Photography in Extreme Cold

Sometimes some of the most striking pictures are those taken in the dead of winter. There’s something beautiful and serene about a blanket of snow lying over everything. If you've recently moved to an area that experiences cold weather or you’ve been bitten by the photography bug and haven’t yet done much winter photo-snapping, you might be wondering about the best way to approach the whole process. Here are some tips:

1. Carry a Ziploc bag in your camera bag
It’s a great way to protect your camera from condensation on your lenses and even inside the body. Going from very cold outdoor weather to warmer indoor temperatures can cause problems for your camera. If you’ve ever had the misfortune to wear glasses outside in the winter, you know how quicky your lenses fog up. Now imagine that happening on all the delicate bits inside your camera. 

While a Ziploc bag is not perfect, it can help. When you’re ready to come back inside to thaw out with a hot cup of cocoa, stop first and place your camera inside the bag and seal it. THEN, place the bag back in your camera bag. No matter how impatient you might be, leave it like that for at least a couple of hours. This allows your camera to slowly warm back to room temperature. If you really can’t wait to see your photos, slip your card out first.

2. Protect your camera from snow
Most cameras can handle a bit of gentle snowfall but if you’re out there in a blizzard, you’re going to want to keep your camera undercover a bit so it doesn’t get soaked. There are cases that you can use to enclose a variety of cameras. 

3. Invest in extra batteries
If you don’t already have a spare battery you’re going to want to invest in that if you have plans to take more than the occasional outdoor shots in the winter. The colder the temperature outside, the faster your battery power will be depleted. If you carry a second battery (or pack of batteries if you have a point and shoot that takes AAs), don’t keep it in your camera bag or it will get just as cold as the one in your camera. Instead, place it in your pocket, preferably an inner pocket that’s close to your body. You can even wrap it up in a piece of fleece or flannel to keep it extra toasty. There is nothing quite like the disappointment of going to take what would have been a gorgeous winter scenery shot only to realize your camera won’t turn on because your battery has brain freeze.

4. Keep yourself warm and dry too
When the weather is temperate and you’re comfortable it can be easy to just wander for great lengths of time with your camera. 

In brutally cold weather you’ll need to prepare yourself a little better. In order to withstand the cold, bundle yourself up. Consider long underwear or at the very least, a lot of layers. Wrap up with a good scarf and keep a hat on your head. Wear appropriate boots and a second pair of socks.

Speaking of boots, if you plan to go traipsing around through the snow and you aren’t sure how deep it will be, it can be worthwhile to put a plastic bag over each foot before pulling on your boots. That will help to keep your feet dry which is important – having wet frozen feet can be very tough to deal with. 

5. Pick the right gloves
Your hands might be one of the biggest problems when it comes to cold weather photography. Thin knit gloves will allow you to access your camera with ease but they will NOT keep your hands warm for long, especially if you’re holding cameras and tripods.

Thicker gloves or mitts will keep your hands and fingers warm but good luck if you need to actually make use of any buttons on the camera. Even taking the picture can be a challenge due to the bulky nature of those gloves.

There are two good solutions. One is to wear mitts that open at the top to reveal fingerless gloves underneath. This way your hands will remain warm and if you wiggle a bit you can actually get just your index finger out to press buttons. The other solution is to combine two pairs of gloves/mitts. Put on the thin knit type on your right hand, then pull a thicker pair of gloves or mitts over that. Take the outer layer off as needed to take pictures, then put them back on when you're not actively using your camera. It’s a bit tedious but it works.

6. Reward yourself
When you get home, having survived a cold stint of winter photography, reward yourself with a nice hot cup of coffee, tea, or cocoa. While it won’t do anything to improve your skills, it might improve your mood while you sit around waiting for your camera to warm up!

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