Infographic: Essential Tips for Cold-Weather Photography

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Infographic: Essential Tips for Cold-Weather Photography

How unfortunate is it that some of the best photographic opportunities present themselves when it's miserably cold outside? It doesn't matter what kind of camera equipment you're using, proper preparation and knowledge of your gear and environment are essential to helping ensure success when you're out in the cold, making photographs.

Before we talk photography, let me say this: be smart. Cold causes hypothermia and frostbite. There is no potential photograph worth the damaging or deadly side effects of prolonged exposure to cold. Plan your outing, do not push yourself, and have a plan for getting warm at the end of your expedition. Also, let someone know where you're going and when you expect to be back.

Infographic: Essential Tips for Cold-Weather Photography 

Before You Go Outside

1) Batteries hate the cold as much as reptiles and other cold-blooded creatures. The cold temperatures cause them to discharge faster, and there are few things worse, let me tell you, than running out of battery power in the midst of a photographic outing. The Law of Murphy guarantees that your batteries will run out just before you attempt to capture the best shot of the day or night.

Head outdoors with a fresh battery and keep your spare batteries—not in your camera bag—but inside your layers of clothing to keep them warm. Now that I think of it, someone probably needs to invent some kind of chest holster for camera batteries.

2) A camera bag or camera backpack is always great for keeping your gear clean and protected from the elements. Winter weather and cold only serve to make these accessories more important. If you are out shooting, your camera will, of course, be exposed to the same cold air that is freezing your feet, but there is no way your camera will enjoy being subjected to driving snow, slush, sleet, or ice. Keep it protected!

3) Bring a large plastic bag along with your gear. I will tell you why later.

4) Gloves. Ahhh. We can send people to the moon and back, but it is really difficult to find gear for your hands that:

a) keeps your hands and fingers toasty warm while

b) allowing you the dexterity to manipulate your camera's controls. Several manufacturers have tried to crack the code, and there are winter gloves that feature removable fingertips that are designed to allow you to operate your camera's control dials, buttons, and the shutter release. If you have discovered magical gloves that are perfect for operating the command dial of my DLSR while keeping my fingers warm, please share the name of the product!

Now we are outside.... seriously? It's really cold!

Don't forget to keep your spare batteries as warm as possible. Also, if you are carrying an external flash, do not forget to keep it warm as well. The batteries in the flash will suffer in the cold. Where is my battery-holding bandolier?

Shooting tips:

1) Some good news: Cold winter air is generally clearer than warm summer air, as it generally contains less moisture. Clear air = crispier photos. Sweet.

2) If there is snow on the ground on a bright day, watch your exposures. Snow can be one of the trickiest subjects to properly expose, sometimes fooling your meter into underexposure and other times into overexposure and a loss of detail. A common rule of thumb with digital is to expose for the brightest portions of the scene and make sure to keep your highlights from being blown out to "all white." Shadow detail may be extracted later in post-processing, while overexposed highlights cannot usually be recovered. Another point if photographing in the bright sun: use a lens hood. Since the snow can act as a giant reflector, there is a greater chance of stray light reaching your lens and causing unwanted lens flare.

3) More good news (for photographers): Because of the lower angles of the sun (the same lower angles that make it so bloody cold), your "quality of light" is generally better throughout the day and shadows are longer (sometimes a good element for your photos). If your shooting day presents you with cloudy, overcast weather, you might also consider changing to the “Cloudy” white balance setting to add some warmth to your photos and minimize any blue cast.

4) A UV filter is an ideal tool for clearing up the appearance of haze in photographs, which is more common to winter and cold temperatures, as well as when shooting at higher altitudes. However, the UV filter's other huge benefit to photographing in snowy climates is that it protects your front lens element from snow or other elements.

Before You Go Back Inside

Frozen cold? Miserable because your toes and fingers are icy cold, yet warmed from the inside by the art you just created? There are some precautions you might wish to take before going back inside to thaw out.

1) Pull your memory card from your camera. Why? Read #2.

2) Put your camera and lens(es) into an airtight plastic bag. Why? Moisture and condensation will want to form on a cold object introduced into a warm environment. Moisture and electronics do not play well together; the plastic bag will magically sacrifice itself to the condensation process so that your camera and gear can stay dry while it warms up. Leave it inside for about two hours while you get yourself some hot cocoa, draw a warm bath, and transfer your new photos to the computer.

