Port Colborne lighthouse hit by waves

Cold Weather Destroys Photos

I used my longest lens (Sigma 100-400 DG) to capture these waves breaking over the lighthouse at Gravelly Bay in Port Colborne. The photo, while OK, is spoiled by heavy atmospheric distortion, a not uncommon effect when using a telephoto lens which until today I attributed to regular heat haze. But in these conditions, -10 Celcius, that simply could not be the case.

This was a cold weather scenario.

I’ve been contending with this intermittently for a while now, and have always attributed it to weather, as it is not consistent. Sometimes it’s there, sometimes it isn’t. So it can’t be the camera.

I sat and watched in silence today as the sun made its way into the sky. The frost and ice on the landscape glistened, turned to dew, and melted away. It also moved. In a very heat hazy kind of way.

And then it hit me…

I was in the car, staying warm. The engine was running, the heating on. And I realised with a dull thud as I smacked my own forehead that the running engine was generating the heat haze. Independant of weather or season, heat from the engine comes out of the wheel arch and across my open window. And across my camera lens. I bring my own heat haze with me. Everywhere.

Usually unnoticed. I usually get out of the car. Sometimes I turn off the engine. Often, wind whips heat away, or I’m just driving. Engine based heat haze fully explains the intermittent issue. But today, the cold weather and still air combined to hit me over the head with the glaringly obvious.

I watched through the open window as the landscape continued to visibly shimmer, as though looking along a hot road in summer. Sometimes heat haze is real. Hot weather does make things shimmer. But not when it is -10. Not today. All this time I had thought all the heat haze distortion was due to this but… it turns out that sometimes, it’s the car.

I turned off the engine. Within minutes the car cooled and I began to shiver. The heat haze, as expected magically dissapeared. And I was able to take some unspoiled landscape shots. The cold weather did not, despite the headline, destroy my photos. Being too lazy to leave the car, and a lack of basic observational skills did. How had I not noticed this before? I’ll be asking myself that question for a while.

This may be a game changer. We learn something every day. I learned something today.

I learned, once more, that I can be an idiot.

Small tree in a field at sunrise
No heat haze, no distortion, no noise.

Prints and products for all images by request.
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