of touch sensitive rear camera screens. Most people don't think about sun damage to the backs of their hands but it's pretty common. Anything that keep my hands looking younger is most welcome! I know the gloves look dorky but there it is...
It's great to be properly equipped for the weather. The only thing I might consider adding is a light stand with an umbrella attached. That would make a good, portable sun shade which might be helpful for times when an art director and I want to duck into some shade to review a few photographs. Or when someone just can't stand more sun exposure. But no matter how well equipped you might be, unless you have found a way to bring along an air conditioner you'll feel the heat and the heat will eventually beat you down. My strategy is to get into good enough shape to resist the heat for a longer amount of time. Everyone has limits and getting in shape over time is a good way to find where those limits are, and what it feels like to go from "uncomfortable" to "getting dangerous."
I've been getting out, most days, to walk in some part of the afternoons between 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. Earlier generally gets you slightly lower temperatures but higher humidity while later is the reverse; drier and hotter.
My favorite urban route is about 3.2 miles and it's a mix of open shade (from the enormous buildings) and direct sun. But it's mostly flat terrain, and while the distance it good a bit of higher effort walking is helpful in building endurance more quickly. I've sorted out a 3 mile loop through our neighborhood that has four big hills with tough grades. One hill has something like a 30° grade and it's tough to go up near the end of a hot walk. Another hill is a bit more gradual but is much longer in distance. The combination, mixed with a 100° afternoon will absolutely kick my butt. To even out the training I alternate between the hill course and the urban course and try to hit them five or six days a week. I've also dropped a few pounds (a result of discontinuing that glass or two of red wine I used to enjoy most evenings....) and that is a benefit in the battle against heat stress. Less unwanted insulation!
There was one more thing that one of my "mentor" photographer friends convinced me of and that was to ditch my polarized sunglasses and get a pair of traditional RayBans that are not polarized. He originally switched out the polarized sunglasses when it became obvious that some rangefinder cameras and some of the early rear screens on digital cameras went black if you had your eye oriented in a certain way while wearing the glasses. He also found out that the polarized lenses were "over promising" what his cameras were able to do with a scene. When wearing the polarized glasses the clouds and skies became much more dramatic but when he made the photos they seemed less exciting. Seems like a good rational; you want the experience of image creation to be as WYSIWYG as possible; right? And few people enjoy carrying a polarizing filter for every lens in the case, all day long. Not to mention the uneven frames that polarizers can sometimes produce....
I've got a week and a day to get ready for my first daylong shoot in the Hill Country so I'm trying to make sure I walk the distance every day. I also take along a camera each time just to prove to myself that even if I'm hot, tired and uncomfortable I can still operate a camera with an acceptable level of competence.
Not quite the same as moving gear from a parking garage, on a cart, into a cool, air conditioned corporate building and then sipping a perfect cappuccino while tweaking the lights for an executive portrait shoot... There the only real danger there is that your subject might be running late, or have a stain on their necktie that has to be retouched later. It's a whole different thing.
But this upcoming project reminds me of our assignments for the big infrastructure company that had me shooting deep in the Florida everglades on one day (close to too many alligators...) and photographing near the California wildfires outside Sacramento the next. You have to have a good idea of what you are getting into, make serious plans to survive....and get back home with acceptable photographs.
Gear Note: Yesterday I walked with the silver version of the Fuji X100V. Even the lens hood is silver. It stayed just warm to the touch. The black, metal surface of the Leica SL (the day before) got downright toasty. Maybe I need to make little, aluminum foil hats for my black cameras and lenses........
Anyway, here are some images I shot yesterday. I processed some with the new "premium" presets that arrived in the latest Lightroom Classic update this week. There are "futuristic" presets, "cinematic" presets and four or five sets of presets for skin tones. There's a wide range of looks and they're pretty much fun to work with. I find it best to create a second dupe layer and apply the presets to that. It gives me the opportunity to use layer opacity sliders to "pull back" the overall effect when I want looks that are more subtle.
If you are doing the PhotoShop/Lightroom subscription you might want to give the new, updated presets a whirl. There is also a new enhancement option to double an image file in size with few downsides. More about both of these subjects later.
I don't know whether or not they were being sarcastic
but two young women I passed in the street made a point
yesterday of telling me: "I love your outfit."
Hey, I'll take it.