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Infographic: Essential Tips for Cold-Weather Photography

         
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 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.

Conclusion

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

Discussion 88

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I would like to know I have a Olympus OM-D E-M10 camera.  Coming Jan 2017, I will be going to Harbin, may I know how do I protect my camera in a very extreme cold weather -20 to -40 celcius and also can maintain its in good functions / conditions and nice shoot.

Thank you

Hi Sharon,

According to Olympus, your camera is only rated to 32 degrees F / 0 degrees C, so, using it in conditions below that temperature is at your own risk.

I have personally used cameras in colder-than rated conditions and not had a problem. However, my advice would be to try to keep the camera inside your jacket and warm as much as possible when outside while you follow the recommendations above.

Thanks for reading! Good luck and stay warm!

When you refer about coldest day, what temperature in C degree are you talking abou?

thanks 

Hi Daniel,

Most "freeze-proof" or "weatherproof" camera equipment is rated to temperatures as low as 14 degrees F (-10 degrees C).

Double check the specs on your gear to see what the operating temperature range is, if the specs are provided.

Thanks for your question!

Great article! I spent long hours photographing aurora borealis in northern Canada. Staying warm is essential -feet, hands, head and face must be protected. Do not ever touch frozen metal parts (tripod head...) with bare fingers! I use thin thermolite gloves from Dakota (cheap at your local hardware store) when changing settings, with mittens to keep my hands warm.

I also protect my DSLR with a camera parka from AT Frosted Lens. No more frost on my camera and the battery last longer! Sometimes use chemical heat warmers inside for time-lapses. And we I go back inside, I keep my DSLR in its camera parka in the camera bag until the next day to avoid condensation (and yes, remove your memory cards first!!!).

Winter is a wonderful season for photographers! Have fun!

Great tips, Aurora! Thanks for reading and thanks for sharing!

Highly Creative, thank you very much !!!

Thanks Clipping Path...again. Its nice of you to read the article again and then leave another comment! Thank you!

Thanks for posting an informative article. I'll apply those tips and tricks in winter. I just love photography.

Thanks Clipping Path!

This is great info, thanks so much, I am heading to Wisconsin in a couple of weeks to photograph some bald eagles, the long range forecast says -8.. wondering about bringing the camera and lens in and out of a car.. plastic bags there too?

Thanks

Hi Lynne,

Yes, you might want to use plastic bags, especially if your car is super-heated. If you are rolling with the sunroof open and the windows down, you will be fine without them, but if you are using the car to stay and re-warm, cover up or put your gear in the trunk!

Thanks for reading and good luck with the Haliaeetus leucocephalus!

this one is very illustrative. Thanks for the images that helped me to uderstand even more easily. I was having problem with my DSLR last year. It was minus 20 degrees and i was unable to take multiple shots one after another. I had to make my camera a bit more warm after only a couple of shots and so on. the shots i took while not making the camera warm, came out blurry and my camera functions was not workng well. I guess certain temperature makes it really hard to shoot.

Thank you for the informations. Much appreciated.

Ron Zepplin

Hi Ron,

Yes, cold is one of the enemies of modern cameras and electronics. It is unfortunate because the winter is a great time to do photos! I am glad you enjoyed the article. Thanks for reading!

Todd: Great advise. I live in Southern California but make many winter trips up into the local mountains. All of this info I have used - and my gear has never let me down.

One side note: Because of my work, I "have" to go to Hawaii every year and a half or so. I will usually bring more gear than I can carry on, so some of it gets stowed. I use Pelican Cases for everything. When you arrive in Hawaii, it is usually tropical warm AND tropical humid. Your gear just spent many hours in the belly of an airplane with outside temps around freezing. It is not uncommon for me to get my cases off the carosel covered with moisture. (Last time, it was litterally dripping off.) I have to mentally keep myself from opening the case until things warm up to ambient temps, resisting the urge to open the case to make sure the gear made the trip OK - letting in all that humid air to condense on everything! The plastic bag trick works with any kind of jump from cold to warm (or in this case, the Pelican IS the plastic bag).

Hey Tom,

Great stuff. Thanks for sharing! So sorry you are forced to visit Hawaii every 18 months. Let me know if you need someone to go in your stead.

