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 ******* 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......

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 !

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.

Very important, i like this!

Thanks for the article. I am going to take my camera outside in the cold for the first time since last winter and this article was a good reminder how to take care about my gear. As for gloves I ran into this today http://store.cooph.com/collections/gloves/products/the-original-photo-glove. Anyone tried these?