Backcountry Photography — It’s a Matter of Habit

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This post by WildSnow.com blogger  

I was sitting in the office yesterday morning staring at my computer screen like a zombie from some George Romero film, the phone rings, and a guy hires me to winch his truck out of a mud hole WAY back in the middle of nowhere. Hey, a paid adventure, what’s not to love? Not only that, but we just completed a battery relocation in the Jeep, and I’m experimenting with adding a safety fuse to the main battery cable to prevent flames and smoke in case the cable gets cut in an accident. I’d been told my winch might draw so many amps it would be tough to fuse, so time for a test. They were nice guys and the winching went well — BUT there was the photography:

One of my struggles with photography is that I usually need more than what full auto will give me, yet I forget to check my camera settings. For the Canon “Program” mode I’m fond of using, my A620 camera stores settings between on-off cycles . I like that, but it means your tweaks for one shot have to be adjusted next time you turn the camera on. I keep forgetting that, whipping the camera out, then messing up the shot because of previously saved settings. Key for me is to develop the habit of checking a few settings each time I get ready for a shot, or if I’m in a hurry to switch to “Auto,” which obviates any stored settings and doesn’t allow any tweaks other than turning the flash on and off. The checklist is simple, perhaps if I write it down I’ll remember it:

First, switch to “auto” if I don’t have time for messing around. Otherise: 1. Is white balance on auto? 2.Quality setting where I want it? 3. Exposure compensation? 4. ISO where I want it? 5.If using flash, is it at correct level? 6. Focus point in correct location?

I know I know, it sounds simple and makes me look as dumb as I feel, but things happen fast sometimes, digital cameras obfuscate their settings with small dials and LCDs that you can hardly see in bright daylight, and details like looking at camera settings get lost in the race. If I could remember to check things I’d up my shot percentage by 20% at least. They say it takes about a month to create a solid habit. Well see how it goes. The list is now glued to my forehead.

Backcountry mud.
One of the shots I messed up. It was way under exposed because I forgot to check the exposure compensation, which I’d set low for a previous session. I photoshopped this one so it looks okay, but believe me, it really got messed up and is useless for printing or larger web display. Check out the guy’s truck augured up to the bumper in slime!

Jeep batteries located under seat.
Battery relocation in our 1947 CJ2A Willys Jeep “Rumble Bee.” This is two small Hawker dry-cell deep cycle batteries located in the storage/tool box under the passenger seat. Dark object in front of batteries is the fuse holder.

Battery fuse
175 amp fuse holds up to winching as well as in-gear hill starts. If the winch ever loads up enough to blow the fuse I can easily do a field fix by attaching both leads to the same mounting stud, thus bypassing the fuse.

Comments

8 Responses to “Backcountry Photography — It’s a Matter of Habit”

  1. AKBC August 3rd, 2006 9:52 am

    Lou, maybe you need a DSLR such at a 350D. With a 28mm prime lens (= of a 50mm with the crop factor) it’s a pretty light rig and the setting will be staring you in the face ever time you look through the view-finder. Plus you can shoot in RAW, which means the kind of noise you have popping up in the pic of the truck in the mud (yikes, it’s deep!) would be greatly reduced when you increase the “exposure” in PP. Just a thought.

  2. Lou August 3rd, 2006 10:14 am

    Hi AK, I’m on my second DSLR (Rebel XT) and do shoot in RAW when I’m using it. But it’s still bulky compared to my A620.

    The A620 does very low noise shots when the ISO is at 200 or below. I use it to shoot all the binding museum shots as it actually has a better custom white balance than the Rebel, and I like composing the shot in the fold-out LCD rather than spending time jumping back and forth from arranging the product to looking at it in a viewfinder. Though I do use the viewfinder on both cameras when doing most types of shots.

    I’m just glad I can have both types of cameras, but as always, the brain (or lack thereof) behind the gimic is what does the job.

