Top 3 Tips For Cold Weather Photography
Don't let the cold stop you from capturing life's adventures. Learn the top tips for shooting in cold climates from travel photographer Peter West Carey.
Wherever in the world you live or travel, winter is no time to stop shooting photos. It does however, take some additional consideration when it comes to your photography gear. Here then are my top three tips to help keep your gear (and you) protected so you can continue to capture the beauty of the coldness outside.
1. Don’t change temperatures too quickly
Be it hot to cold or cold to hot, whichever way, don’t change temperatures too quickly or your gear will suffer. For those of us with glasses, this is an obvious one. We see it when we walk from a nice warm house out to the cold car in the morning. Boom – fogged up glasses. Your camera will do the same when going from hot to cold and it can be a problem even for the little lens on your camera phone.
Condensation can cause a couple of problems. The short-term problem is a fogged lens that will not clear easily. If you don’t have a cloth to actually soak up the moisture, don’t bother. Otherwise you’ll end up just wiping water around your lens, smearing things and making more of a mess. Most of us have done this at one time or another with the inside windshield of our car when we are too impatient to wait for the heater to clear the fog.
There are few cures for this condensation except time and temperature change. Even if you wipe off the fog, it will come right back as new cold air contacts the lens. It’s especially important to not remove your lens from your camera if you have an SLR because the rear lens and internal pieces will fog. The most effective way is to slowly acclimate your camera to the target temperature. Some people suggest storing your camera in a big Ziploc bag to let the temperature adjust slowly. I tend to leave my camera in my normal camera bag with the lens cap on.
Another way to acclimate your gear is to leave it in the trunk of your car if you are driving to your photo location. The trunk isn’t heated and will be nearly as cold as the outside, allowing your gear to slowly adjust while you drive.
Long-term, the more temperature changes you make in a short time, the more condensation will start to form on the inside of your camera. Over time, this can make problems for the electronics, especially if you change temperatures many times in a day.
Modern cameras can handle temps below freezing without much thought, if you let them acclimate slowly. The same goes for bringing your gear inside. Although not as critical for condensation, rapid heating of your gear (putting it near or over a heat vent, for instance) can have negative consequences if done too often. Just leave your camera in its bag and let it slowly warm up.
2. Camera cold, batteries hot
While you want to keep your camera cold before using it, the opposite is true for your camera batteries. If I am going shooting in the morning and my car is in a safe place, like my garage, I will store my gear in the car but keep my batteries in the house. Likewise, while camping or on my treks in the Himalayas, I will leave the camera in its bag and sleep with the batteries. It also helps to put them in a soft pouch rather than just floating loose in a sleeping bag.
I know this seems counterintuitive to those of us who grew up with parents storing batteries in the fridge. In this case, you aren’t worried about the short-term loss of power from temperature, you’re worried that batteries are less efficient at lower temps.
When shooting, keep your spare battery (or batteries) in your pocket as close to your body as possible. An inside pocket in a jacket or your pants pocket work well. When your current battery needs changing, replace it with the hot one and put the dead one in your pocket. When it warms up you can usually get a few more shots out of it as a last-chance backup.
3. Keep yourself warm
Keeping yourself warm while shooting is often tougher than it sounds. I’ve been standing out in cold places taking photos for over 23 years and I have no foolproof system. (I wish I did.) What I know works are gloves that have enough tactile ability while not being too bulky. I found bulky gloves are removed far more often and thus, defeat their purpose. Some people will go with one thick ski glove for their left hand and a smaller glove for their control and shooting hand.
Fingerless gloves, or the kind with a mitten that folds over exposed fingers, can be handy, but cumbersome as well. For extended stays outside, those hand-warming packets that stay in your pocket can be a life saver. But you still want to cut down on the convective heat loss when your hands are out of your pocket, otherwise the hot-cold-hot-cold-hot-cold routine gets painful.
Beyond hands, the normal winter weather advice still stands: Cover your head, always; nice thick boots or shoes to keep out the cold; dress in layers in case the temperature rises; stay dry if it is snowing.
There’s no escaping the laws of thermodynamics when it comes to cold-weather photography. Proper time and care though, will help ensure your winter pics are just as beautiful as the ones in warmer weather. Good luck out there.
Do you have any tips to share? What do you find works best to keep you comfy and shooting while out in the cold? And show me your favorite winter photos where braving the cold temps resulted in beautiful images.
Try your hand at cold weather photography on a Northern Nights & Arctic Circle by Rail tour. Let G Adventures take you through Scandinavian towns along the way to Lapland on this unforgettable journey in the heart of winter.
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