3) If it was especially cold and dry outside, you can put your camera on a windowsill to encourage a slower warming process for your camera.

Conclusion

Enjoy the winter with your camera. Stay warm. Protect your gear. But, most importantly, stay smart while you make photographs!

Add new comment

Good article.  Here in Southern Ontario last winter, the weather provided some real challenges.  I was often out for hours in temperatures as low as -25 degrees Celsius.  I found that for wildlife photography hunting clothing is ideal.  As a result, most of my outdoor clothing comes from the local hunting supply shop.

 Keeping my fingers warm while still be able operate a camera at sub zero temperatures was a real challenge.  If found that fingerless gloves don't work at temperatures below freezing.  My solution was hunting gloves that are convertable to mitts, the gloves inside are thin but not fingerless.  They are used by bow hunters.  The back of the mitt features a pocket that a hand warmer can fit into.  I use both the re-usable and disposable types because the re-usable ones heat quickly but last only 45 minutes or so while the disposable ones take about half an hour to reach their maximum temperature and last for hours.

gordon

any brands as i am not a hunter so have idea

apprecaite any info

Ian

I bought them at Canadian Tire.  They are sold under the brand name "Rocky" and were available in Real Tree Max and Real Tree Snow camo patterns.

Thanks for the tips, Gordon! Yes, I have seen those convertible mittens/gloves...great idea that I feel foolish for not having thought of, myself. I shall look into finding a pair as soon as I hit "send" on this reply!

After 30 minutes in extreme cold weather DSLR's malfunction.....You must keep your camera warm in between shots...........

Excellent article, now I truely believe there are those photographers out there that are excited and willing to venture out into the winter storms or soon after to capture that perfect shot. God bless you for your effort, but I do not go out in the winter at all, call me crazy but I like all the other seasons much better and somewhat less demanding. I can survive in heat, cool, rainy, dry, or windy days. Granted weather conditions do matter to a serious photographer, and I've had my scary moments. Territorial animals are the worst but with the right gear you can survive,95% of the time. Those who fail to protect themselves by thinking ahead end up in a very bad situation... In most National Parks guns are not allowed but it you think a little you can arm yourself pretty well with sprays, noise makers, smoke markers and a mirror to ward off your big/ little friends in the woods, desert or where ever you end up shooting images with a camera. Winter is not a fun season for me, so I allow others all the images they want to take, that's the type of guy I am- always thinking of others in my nice warm and toasty house. Good luck to those winter photographers!

Thanks, Michael!

You are correct. Extreme weather, be it cold, heat, rain, snow, etc, demands intelligent precautions, common sense, and a plan for overall safety.

Do you know what I miss? Winter photography in San Diego! 

This is really great information for us photographers that live in cold country 

Thanks Christine! Stay warm!

I live and photograph Alaska in the arctic. Learned on my first photo shoot that the camera would freeze long before I would. One trick I use when photographing in -20 and colder temperatures is to duct tape a hand warmer to the bottom of my camera. To keep the battery from OVER heating I place a pre-made "barrier" made of 5 layers of duct tape between the hand warmer and the bottom of the camera. Another technique I've found really helpful is to wear an oversize arctic coat and wear my camera inside my coat. I compose the shot mentally, get the tripod set up, and then set up the camera.

Loved the article advice to place the camera in a plastic bag - I'll have to try it next week.

ALO,

Hard core! Thanks for reading and thanks for the tips! I do not envy you!

Forget -20......5% above zero for 30 minutes will cause your DSLR to malfunction without being kept warm between shots......

In response to various comments about how long a DSLR will survive in cold weather - my Olympus E-M5 mirrorless (all the advanteges of a DSLR without the mirror) did fine for 3 hrs in 24 degree f weather in a deck bag on my kayak.  Ice all over the outside of the bag (and my gloves and the rest of the boat) but no problems taking 355 pictures of Boston from the Charles River.  I use "mitten gloves" that have a mitten cover that flips up to reveal a fingerless glove.  I flip them open for just as short a time as I can manage before closing up again!

http://myolympus.org/document.php?id=19897&full=1

http://myolympus.org/document.php?id=19898&full=1

I love the fact that you have shared the whole idea of taking pictures through a visual infographics here. So I did not need to think much about each tips to understand. But the difficultly is I get so much lazy in winter season to go out and sometimes pictures are not just perfect so need to have the post processing of my taken images.

