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The Well-Dressed Photographer - Summer

Outdoor photographers shoot year round. That includes the hot summer. You may be surprised to learn that the best way to tolerate the heat is not to strip down to your skivvies. Instead, using the right products and wearing clothing designed to face the challenges of summer will help you keep your cool.

Safety First

One of the first concerns to being outside is exposure to the sun. Not only will it age your skin more quickly, sun can cause skin cancer. Everyone's skin can be damaged by prolonged exposure to sunlight. Fairer skin, higher altitudes, central latitudes, mid-day exposures and summer months can shorten the time it takes to sustain sun damage.

Sun exposure is intensified when reflected by water, sand or snow. But heat and brightness do not indicate UV intensity. Damage can occur on overcast days, too. A new statistic, the UV Index, is now cited on weather reports to help people gauge their exposure to sunlight. The higher the number, the more quickly damage can occur.

You can do many things to protect yourself from damaging exposure to the sun. First, minimize unnecessary time in the sun. Sit in the shade and go inside during the middle of the day when the sun is too intense for the best shots, anyway. When you are in the sun, add layers of protection with sunscreen and clothing.

Sunscreen Protection

One of the main items in your summer wardrobe should be sunscreen. While you won't find it at the chic clothing store, it should be considered your outer layer when trying to avoid too much sun.

Sunscreen lotions or sprays are made of chemicals that absorb ultraviolet rays before they penetrate our skin. Sunscreens have an "SPF" factor (sun protection factor) that compares your skin's vulnerability to burning with and without the sunscreen. "Broad spectrum" sunscreens absorb both UVB and most UVA rays.

Some researchers believe that no extra benefits come from a sunscreen with a higher SPF than 15, and that buying a higher SPF product is a waste of money. Keep an eye on new research; in the meantime, use a sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher.

To use sunscreen effectively, apply a generous amount to dry skin, 20-30 minutes before exposure, especially to your neck, face, ears, bald spots and the back of your legs. Reapply often, especially if you're sweating. Sprays with SPF are just as effective. Their use is a personal choice. Also use lip balm with an SPF.

Some research has shown that sunscreens do more than protect you from harmful UV rays. Because they act as a barrier to the sun, they also may make you feel cooler. Whether it is for comfort or safety, sunscreen products are a must when enjoying the outdoors.

Other Protection

The clothes you wear when shooting in summer must perform two important jobs. First, they should protect you from the sun and heat. Second, they should keep you comfortable. They accomplish these vital tasks through material and design.

A cotton t-shirt has a low SPF and UV rays can penetrate it easily. Instead, wear clothing that is tightly woven or use clothing that has its own SPF built in. Wear a hat with a brim that will protect your ears, neck and face, as well.

While you may think that sleeveless or short-sleeved shirts and shorts are the desired clothing for summer activities, wearing the new lightweight SPF materials in long-sleeved shirts and pants may keep you even cooler. They serve as a barrier from sunlight and also protect you from pesky and potentially harmful bugs. The Ex-Officio clothing company also offers garments with an insect resistant treatment.

Heat exhaustion and heat stroke also are concerns when exposed to the summer elements. Keeping cool with the proper clothing, drinking lots of water and moderating your activities are the best ways to prevent these life-threatening emergencies.

Comfort Ensures Safety

Sweating is the body's way to keep our body temperature at appropriate levels. Your sweat is excreted to the skin where it can evaporate and will make you cooler. When clothing made of certain materials gets wet from perspiration and humidity, it sticks to your skin and hinders that evaporation process.

While cotton is comfortable when dry, it absorbs sweat and humidity easily. It then takes a long time to dry, gets heavy and holds that moisture next to your skin making you uncomfortable. Certain polyesters and nylons perform the same way.

Enter the wicking materials. Newer (and some natural materials) are constructed for maximum breathability to pull the moisture away from your skin. Wicking materials then dry and leave you cooler and more comfortable. These wicking materials include silk, Coolmax®, polypropylene, MTS 2® (Moisture Transport System), and capilene. In the past, these materials suffered from problems such as odor retention, scratchy feel, and unattractive looks. They have been improved so much that it is sometimes hard to believe that they aren't cotton.

To maximize your summer comfort, your first layer ? any material touching your skin ? should be made of these wicking-type materials. This includes your underwear, t-shirts and socks.

New clothing designs also help keep you cool. They include vents in the sides or back of shirts, button tabs to roll up sleeves, light-colored materials to reflect the sunlight, pants that you can convert to shorts and loose-fitting clothing to keep the material from sticking to your skin. Clothing has come a long way towards making your summer outdoor activities more tolerable.

Final Tips

Go to your local outdoor store to get personal shopping advice, or find these products and additional helpful information online at websites such as REI or Altrec.

Read the directions and care labels in the products you buy to maximize their effectiveness. For example, some clothing looses its wicking ability if you apply fabric softeners to them. Others may need to be line dried to avoid shrinkage. Still others can't be ironed.

Even when the heat of the summer is on maximum, you don't have to stop shooting. Use these tips and products to make your outdoor photography more safe and comfortable.

Copyright 2005 Carolyn E. Wright All Rights Reserved


Carolyn Wright is a professional photographer with an active wildlife photography business. Shooting for 25 years, her award-winning images have been used in books and corporate marketing materials. Her photos will be included in the upcoming book, "Captivating Wildlife - Images from the Top Ten Emerging Wildlife Photographers" by Scott Bourne and David Middleton. She also is working with Scott Bourne on "Wolfscapes," a photo book documenting the beauty and strength of wolves. Her wildlife images can be viewed at

On the faculty of Olympic Mountain School of Photography, Carolyn's passion is enhanced when teaching photography. She enjoys writing and speaking on the subject, as well, and is a regular columnist for PhotoFocus, an online magazine for serious photographers.

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