View Full Version : LF in the Snow - HOW?

18-Sep-2006, 13:32

We're starting to sense the onset of snow in the Cascades, and as a refugee from Texas I am a newbie to snow photography, at least with the 4x5.

My questions are mainly concerning travel, set-up, and other tips to get me out there. Any of your advice will be welcome...

Snowshoe vs. XC-Ski ?

Setting up a tripod in a snowbank when the legs will punch through?

Exposure issues?

Focusing in a hood that frosts up?

Any other tips?

- Jack

Neal Wydra
18-Sep-2006, 13:52
Dear Jack,

The only tip I have from personal experience is to bring along a small tarp to place between your equipment bag and the snow. I've accidentally flipped snow into mine.

Neal Wydra

Walter Calahan
18-Sep-2006, 13:58


Fashion a snow base with 3 cheap plastic trash can lids, or other frisbees, or what have you for the tripod legs.

Don't breathe. HA! (a little anti-fog spray for the ground glass.)

Greg Miller
18-Sep-2006, 14:49
Snowshoes. The drawback to skis is stopping to shoot: either working skis (ugh) or taking off the skis and postholing.

I use this for my tripod in deep snow: http://www.bhphotovideo.com/bnh/controller/home?O=productlist&A=details&Q=&sku=5548&is=REG&addedTroughType=categoryNavigation

Exposure has been covered in other threads here and on other sites.

Keeping the ground glass from frosting up. Cat Crap (product made for ski goggles) and hold your breath.

Ted Harris
18-Sep-2006, 14:54
All of the above and pay attention to the temperature. I usually carry some of the instant disposable had wrmers as well. I also almost always use my Reis tripod instead of my Linhofso that my fingers don't stick to the metal. Finally a pair of gloves or mittens that have the fingertips cut out.

You will find many threads on shooting in extreme cold although none tht I recall are specifically aimed at snow.

18-Sep-2006, 15:39
Here's some California advice, possibly irrelevant in Colorado:

1. Carbon fiber tripods are another way to go to avoid freezing yourself to the metal.

2. Though Frisbees or ski pole baskets etc. are very handy, in a pinch I have put the tripod legs directly into the (relatively dense) snow successfully.

3. Personally I generate a lot of heat fussing with LF equipment, or snowshoeing, for that matter. Except for hands/face/ears, heat is a bigger problem for me than cold. Of course your mileage will vary, but bear in mind the possibility you may not need as much clothing as you would initially guess, and layers may be preferable to one bulky jacket.

3. Snowshoes I think are preferable to skis, esp. a design in which you can walk backwards; that is the one feature I recommend holding out for. They also can be removed and used instead of two frisbees under the tripod, though you may still need one frisbee for the third leg.

4. Bring the darkest sunglasses you can find, it is way blinding out there.

5. Figure out how to meter for snow, which most definitely is NOT 50% grey...

Eric Brody
18-Sep-2006, 16:20
Cross country skiis allow greater speed when going downhill but falls can be painful. I have whacked myself in the head with my own tripod more than once. I have also stepped off the skis and gone in up to my hips. I mainly use snowshoes these days but watch skiers glide by with envy.

I manage to just place the tripod legs into the snow, bringing them in closer to the center may help as they "tunnel" their way and spread out. Carbon fiber is nice to have but with gloves, standard aluminum has worked fine for me for over twenty years. A piece of ensolite foam padding is really useful for laying things out on the snow and weighs almost nothing. It is also nice to sit on when having lunch. Drink lots of fluids, it's hard work travelling in snow with a heavy 4x5 pack.

I now mostly use my Mamiya 7II in snow and when hiking steep terrain, anathema perhaps in a large format forum, but the negs are pretty good. If you can get by without tilts or shifts, it is quite a bit lighter. Maybe this year I'll go out with the 4x5!