Jannatul Shumi
http://www.clippingpathindia.com
 

Hey Jannatul,

Thanks for the comments! I might be tempted to agree with you about staying indoors during the winter! Through the year, I definitely procrastinate on some computer-based photography projects with the thought that I will have plenty of dark and cold winter nights to work on them!

I think it would be a good idea to put your camera in the bag before going outside also & letting the camera chill out .

mnmphoto,

Thanks for your comment. I don't think that would hurt, but your camera should not produce condensation while it cools. However, you cannot be too safe!

Good article. I live in NW Indiana, right on Lake Michigan...I mean 100yds from the water. The temps sometimes drop to 0F and sometimes lower. However, the humidity is much higher here than several miles inland. Very cold temps but high humidity....any tips or advise?

Hi Rimas,

First of all, I am jealous of your proximity to the water!

As far as the humid wet, the key is just to try to keep your stuff as dry as possible. Most gear is fairly tolerant to moisture as long as you keep access ports and doors buttoned up. Many of us have used our cameras in rain and snow and sleet and hail with no ill effects, so standard humidity should not be a bit issue.

Luckily for you, Lake Michigan is not salty, so you do not have to worry about the added corrosive properties of salt air. 

Keep your stuff dry, clean, and enjoy the view!

Todd,

Great article. The best solution to keeping your hands warm that I have used for many years are those silver metallic glove liners that you wear inside your gloves. Just pull of your outer glove when you need to without exposing your bare hand to the elements. They have great dexterity so you can work your camera with them on. These were first developed by NASA. There are several brands in different price ranges. Just Google "silver metalic glove liners".

Michael

Hi Michael, 

Thanks for the tip! Awesome! My holiday gift list is getting several hand-warming items added today!

What is the best way to shoot in snow? I mean when it is snowing hard what about rain showers? Any tips? Thanks

Hey Jeff,

I assume you are asking more about how to protect the camera than shooting techniques. Correct?

The goal is always to keep your gear dry, although I find a lot of modern cameras are tolerant to rain/snow for short periods of time. B&H sells a wide selection of specially designed rain covers for your camera gear that keep the rain off, allow your hands in for adjusting controls, and shade the lens front element/filter. Check out this link to see what we offer.

Additionally, if caught out without protective gear, there are plenty of ways you can protect your stuff with a simple plastic grocery bag.

Good luck!

Todd i menat to say how do you take photos outside in snow with the snow flying ? i tried a few times and did not work out? i tried in rain and photos were fuzzy? any tips? MERRY CHRISTMAS and Thanks !

Todd i have these- OP/TECH USA RAINSLEEVE- FLASH (Pack of 2)  but my stuff still got wet? any ideas whick rain covers are the best? thanks !

Todd; also how long do the camera or flash batteries last in extreme cold weather? thanks !

Todd; How long will 2 camera batties for cannon d40 last? i have a battery Grip and it takes 2; does both drain at the same time or one at a time please? thanks Happy New Year !

Hey Jeff!

So sorry that I didn't see your replies until now. Tough questions; simple answers.

The key to keeping your shots clear is to keep moisture off the lens. Use your lens hood(s) to help with this and judicious use of the lens cap will help. Try not to take photos pointed towards the wind/rain/snow. If you have to, you just have to keep wiping your glass clean.

As far as battery life, it all depends on how much  you are shooting and how cold it is. No one will be able to give you a good number as there are too many factors at play. You'll just have to experiment. I drained two batteries in a few hours of night shooting when the temperature was below freezing. Luckily, I had several batteries on hand because I knew I would need them.

The battery grip will extend your shooting time, but both batteries will be discharging faster in the cold.

Again, sorry for the delay!

Overall, there is good advice in this article, as well as in the comments' section. Like some others, I find the advice to wear gloves with exposed fingers fine for early fall and late spring. But having lived in the Buffalo, NY, region and NE Wisconsin, having exposed fingers doesn't work too well in winter!

As stated by some others, the glove liner underneath the gloves with exposed fingers has worked best for me.

Thanks TR!

I agree. Exposed fingers usually = cold fingers! I did some shopping based on the comments received, but have not had a chance to put my new hand gear to the test. I hope it works well!

Thanks for reading!

Very important, i like this!

Thank you, Moya! Stay warm!

Sweet tips!

