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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) allows 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 expose properly, 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.

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

For more information, check out this B&H video and enjoy these other winter shooting tips.

What cold weather tips do you have for shooting in the cold? What has worked well for both you and your gear?

Discussion 145

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This is a really good and more necessary idea. I have got more necessary information. thank you so much for this best idea

Dr. Rasel Khan,

I am glad you think we have the best ideas! Thanks for reading our good ideas!

HI  Todd Vorenkamp

It's really awesome writing what i see ever now regarding this subject and really feeling glad and happy. i love your write and want to connect with you.I think you are best photographer i think i can help you using some clipping path

and other work also .

Thank You

I am feeling the love, Clipping Path! Thank you for your fifth comment on this article!

Love your response, Todd. Seriously, I nearly spewed food everywhere when I read it. Best comment ever to these annoying automatic crap comments. 

Thanks, Trista! I am sure we haven't heard the last from Clipping Path! Stand by for more! 

Have you tried Manzella gloves?  I use them outside and shoot in manual and can easily play with everything.  They also have two fingers that can be used on a touchscreen.  I use a Nikon D3200 and have had great success with these gloves, and living in Chicago they get a lot of wear.

Hey Tim,

I haven't tried that brand, but I think someone else pitched them in the comments a long time ago. Thanks for the hot tip and thanks for reading!

I didn't realize that batteries were affected by cold temperatures! I'm just breaking into photography, so I still have a lot to learn about cameras and how they work. I knew the batteries could be affected by heat, but it's good to know that cold temperatures cause them to discharge faster.

Hi Georgia! Yep, the cold is the true enemy of the battery!

Thanks for reading! Stay warm!

Learnt it the hard way long ago. When travelling to Armenia for Christmas about 10 years ago, with sub zero temperatures, during New Year, I realized my camera battries were not holding for more than a few photos... Had to buy a new camera, which used AA battries, and kept buying battries, thinking no good battries are available i Armenia :(

Bummer, Ohan!

I do know that some modern digital cameras have adapters/battery trays that accept AA batteries....a great thing!

Thanks for stopping by! Sorry for your bad luck!

Good post that you are share.............

For the fourth time....

Thanks, clipping path s! It is so nice of you all to keep complimenting this article!

Hi, great article. Only one question. What about going from a heated room into the cold. Do you have to worry about condensating conditions going out, as well as coming in?

Thanks

Hi Ethan,

Nope! If you did, your hot beverage would have condensation on it when you walked out of your favorite coffee shop or if you drove your car out of a warm garage on a cold day.

It only happens when cold objects come into warmer environments.

Thanks for reading! Good question!

Great acticle. I was wondering myself if it was ok to bring my Canon out in the cold. Do you reccommend a Ziploc bag to keep gear in?

Hey Arlo,

Thanks!

Yep, you can bring your Canon out in the cold. I would probably try gallon-sized freezer bags....how they close is up to you! The "freezer" part isn't really needed, but freezer bags are more heavy duty than standard plastic storage bags, in my experience.

Good luck!

While the idea of putting your camera in a plastic bag is a good one, I'd take it a step or two further. Carry a plastic trash bag to enclose your entire camera bag. All of your equipment will be cold not just the camera with which you're shooting. Also carry a small sandwhich bag. As someone else mentioned you memory card will be cold. The small bag will keep it dry while it warms.

Thanks for the tip, Sig! One more reason to buy more shares in Glad and/or Ziploc! Happy New Year!

If you take your memory card out of the camera before putting it in plastic bag and going inside, why wouldn't condensation then happen on the memory card since it's going from cold, dry air to warm, humid air without the benefit of warming up gradually?  Did I miss something here or does moisture on the contacts not cause damage unless they're making an electrical connection?  Would it not warm gradually and condensation free in the camera within the plastic bag?

Hey Pat,

Good question!