Thanks for reading!

Great job on this! You made something that is usually pretty confusing very simple and easy to understand. I LOVE your tutorial & useful tips.

Thanks for the kind words, Sahara!

Stay warm and thanks for reading!

Very informative. Thanks.

But i guess i will still stay inside while its cold outside.

Best regards!

Martin

There is always that option, Martin!

Some of the best winter photographs can be shot through a window in a warm room!

Thanks for reading!

Hey Todd...being in Yellowstone in a few weeks caused me to put large Ziplock bags on my list of things to bring. As you have mentioned, condensation is something to be avoided at all costs as we go from outside to inside, hence the sealable bags. But what about when the reverse happens??? Me and my cameras are in my hotel room all night and together we've thawed out, me under the covers, my cameras in their respective plastic bags on the window sill. The next morning we are all warm and toasty. If the outside ambient air temp is 15*F, do I need to once again be concerned with condensation forming on and in my cameras as we trek from warm hotel room to the frigid great outdoors for another day of photo taking? Thanks in advance for your reply and for this terrific article!

Hey Tom,

You should be ok going from warm to cold (at least as far as your camera is concerned). I haven't experienced condensation from cooling. When I bike to work, I know my body heat causes my sunglasses to fog up when the airflow drops, but they don't fog up as soon as I walk outside.

I would try to keep your stuff as warm as possible, as long as possible - more for the battery life issues.

As always, thanks for reading and commenting!

Great information.

South Carolina doesn't have the extreme cold of Indiana or Canada, but I had a year long project where I photographed the full moons of the year rising and setting. I would put my camera (Canon A-1), lenses (80-205mm f4.5 and 400mm f6.3), tripod, and Cokin B&W contrast filters (yellow, orange, and red) in my car to get it acclimated to the cold so it wouldn't fog up during the winter months.I didn't have gloves with removable fingertips, so I removed my gloves to change the lenses and swap in different filters. It was challenging changing lenses and filters when it was frigid.

I also had another project where I photographed the sunrise over Columbia from the Lake Murray dam on the solstices and equinoxes. December 21, 2012 was brutal. The wind from the lake was blowing about the speed limit on the dam, 45 miles per hour. Fortunately, the wind was to my back. I was the only fool on the pedestrian walkway at that time of morning.

Sometimes great art requires great sacrifice, Ralph!

Thanks for reading and commenting! I am glad you enjoyed the article!

This really is extremely intriguing, You’re a quite skilled blogger. I have joined your feed and look forward to seeking more of your excellent post. Thanks for the tips, Gordon!

Thanks, Mishkat! The name is Todd, by the way! 

Thank you for the useful tips on taking photoshoot in Winter. Seing this article I don't think to look for another option to take photograph in winter. You are absolutely right. But the only fact that it gets little lazy to go out for doing something in winter. But in this way, I'll try obviously. Thank you.

Tamjid Arafin

Hey Tamjid,

What is the old expression? "Fortune favors the bold."

That applies to cold weather photography as there are often great shots to be had. But, stay smart and warm too!

Thanks for reading!

this is very illustrative and informative. As this artical is based on cold weather i have very little use of it. If you give me some tips for hot weather preaparation technique i will be glad to know that. By the way i will keep in mind all your tips about cold weather and hopfully implement in the future. Thanks for ur post.

Ahad Romoz

Thanks for reading, Ahad!

Hello,

Very nice article, and covers something that a photographer might not consiously consider. Am planning a photoshoot into the himalyas in august, while it may not snow a lot, I am told it is still cold enough. Will definetly follow some of these tips.

Thanks

Kumar

Glad to be of service, Kumaravel! Thanks for reading and be safe and warm in the high country!

Great tips, I am a beginner and was a little hesitant to take my camera outside in the winter, and would have never thought of putting the camera in a bag and airtight seal it before bringing it inside, now I am more confident to go exploring out in the cold. Thanks!

Thanks for reading, John! Stay dry and warm and have fun making photographs!

Great post.  Thanks

Thank you for reading, Rod!

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.

Thanks so much for the tips! (Just wanted to make sure I wasn't going to break anything). I'll be out shooting the frozen Charles River soon! 

No worries, Mike!  Good luck!

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!

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!

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?

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!

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