Jack, consider coming to the Portland Photographers Forum meeting this Wednesday 9/20 at the Wilson High School teachers lounge at 7PM. You'll meet some like minded folks and probably learn something. I do every time I go.


John Kasaian
22-Sep-2006, 07:35
Snow shoes vs XC skis? Depends on the snow conditions & how (and fast) far you want to travel. Without hard snow most XC skis won't support the wieght of me and my gear---better to go for the wide free heel skis like an "off piste" or even DH skis---theres a lot of pretty country accessible from lift areas.

I bought a set of off-piste $70 Swiss Army surplus skis off a surplus store on the internet last year (climbing skis & everything!)---got way-laid by a hernia operation in autumn so I'll test them out this winter (if I can stay in one piece!)
Since my 8x10 kit wieghs less than the average Swiss mortar I'm hoping it will work out for me.

You can fit ski pole baskets to the spikes on your tripod as others have suggested.

You can also simplify your llife and use a handheld like a Speed Graphic or Linhof. or Gowland aerial.

Have fun!

MIke Sherck
22-Sep-2006, 07:52
As I get older I have taken to calling winter, 'darkroom season'. If I can't walk through it I stay home. Yeah, I'm a wimp. :)

Ed Pierce
22-Sep-2006, 09:31
Fogging under the dark cloth is a problem. I've attached a 4x5 piece of acrylic to my camera back with velcro dots (tip courtesy of R. Ritter). I can see through it well enough, and it collects the fog. When I'm ready to fine tune the focus, I just pull it off. It also serves as an excellent protection for the ground glass. I also hold my breath a lot, and have considered using a snorkel.

With a tripod in the snow, stamping around where the legs are going will help. I currently use wood tripods with feet - surveyor style - and can push them down nice and solid by stepping on them. Too bad they're so heavy.

There can be a lot of flare caused by light bouncing up off the snow - a lens hood helps.

Ole Tjugen
22-Sep-2006, 11:07
Dont think of skiing unless you're a good skier. As others have said, cross-country skies are a bad idea too - you'd need something wider, preferrably steel edged. You're not trying to go fast, you're trying to stand still exactly where you want to be!

Since you ask the question at all, I'll assume you're not an experienced off-piste cross-country skier. So snowshoes it is, although I would never use them myself (I've never tried snow shoes without falling on my face, but they say it's easier than skiing. Well - not to me it isn't!).

Make a triangular "sail" to put under the tripod, poking the outer segment, or spikes, or whatever, through loops in each corner. The legs (or spikes or whatever) will anchor the tripod against sideways movements, while the sail stops it from sinking.

One alternative is proper snowshoes (AKA ski pole baskets) for the feet, but that is less secure. Avoid anything flat and smooth unless you want to see your camera sailing down the slope.

22-Sep-2006, 16:38
Clothing is the big thing. I have a pair of goose down over pants that I can slip on over street pants, but most times it’s over a heavy fleece. A very good pair of warm socks and boots. A very good upper body layering system, and out I go sometimes with wind chill it’s 30 below. I’m warm and happy. When I’m dressed like this, I’m close to the house and am crawling around in the snow photographing ice. Find gloves you can operate your camera with. If you are warm and conferrable you are a happy photographer.

As to the camera anti-fog on the ground glass and a clear lexan cover that you do most of the focusing through. Used velcor to attach to the ground glass frame. Peel away at final focus.

Richard Ritter

John Kasaian
22-Sep-2006, 17:07

The triangular sail idea sounds great! A grommet at each corner for the spikes to protrude plus it'll provide a bit of 'dry ground' to set the pack on----brilliant!

Leonard Metcalf
24-Sep-2006, 02:22
Also pay attention to your gloves... I use thin polypropylene gloves as inners, in large mitts... then whip the mitts off to control the camera etc... and put the outers back on when finished. Though it doesn't get too cold in Australian Alps. Me I ski with heavy telemark skis with fish-scales on the base. But this is because I spent many seasons on them as a ski instructor, and they allow me to get further away from the 'path most trodden'.

