Clearing the fog on freezing days

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As the students arrived at the Vineyard Photography class at Walla Walla Community College this week they were bundled up in their heavy winter jackets and layered clothing due to the subfreezing temperatures.

Immediately several students wanted to talk about the weather and know how their digital cameras were going to perform as the temperature outside was hovering between 7 and 13 degrees.

It seemed this would be a good time to deviate from the lecture notes and give the students a real-life challenge for the evening.

I asked the students if any of them had been standing outside for any length of time. Several responded that they had been talking over a cup of coffee in front of the building.

"Did you by chance take any pictures of the Enology and Viticulture Building prior to coming into class?" I asked.

One student said she had tried but when she took the camera out of her camera bag the lens immediately fogged and everything was blurry.

At this point I asked everyone to take out their cameras and place them on the table. This meant that all the cameras would be the same temperature in the classroom. After about 10 minutes I asked the class to stand up and put on their jackets and hats and gloves as we were going to step outside with our cameras and take some pictures of the building.

Now the Enology and Viticulture Building at night is surreal and wonderful to photograph with its Tuscan beige colors. The building is ideal for nighttime photography as the orange recessed lights highlight the alcoves and the bronze statue of the worker carrying a basket of grapes is base lit and provides a great backdrop.

What happened next was very predictable. As the students exited the building and walked into the adjoining vineyard I asked them to remove their cameras from their coat pockets. As the cameras were exposed to the freezing weather the lenses immediately fogged.

I explained this could happen in both very cold and very warm humid weather. Having traveled through the Panama Canal several times with extreme heat, and visiting the Arctic on various photo assignments I had first-hand experience with this problem.

The first time the student experiences condensation they tend to grab a lens cleaning cloth or tissue paper and quickly wipe the lens and eyepiece. But the lens will continue to stay blurred until the camera lens and internal mirror adjusts to the ambient outside temperature.

One solution is to put the camera in a Ziploc bag (to protect it from wind and snow) and set it out in the new climate for about 15 minutes so the camera and lens can adjust to the temperature. Soon the condensation will clear up without having to wipe the lens and smear the glass in the process.

I mentioned to the students that if the weather is too severe and they did not want to leave their gear outside there is a second solution. Many camera stores carry a fog eliminator reusable anti-fog cloth that is used to wipe the lens and eyepiece prior to venturing outside. These cloths are available at most camera stores and are very reasonable as a three-pack is about $7.

The students were already aware that they needed to carry extra batteries and compact flash or secure digital cards that are rated "extreme" and are capable of working in temperatures ranging from -13 to 185 degrees.

Since most of the students have point-and-shoot cameras I mentioned that they should keep them on the inside pocket of their jackets to keep the cameras and batteries warm.

After braving the elements and experiencing a real life challenge the students were anxious to start taking photographs. With the camera settings on ISO 400, aperture at 1/60 and the white balance set to incandescent and mounted on a tripod for night photography they were ready to once again resume our night photo shoot.

Don Fleming can be reached at don512@me.com.

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