Thermal underwear, and lots of it!

stunning aurora borealis

Simon Powis is an academic at the University of St Andrews and a keen landscape photographer. He shares some thoughts with us on Rohantime on an often overlooked aspect of his hobby.

I think I can safely say that landscape photographers are a slightly odd bunch of people. Let me explain. You see, by far the best light for this type of photography occurs around dawn and dusk. There are beautiful soft tones to be seen in the predawn and post-sunset period, and shortly after the sun rises, or is about to set, the colours of the land are boosted and long shadows bring out strong textures of shape and form. So landscape photographer need to be out very early, and stay out long after sunset. And it gets worse. With the advent of modern digital SLR cameras, with their highly sensitive and low noise sensors, it’s now much easier to capture stars and the night sky, be it the Milky Way or the magic of the Northern Lights.

Glencoe Buchaille Etive MorThe result of all the above is that we are often out and about in less than ideal conditions. Here in Scotland, even in Summer the dawn air can have a distinct chill, so imagine what it is like standing around in the middle of Winter, patiently waiting for the that glorious moment of spectacular light to make that special image. Put it another way, in my experience, a cold photographer is a very grumpy photographer, and can often be spotted jumping up and down on the spot trying to keep warm, or stomping back to their car, having given up, whilst trying to get frozen fingers to open car locks. People often seem surprised when they ask me what my most important bit of photographic equipment is, and I reply “thermal underwear, and lots of it!

The winter of 2009/10 was brutal, and the 2010/11 season has already started with a bang – we experienced here in eastern Scotland a phenomenon called thundersnow – proper thunder and lightning during a blizzard at 4 o’clock in the morning. All this has all caused me to reassess my winter kit. The thermals are still essential, but I’ve just purchased a Rohan Nighfall down jacket to add to the mix. So far I’ve had a few trips out in at least -5oC temperatures, and it has performed admirably, keeping me snug and warm. This will make the slow, deliberate process of making landscape images a much more pleasurable experience, and I can’t wait for my next trip.

I’ve chosen a couple of images here to illustrate why keeping warm is so important. In the first image, a solar storm allowed the stunning aurora borealis to been seen all over Scotland. I spent at least three hours photographing the storm one cold October night. The second image is a very well known site at the entrance to Glencoe. I had a very chilly wait for an hour before the sun lit both the tree and Buchaille Etive Mor in the background.

simon powis


Simon Powis see more of my work on my website so please do pay a visit.

Rohan Heritage

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