Updated: Jun 14
As autumn comes it brings with it new challenges for the photographer, Are you equipped to deal with the changing weather and make the most out of your time outside ?
One of the most important things you can do is be comfortable while out taking pictures, you are often stood for long periods of time waiting for just the right moment of light to hit.
The elements will be doing their very best to hamper the photographer in their quest by throwing out challenge after challenge.
So you could just stay at home when the weather looks bad right ? Well, you could but chances are you might well be missing some of the best light. As bad weather clears this is often the moment the lighting will be at its most dramatic and it can be fast and fleeting so you have to be out there and ready to get that picture as it presents itself.
Photographers present a fairly unique challenge for clothing, we often walk many miles keeping good body temperature but then we stand stationary for long periods of time often in really horrific conditions so we need clothing that can adapt to our situation as and when it happens.
Manufactures have come a long way with their fabrics these days and much understanding has been gained over the years in how to keep both warm and dry.
I happen to really get into this subject as I work with clothing for motorcycles and see much of the development in waterproofing and membranes and abrasion resistance so I have a good understanding of how this translates into good well suited products for walking.
So how do we best serve our purpose of light chasing photography ? The answer is simple and has been around for a lot of years, The layering system.
The Layering System.
So what is the layering system ?
As the name suggests its based on three simple layers which each serves a function and combined can offer the ultimate solution.
Layers trap air, this will keep you warm but combining the right ones is the all important factor here.
Layer one is a base layer, this is worn against the skin and is made from materials like polyester and polypropylene and they have excellent wicking qualities that will pull sweat away from the body and not hold it.
There are thousands of brands that make base layers and they go from cheap to sky high, why ? I hear you ask. Well, as always you get what you pay for.
Cheap base layers will do the job and are fine for short walks but they do end up being quite smelly if you are pushing yourself and sweating a bit. More expensive tops address this fact and are made with products like polygiene & bamboo and will control the odour very well and are much better suited to hard treks.
Base layers come in T-shirt or full sleeve versions as well as leggings and even underwear if you're really into it that much !
This is the number one essential item in your quest to stay comfortable and every photographer should invest in a few in my humble opinion.
Why not wear a normal T-shirt ? Well, Cotton is not a good material for wicking, it will not breath very well and will hold sweat against the body and take an age to dry which can be a real problem if your over heating and you get rid of a jacket to cool down as the wind will chill wet materials very rapidly which will be very uncomfortable to be in.
The next step in the layering system is a good fleece jacket. They are thin enough to cause no real issues while wearing them but can keep you very warm.
Fleece is very lightweight and it breathes which is essential for the photographer's comfort.
Other jackets are usually made up of many different fibres and layers but fleece is just fleece which in my opinion helps out the feel and function of the jacket no end.
There are usually a few different fleece weights available Light weight 100 g/m2, which is ideal as a comfortable layer for low wind and fairly warm conditions. Medium weight 200 g/m2 which is good for most situations and strikes a good balance for all seasons and a perfect mid layer. Heavy weight 300 g/m2 now this is the daddy of fleeces and will laugh in the face of most conditions but as you would expect, its a little thicker that the others which means movement can be compromised.
Fleece isn't waterproof but it does however offer good protection from light showers and is a fairly quick drying material.
A medium weight fleece and a base layer is perfect for walking in most conditions and will keep you warm and can be simply unzipped to vent where needed to control your core temperature.
Soft shell and light down jackets can offer a realistic alternative to fleece but in my opinion they are nowhere near as effective at keeping you warm and being able to breath but they do have the bonus of having a reasonable degree of waterproofing to them.
The next layer should be your waterproof layer.
This is possibly the most important purchase you will make on clothing and you should not skimp on it where possible.
Surely any waterproof jacket will do wont it ? Not at all, Waterproof does not mean 100% waterproof and it's a really naughty thing manufactures put on their garments to say it offers a basic level of waterproofing.
Now if I was in a shop and a I saw a label that said "Waterproof" I would naturally assume it meant 100% waterproof and would keep me dry, It doesn't and it's a real mine field that you should tread carefully on.
You need to look for a jacket that is 100% waterproof and 100% breathable in order to get the best out of it.
There are plenty of fabrics that offer 100% waterproof guarantees and they are genuine, but they aren't worth parting with cash for unless they are 100% breathable as well otherwise and perspiration will not be able to escape from the jacket and you will end up soaked from the inside even though the outer is doing its job.