I'll be heading over to Central Montana for about a week and am hoping to photograph the full moon. The weather forecast says the low will be about 4F, but yesterday morning it was -33 (including wind chill) back there! I'm seriously hoping it won't be that cold, but at least I have a few practical suggestions for shooting in cold weather.

I've photographed the moon a few times when it's been below freezing out and it's hard. It was basically setting everything up, beeping the remote, then running inside and waiting for it to take the picture. This time, I'm gonna try to dress a whole lot warmer.

Thanks, Nicole!

I love lunar photography! Don't forget there are full moons in the summertime too!

Also, its a matter of opinion, but a lot of "experts" say that the best time to photograph a "full" moon is the night before or after the actual full moon night for various reasons, so don't feel like you have to wait for the actual full moon night to get your pictures!

Good luck and stay warm!

Fore those who still use film, beware! Rapid rewinding with the winder on my 35mm SLRs left me sadder but wiser. My negatives had black crow's feet all over them; they were tracks left by static electricity discharge (most likely occurring during rewind). Now, outdoors in our Souith Dakota winters I rely exclusively on the thumb-grinding lever to advance the film and I rewind it VERY SLOWLY by hand.

Argh! Sorry you had that issue, Dale! Thanks so much for sharing with our readers!

Thanks!  Good information.

Thanks for reading, faith!

Great tips! Will be heading out this weekend to take pictures of eagles and I was worried about my camera gear.  Plus I learned a few new things. Thanks!

There are few subjects better than Haliaeetus leucocephalus!

Thanks for reading and have fun shooting!

I love Pelican cases to store & transport my gear in. They are water/airtight and you can get the photo gear inserts for great padding. Get a couple of Pelican desiccant packs to absorb any mositure and keep your gear dry all year 'round.  (They are rechangable and last for years.) When I get home, I walk in the door, pull the cards & the camera and lens goes into it's Pelican, where it can warm up very slowely in a bone dry environent.

Dogs of Marymoo...,

Thanks for reading and thanks for the tips and thanks for the plug! I know where you can get lots of Pelican cases. Click here.

Your saying you can use this method instead of the plastic bag?

Excellent tips!   I'm been reluctant to take my camera outside in this weather but these tips tell one how to take cold weather pictures while protecting your gear!

There are lots of great photos out there waiting to be made in the cold, Wendy! Go make some art!

Thanks for reading!

Very good information.  Especially liked the warning for personal safety.  Some photographers need to be reminded that a picture is not worth frost bite or injury.Thanks

Thanks, Scubabill2!

Art is never worth being (too) uncomfortable or taking (too) many risks!

Thanks for the tips. Question for you--I have a Nikon D7100. New Years resolution is to go shoot at least 2x a week. I live in Boston but I'm afraid that the temps are too low for the camera. (The manual says operating temps start at 30F). The temps here are around 20F now with wind chills in the single digits. I know this isn't particularly cold, but is it too cold for the camera to be used normally? If I keep the camera inside a small camera bag would that do it some good in between shots? I'm just wondering at what point will the camera be damaged because of operating it in the cold. Thanks!

Hi Mike_2015,

I like that New Year's Resolution! I might take that on, myself!

So, the specs for your D7100 say that the operating temperature range is 32-104 degrees F.  Most DSLR cameras, even Nikon's flagship D4s, have similar operating ranges, so don't think you own the wrong camera suddenly. There is some conjecture online as to what the temperature limitations are based on. Some theorize it is a battery issue, others think electronics, and others think it is the mechanicals. I think I will reach out to the manufacturers to get to the bottom of this, so stand by for a future article in Explora.

Several types of cameras have been used in outer space where the temperature range makes the terrestrial temperature range specification look like child's play.

Am I allowed to tell you to go out and shoot outside of that range? Um, probably not.

However, I will tell you that I have owned several SLR and DSLR cameras over the years and I have used them regularly at temperatures outside of those ranges (both directions) without any issues. Having said that, I would not hesitate to recommend taking steps to keep your camera as close to that operating range as possible. If you see some kind of performance degradation, get your camera to safety.

Officially I will tell you, and your camera's manufacturer will tell you, that you should not use your camera outside of that range. But, go to an art gallery or onto the Internet and you will see a lot of photos taken of subjects in extreme temperature environments and usually those cameras worked fine without any extensive modifications and a dose of common sense.

Good luck and get out and do some shooting!

Oh, one more thing...your D7100 cannot feel wind chill. That is for organic creatures. All the 7100 knows is the ambient temperature.

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