The goal is to avoid condensation on the memory card contacts when they are in the camera, as electrical current flows from the camera to the card. Moisture there could be problematic. Cards are usually almost all plastic, so that helps limit the amount of sweat you would get with them.

Additionally, removing the card before you seal the camera will allow you, when the card warms, to start uploading and enjoying your images!

Thanks for your question! I hope I gave a good answer!

Anonymous wrote:

If you take your memory card out of the camera before putting it in plastic bag and going inside, why wouldn't condensation then happen on the memory card since it's going from cold, dry air to warm, humid air without the benefit of warming up gradually?  Did I miss something here or does moisture on the contacts not cause damage unless they're making an electrical connection?  Would it not warm gradually and condensation free in the camera within the plastic bag?

The thermal mass of the memory card is so low that it will reach room temp in a very short period of time relative the camera it is taken from. 

I was waiting for someone smarter than me to chime in! Thanks, Tom!

Todd, an excellent article, as usual. 

Even though I shoot a lot in the cold and precipitation, I have not much to add for you really did a great job in outlining what needs to be done and what to watch out for.

 I would strongly recommend a very warm down coat, a woven Thinsulate cap, flannel lined outer pants, fingerless gloves or mittens and overshoes for your regular footwear.

For below freezing air, I suggest rag wool Thinsulate lined fingerless gloves with a mitten pull over as against just fingerless gloves. Believe me, your fingertips will appreciate the lined mittens. Be sure to get the kind of glove that allows an exposed thumb as well, not just the fingers.

For my feet I wear my regular shoes and socks plus an overshoe boot made by Neos called the Overshoes Villager. This is the best footwear solution I have found for the cold. $150 cold weather boots do not work as well. The secret is the insulation your regular shoe provides.

Final tips: 1. If the weather is less than 20°F, I am ready to stuff hand warming packets in my shoes or gloves. 2.  I carry 8" square terry cloth polishing towels in my pockets to wipe snow and water off the camera. 3. I carry the extra camera batteries in my shirt pocket for maximizing their warmth. 

Again, very good article full of real information.

Hi Dennis!

Thanks for the kind words!

Great tips with the clothes and gloves. Yes, staying warm is a top priority. You can take care of your gear, but if you are cold and miserable, you will not enjoy being outside and making photos!

Thanks for reading!

Execilent photoshoting tips.....Thanks for share your informative post...I think another infomativve post you share very shortly i will also wating..........

Thanks, Clipping! This is the third time you have commented on the article...and said the same thing. A new record...even for a spam bot!

Thanks for the great hints!

-Televue Optical (televue.com) has some excellent suggestions for cold weather astronomy that should work well for photography too. After several minutes in the cold, a lens will develop condensation, no matter what you do. Televue suggests a lens warmer or a lens hood to keep the circulation in your favor.  Then cover the gear before bringing it where it's warm.

-- A microfiber lens cleaner is a good item to carry, for wiping off condensation. It's agood idea to clean your gear and optical surfaces before you leave so you will have less chance of scratches when you wipe it off.

--You can also buy small packs of dessicant for the inside of the bag.

--Inevitably, gear gets banged around more in the cold when you are trying to rummage through your sack, so I have also used a protective case.

Much can be said for simplicity and a simple backup camera like an underwater one. Years ago we ski-hiked the Jungfrau area and a friend had a Hasselblad, a top-range Nikon, and a Kodak Instamatic.  I don't have to tell you which was the only one that did not freeze up, but at least we said the Hasselblad made a nice pillow.

Hey 14erphoto,

Thanks for sharing the Televue link! They make some amazing optics.

Your other tips are great as well! Am I the only person out there who detests the feel of microfiber?

Thanks for the tale about the Hasselblad pillow! I hear that frozen cameras also make great paperweights and door stops, too!

Your friends in the other "shooting sport" have the gloves you are looking for. Hunding gloves have a mitten cap that pulls back (and stays back with a velcro dot) to expose open finger tip gloves. Just go to a sporting goods store or Wally-world.