Membranes such as Gore-tex are perfectly designed to do just this, they allow the perspiration to escape as a gas by using micro pores but in turn these don't allow water to flow through from the outside.
Gore-Tex is in my opinion the very best thing out there to keep you dry and comfortable, I have tried many other companies versions of the same thing but nothing has come close and in short I wouldn't dream of buying jacket or set of walking trousers for extreme conditions unless it contained Gore-Tex as a membrane.
An outer shell jacket also offers a very good protection from biting winds and good ones will have ventilation zips to allow you to cool without removing it.
Most walking jackets will offer a hood as well which can make all the difference when out as you lose so much heat through your head and a really good one will provide a total closure system with draw strings so it can contour around the head with a peak leaving pretty much just your eyes visible.
Trousers can be a hot bed of opinion and you will have to find your own way here, but for me I tend to wear soft shell trousers that will give me a degree of protection from rain and are marked as waterproof but in reality they aren't. Soft shell breathes very well and they are warm and comfortable and offer a good degree of protection from the rain as well as being really flexible to walk in and clamber over rocky areas.
These will keep me dry and comfortable in most weather but I always have a set of Gore-tex over trousers in the ruck sack in case I am caught up a mountain or miles from shelter when the heavens really open and they have proven to be a great addition to my kit.
Footwear is another very personal thing but there are several areas I wouldn't be without.
Leather for me is the best material for foot ware, it's hard wearing and will repel the elements nicely and stand up to the tough treatment it gets.
It will last a lot longer than a material boot too.
Once again I opt for a Gore-Tex boot as having wet feet is a sure fire way to make you uncomfortable and want to go home, Should you somehow get water inside it will eventually escape as it breathes.
Ankle support is a must for trekking and while the "trainer" style walking shoes might feel pretty good on they just offer no support at all for the photographer who likes to clamber over things, once you have tried a boot you will not go back.
For the soles I try and find one that has a Vibram sole which is basically multiple compounds on the sole that offer different functions such as anti slip etc... This can really prove very handy especially when on wet rocks.
Gloves can be a bit of a non starter for the photography as you will find camera operation very hard while wearing them so I tend to go for a fingerless neoprene style glove or one with fold over mitten ends for when you're walking, Other than that it's a case of in the pockets and some reusable hand warmers, of which men come equipped with a pair as standard ! ;) But using these in public will probably result in a free ride in a police car so gentleman, use them wisely !
Simple things like a wooly hat will make a big difference and takes up little room in a back pack and then of course theres the posh method, a good old flask of hot coffee ! Something I never used to do till my good friend and awesome photographer, Martin Dolan brought one on one of our trips and I was instantly hooked and make sure I have a flask now for all autumn/winter trips, plus I love nothing more than being sat with a warm cup of coffee after a shoot just watching.
To give you a breakdown of my kit of which I have tried and tested and thoroughly recommend I use Berghaus or Rab base layers, these are excellent and have never let me down.
For my summer/autumn fleece I use a Berghaus Ben Oss windproof fleece which uses Gore Wind-Stopper material to keep out the chill, this sometimes carries on into winter but for the depths I use a Berghaus heavy weight fleece of which I can't remember the name but I've had it for around 5 years and it's never failed to do it's job.
Trousers are Montane Scree pant soft shell for spring summer and Spray Way all season rain pant for autumn/winter but always backed up with the Berghaus Helvellyn Gore-Tex over trouser which is 100% waterproof & breathable.
For the jacket I used to use the Berghaus Arctic Gemini 2 in 1 Gore-Tex jacket which was fantastic and did me proud for years but I have recently swopped to the Berghaus Mera Peak jacket and so far it hasn't put a foot wrong.
Boots are Scarpa Terra Gore-Tex and I have had two pairs of these as I love them so much, they wont break the bank but they really do work well.
You will probably notice I use and awful lot of Berghaus kit, I have complete faith in it and I have used a lot of other brands, many more expensive but I keep coming back to their gear as it works for me and hasn't let me down, others will tell you their brand is better but I say stick with what works for you.
I give my kit some real punishment and it takes it all in its stride and keeps on going so that keeps me happy and confident in it.
So hopefully that has given you a bit of a steer in the right direction of how to keep warm, safe & dry while out and hopefully you will not be put off by bad weather.
After all, there is no such thing as bad weather, just unsuitable clothing !
As always, Happy Shooting.
A few images captured during the worst of weather thanks to the right clothing.