The temperature of the camera is important for fogging. So I make sure it cools down to the ambient temperature. If you walk outside from a heated lodge / car, the camera cools suddenly, heaps of condensation... and perhaps even moisture forming on the camera. I leave my camera in the ski room, or in the vestibule of my tent, so it remains rather cool. Yet I have my light meter under my jacket to keep the battery warm.

Unfortunately my first lot of snow photographs with large format negs / trannies were stolen with my camera undeveloped, so I never got to see them. Still hoping to get another season to try again.

Bruce M. Herman
24-Sep-2006, 02:39
By the time you've done a couple of compositions, or if you have hiked prior to doing even one, having some frozen moisture from your exhalations or perspiation on your ground glass is inevitible. I use an old credit card to scrape the ground glass. You can punch a hold in the card and hang it from a cord around your neck to keep it handy.

Layers work best for me when it comes to clothing. Do not use jeans. Get some fleece or wool pants. For general information about mountain travel and clothing, you should read Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills.

Finally, consider purchasing an inexpensive plastic sled. With some rope and plastic pipes, you can make pulk which will make it easier to haul your gear.


John Kasaian
24-Sep-2006, 06:54
It depends on where you're going, what you're taking and for how long, but I'd avoid dragging a sled if at all possible because gravity, being the sprite it is, always has the upper hand when skiing across a slope unless you've got someone along to bring up the rear!

Bruce M. Herman
24-Sep-2006, 12:05

Most people that I know who use a sled to haul their gear in the mountains put a pack on the top with the straps out for those times when a slope has to be crossed. Just put the whole thing on your back and you're ready to go. For the 98% of the time that you're not crossing a slope, this is not an issue.

I also agree with most of the previous posts that state that a person new to the snow should avoid using skis when working with a large format camera in the winter.

John Kasaian
24-Sep-2006, 20:35

I'm sure such a set up would work, but isn't it a bit scary? I mean if you've got a plastic sled strapped on your back turtle style and you're crossing a slope---and you fall---and you land on your back (which would be the sled)...???

I'm only asking this question because the idea sounds good and I'd like to try it on something like a flat forestry road (without steep grades)---I apparently just don't grasp the finer points of it yet. The scenario sounds like a wild ride waiting to happen.

What am I missing?

Ole Tjugen
24-Sep-2006, 21:01
John, what you're missing is about 30 years experience at falling over while skiing :)

Falling off a speeding sled is very easy, and so is turning over to stop your mad descent on your slippery plastic backpack. You'd have to be very good not to flip over!

Eric James
24-Sep-2006, 21:17
Regarding tripods in snow: A few years back I had driven to the mountains to try to capture the Leonid meteor shower on film - they were supposed to be particularly close that year, and sure enough, they were brighter and longer than any meteors I had ever seen. The problem arose when the aurora came out - in my excitement (and panic) I became too concerned with finding secure footing for the tripod. I pushed the legs into the snow too far and the lateral force snapped the crown piece. I'm sure that the 5F temp didn't help. I had to settle for a bipod for the rest of the night, and though I got some okay aurora shots I wasn't lucky enough to capture a meteor zooming through the aurora.

I haven't tried the Frisbee idea but I think I'll invest in three cheap discs and give it a try.

John Kasaian
24-Sep-2006, 21:44
Thanks Ole!

I'm sitting here at my desk in balmy California trying to picture the scenario and it was driving me crazy. I experimented with a red plastic sled-thing called a "Sno-snake" a couple of winters ago and I remember the experience was....well...um...interesting!

Alan Davenport
24-Sep-2006, 23:26
Ed's right. The best and perhaps the only way to prevent fogging the groundglass is to forget about breathing.

Also, Manfrotto makes big disk feet for their tripods. I don't have them but they might be sufficient in reasonably compacted snow.