Thanks, Steven!

We have some too! Check out these gloves: https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/704117-REG/Freehands_11121ML_Men_s_Stretch_Thinsulate_Gloves.html

We actually have about 70 different SKUs... https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/buy/photo-gloves/ci/26450/N/3845464596

Thanks for reading!

I have a pair of those gloves.  The only problem with them it that the thumb doesn't have a flap to expose it.  So, I made a cut on the underneath (and to the first joint) where your thumb would be and it works well.  I also put in a few stitches since when I cut the gloves there are several layers.  That way the stuffing stays in the gloves.

Thanks for the tip, Karen! You sound pretty resourceful! 

With a cold camera, the second I put my eye to the viewfinder, it fogs and I can't see a thing!  Any suggestions?

Hey Jeff,

Good question. I have never had that issue. Interesting. My guess is that it might be caused by the warm air from your lungs when you exhale—at least that is what happened to my eye protection this morning when I biked to work in 24F temperatures.

Do you notice it when you exhale? Or is it the heat from your face fogging it up? 

I'm careful not to exhale on the eyepiece, so I guess it's the heat from my cheek or eyeball! :)

Curious, Jeff. Are you running a fever? :)  Are you just a warm and generous person?

Man, I don't know...maybe try to reduce the amount of time your face is near the camera? Or, wrap your face with a scarf? Or, keep a little more distance?

I'm pretty stumped. I will ask around to see if anyone has any pointers around here.

I had that issue while shooting the super moon this past November.  Was a frosty evening and my breath froze on the viewfinder glass into little fern like crystals and couldn't see much (I don't like using live view).  I wasn't expecting it would get that cold.. but it did up in northern Vermont.  Will have to remember to tuck a scarf in the gear bag ....even in November

Stay warm, Linda!

Try a pair of wrap arround safety glasses. Like the kind you used in chem class in highschool. They're plastic and designed not to fog and they will place a air barrier between your face and the eyepiece of your camera preventing it from fogging over.

Thanks for helping out, Amanda! Great tip!

There isn't much you can do to fight the eyepiece fogging up in very cold weather. It is indeed the comparative warmth of the flesh around the eye that fogs and then freezes the eye piece--the very same condensation that was referenced in the article above, when bringing cold gear into a warm environment. Once fogged, the eyepiece will remain unusable until the glass warms to indoor temps. The best solution is to use the live view. Keeping in mind that this will drain batteries faster, especially in the cold. So goes the joys of frigid shooting!

Apparently, ear wax is the secret! See Dr. Wright's comment below...

coat the viewfinder glsass with a thin smear of ear wax which really works in the -40 to -60 celsius range and almost no fogging will happen.  Military troops at Resolute do the same for their glasses made out of glass or plastic.  There is a clemical compound - I will not bore you with its name - in it that has  the same anti freeze properties for the eardrum minimizing tinitis.  It is handy and works like a charm.

Great tips, Dr. Wright! Thanks! Who knew?

Breathe through a straw while shooting (similar to a snorkel). Not kidding ;)

Hey Kel, 

Is this something B&H should carry? I can talk to the buyers!

Thanks for helping a fellow B&H customer and Explora reader!

Along those lines, realize that your breath can condense when you are breathing out and cause a fog in front of your lens.  As a cave photographer for 48 years, I've come to learn to breathe out the side of my mouth when looking through the view finder.  This keeps micro droplets of condensed breath from creating little moon globes in front of my camera, especially when the flash on your camera reflects back off the condensed droplets.  While this may not happen when shooting in the cold weather as you likely won't be using a flash, it is still worth considering in super cold weather.  Condensed breath from the cold does have an effect on the clarity of your image.  A straw seems reasonable, but frankly I don't think I could suck enough air through it to breathe reasonably well.  Side of the mouth works well for me.

Peter Jones

Great tips, Peter! Thanks for stopping by and sharing. I have learned something new today!

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