  3. Ryan August 3rd, 2006 3:37 pm

    Hey Lou,
    Thanks for helping those guys out. I had a feeling you might be just the right person to help out. There I was walking the dog when this kid passes me on his desperation hike back up to Crystal River Ranch and just spills his guts to me about his plight. I had to be in a meeting in an hour so I took him back to my house to discuss options. For some reason you popped into my head first even though we’ve never met. Thanks to your blog for that. Amazing how the internet can connect people just on the other side of town. Anyways, I figured youd enjoy the chance to take the jeep out and help out someone in need. Thanks.

  4. frank konsella August 3rd, 2006 10:21 pm

    Funny this came up… I am heading to denver this weekend and was thinking of picking up the a620 or a610 while there. Any last minute buy it/ don’t buy it advice for this particular camera?

  5. Lou August 3rd, 2006 10:38 pm

    Hi Frank, definitely the A620 over the 610. The only problem I’ve had with this camera is doing action shots, as Program and Auto modes tend to set too low a shutter speed and it doesn’t have a sports shooting mode. Solution is to shoot with time preferred mode (TV), at a 500th or better, then set the ISO so it makes the camera shoot with a tight enough aperture (f8 or better) to give you depth of field so things are in focus, or else be far enough away that the camera just focuses to infinity. In that situation I sometimes set it on manual focus at infinity, so it shoots faster since it doesn’t have to try to focus for every shot. Multi-shot mode helps too, but it’s not very fast. The camera does great shots other than having to take care with action (as with most other point/shoots). It is truly durable, long battery life, has never failed me in the cold, and so on. Easily the best P&S I’ve ever owned. The fold-out LCD is simply awesome for doing self portraits and shots at weird angles. It works well with NmH rechargeables, but try it with a quad of AA lithiums and you’ll be amazed at how many shots you can do before the batteries run out. I think I only used 4 sets of lithiums all last winter! ‘best, Lou

  6. Lou August 3rd, 2006 10:44 pm

    Hi Ryan, they were nice guys and it was fun to help. I did charge them, but only because I had to take most of the day off work. They paid me much much less than a commercial recovery would have cost, so it was part favor and I think we all felt good about the outcome. As it turned out not just any truck could have pulled them out, they really needed somone with a winch and smaller Jeep, so it was perfect that you called me. The guy that walked out did an epic hike, and he had a messed up knee! Strong guy. They were so far up there I couldn’t belive it — at the exact end of the road!

  7. Scott Harris August 4th, 2006 12:59 pm

    I love the A610, don’t discount it if you want to save some money. The only difference I can think between the A620 and A610 is megapixels. Some might argue the A610 has less noise because there are less megapixels jammed in the same sensor.
    Regardless, its a fantastic little camera. My friend and I were recently fishing a small mountain stream in RMNP and he has the Canon 10D with an L lens. We took almost identical pictures, and showed to another friend. The friend thought my picture was the L lens! I think the improved DIGIC II processor had better sharpening and white balance and gave a better shot out of the box.
    Plus, the video is really fun to have on the 610/620.
    Great camera.

  8. Lou August 4th, 2006 3:01 pm

    I just wrote Frank this in an email:

    The extra megapixels are essential if you’re doing anything with your photos other than web publishing, as these cameras only shoot in Jpeg and the quality of Jpegs is inherently compromised when you start tweaking them for things like printing on paper. Having a larger photo helps make up for that in a several ways. And even with web publishing, shooting the larger photos allows more freedom with cropping.

    I agree with Scott that the Digic is amazing in either 610 or 620. These things are simply amazing cameras in view of where we were 5 years ago. I should add that indeed some shots may turn out simply great even with 5 megapixels. Also, if you shoot with the A610 at low ISO, and with another camera at high ISO, even if the former camera is not as good the photo may turn out better anyway, so quite a few factors come into play…

    In all, the thing to keep in mind is that any camera can take the ocasional great photo, where I’m coming from is in trying to increase the percentage of such.

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Welcome to Louis (Lou) Dawson's backcountry skiing information opinion website and e magazine. Lou's passion for the past 45 years has been alpinism, climbing, mountaineering and skiing -- along with all manner of outdoor recreation. He has authored numerous books and articles about backcountry skiing and is well known as the first person to ski down all 54 of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks, otherwise known as the Fourteeners! Books and free back country news and information here, and tons of Randonnee rando telemark info.

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