25-Sep-2006, 09:10
Some folks say to leave your camera in the trunk rather than bringing it indoors at night.

Paul Coppin
30-Sep-2006, 07:29
Snowshoes (REAL snowshoes - good appropriate paddles with long beavertails - not those useless "high tech" high-ticket oval monstrosities that are sold to complement your Columbia jacket), unless you are on hard pack, boots if you are. Skis and large format? If you have conditions for X-country skis, try towing a small plastic toboggan from a waist belt with your gear, bagged and packed. Good for snowshoes too. Secret is to not carry too much weight, particularly up high - neither showshoes nor skis will work properly if you're over-weighted (and if you're already tipping the scales at 200+, use the toboggan...;). Small nylon tent fly is better than a plastic tarp - handles the cold better. Plastics get VERY brittle - go gentle on your gear...

8-Oct-2006, 14:42
3. Personally I generate a lot of heat fussing with LF equipment, or snowshoeing, for that matter. Except for hands/face/ears, heat is a bigger problem for me than cold. Of course your mileage will vary, but bear in mind the possibility you may not need as much clothing as you would initially guess, and layers may be preferable to one bulky jacket.

On that note, do not wear cotton! Cotton is evil, if it gets wet or sweaty you will be very uncomfortable, or maybe die from hypothermia. I usually wear a synthetic shirt made for cold weather (I think it's maybe a lycra or nylon mix, but it's kind of fleecy and thick - not like spandex or something). This is great because even if you start sweating, your shirt will still keep you warm. And this is important for me because I sweat a lot. On top of that I usually wear a normal ski jacket, and I can unzip the front to cool down or zip it up if I need the warmth. You could throw a third layer in there somewhere but two usually works for me for a few hours in -10 or -15 celsius without too much wind, especially if I'm working out by skiing.

You'll also want some long underwear made from synthetic fabric.

8-Oct-2006, 14:46
Ed's right. The best and perhaps the only way to prevent fogging the groundglass is to forget about breathing.

I wonder if you could use noseplugs and a snorkel? Stick the snorkel out of the darkcloth and breath that way :)

tim atherton
8-Oct-2006, 14:49
I'm pretty sure it's been tried (someone on here?)

But try explaining that one to the Homeland Security dudes....

10-Oct-2006, 16:13
Fogging of ground glass, loupe, and or reading glasses is a serious issue in cold conditions. I made a custom dark cloth through which I have a breathing tube for my mouth which ports to the outside and use a swimmers nose clip to close up my nose. With that set up I regularly work cold conditions without fogging problems. ...David

John Kasaian
10-Oct-2006, 18:21
My Plan "B" for snow is some cognac and chocolate in a warm cozy cabin, preferrably with the Swedish Bikini Team!

Eric James
10-Oct-2006, 21:58
My Plan "B" for snow is some cognac and chocolate in a warm cozy cabin, preferrably with the Swedish Bikini Team!

Yeah, good luck preventing the ground glass from foggin' up in that scenario!!!

Jim Noel
18-Oct-2006, 14:37
Large format photography in the snow was "My Thing"when I was younger.

I traveled on cross-country skis carrying a 4x5 Ikeda, 3 lenses, 3 grafmatics, a black T-shirt for focusing, and an old folding wooden Kodak tripod on my back. The legs of the tripod were fitted with baskets from ski poles.

The outfit worked great for several years. It weighed less than 20 lbs which left me some weight,as well as space inthe pack, for water and lunch.

It was a great experience.

18-Oct-2006, 16:59
I'm just glad we don't get a lot of snow around here in our neck of the woods... and when it does snow, it "usually" lasts only a few days!

We tend to get rain instead.

Thank God! :)


Jim Ewins
19-Oct-2006, 22:21
John Shaw in his Nature Photography Field Guide explains how to keep from breaking a tripod leg lock in the snow. He calls them Tripod Snowshoes (pg 150)