How To Handle Cold Weather Photography

How To Handle Cold Weather Photography

Cold weather presents a few unique challenges to digital photographers.  In this post, Peter Carey offers some suggestions to keep you photographing when the mercury drops.

cold weather photography - Copyright Lachlan HardyWhen the weather outside turns cold, there are a few precautions every digital photographer should take.

First, give your camera time to acclimate!

This one is very important and it’s a two way street.  If you’re heading outside from a nice warm house, or if you’re coming back in from a shoot out in the cold, give your camera lens time to adjust to the temperature change.  Going either direction will fog up your lens and viewfinder.  Leave your lens cap on when going either direction and give your camera plenty of time to adjust to the temps.  The amount of time depends on the the difference in temperatures from inside to outside.  The larger the difference, the more time you should allow.  15 minutes is usually fine but more may be needed depending on how humid each environment is.  You want a slow, gradual change so if you can, leave your camera in a camera bag as it gets used to the change.  While this may take a bit longer, it does help ensure condensation won’t become a problem.

Next, you’ll want to protect your batteries.

Besides the lens of your camera (even worse, your sensor) getting fogged over, batteries are the lifeline for digital photography.  Unlike traditional film (with another set of cold weather challenges), digital cameras obviously rely on working batteries.  The problem is cold saps batteries of energy even when they aren’t in the camera.  Carry spare batteries in pant pockets where they are close to your body.  The warmer the battery, the better it performs.  Even when your camera indicates a battery is dead, warming it up in a pocket (especially one with a hand warmer!) can bring it back to life for a few dozen more shots.  Get used to rotating batteries in this manner and you’ll be able to stay out shooting longer.

cold weather photography - copyright Karen Carey

Let’s not forget your hands!

Once your camera has adapted to the cold, holding it for long periods of time can cause frost bitten fingers.  Just having your hands exposed to subfreezing temperatures for more than a few minutes can make your digits fumble and feel quite painful.  Obviously gloves are a requirement for outdoor photography, but what works well?  You’ll need both the warmth of a puffy winter mitten but the dexterity and tactile feel of a thin, thin layer.  Enter the Mountain Hardwear Power Stretch Glove!  I’ve found these gloves to provide the best warmth while still maintaining all the feel of the camera I need.  They keep the wind out and while they are no extreme winter glove, they get the job done.

Lastly, keep your camera out of the elements

While the snow may be falling and seem so much better than a rainy day behind the lens, be aware that snow can cause just as much damage.  Carry a soft, water absorbent cloth to help dry off your camera while out and about.  Also consider investing in a rain hood for your camera if it’s a DSLR, which allows you to keep shooting in the heaviest of downpours.  In a pinch, wrapping a towel around your camera will keep the snow off.

There’s no reason to let the cold weather keep you inside or away from your camera.  With a little preparation you can ensure great photo opportunities don’t pass you by this winter!

Are you looking for daily photographic inspiration?  Peter hosts a Photo Of The Day RSS/Atom/email feed on his site, The Carey Adventures.  Get inspiring photos from the world of travel and adventure delivered daily to your mailbox!

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Peter West Carey leads photo tours and workshops in Nepal, Bhutan, Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles and beyond. He is also the creator of Photography Basics - A 43 Day Adventure & 40 Photography Experiments, web-based tutorials taking curious photographers on a fun ride through the basics of learning photography.

Some Older Comments

  • Todd Michael Katke February 11, 2011 07:21 am

    another tip to consider for those of us that carry the long lens, 300mm to 600mm. putting your lens into 5 gallon ziplock bags. Getting all the air out, I even sometimes double bag my 500mmF4 before bring it inside. Take your card out for downloading. And let all your gear warm up slowly by this process, you will be good to go back out the following day. Seeing your results soon after getting inside and warming up.

  • Simo January 13, 2011 04:48 pm

    Adrian, remember to take lot of warm clothes and don't forget the tripod as you won't see too much light.

  • Adrian Lees January 3, 2011 08:45 am

    I am going to Lapland in December 2011 and the information I have read is really invaluable. I have sent this link to my 12 year old grandson Jack who will coming with and he has a Nikon D60
    Adrian - Australia
    3rd January 2011

  • Wishum March 22, 2010 09:28 pm

    nice post, nice blog! :)

  • Randall May 5, 2009 10:09 am

    I'm a sports photographer who also has Raynaud's disease. This condition makes my fingers very numb when exposed to cold for even short periods of time. The best solution to keep your hands and fingers warm for those hours spent on the sidelines during cold weather is to use Gerbing's battery powered heated gloves. Check out my blog post about these gloves:

  • John February 12, 2009 08:11 am

    Pay attention to where you're breathing when you're out too. I recently spent 6+ hours in approximately -20 F weather at a crowded event in the upper peninsula of Michigan and had ice forming on my filter just from the condensation of people's breath. I didn't notice it until I had been out for a while but I had to go inside and literally let it thaw before returning.

  • Andy January 6, 2009 01:35 am

    Martin Hartley is one of the best cold weather expedition photographers I know. How he keeps his Nikon camera running for up to three hours at a time with temperatures down to -50ºC I have now idea - my D80 ran out of battery in 20 minutes flat! Have a look at his photos at or watch him in action here

  • Barabe December 31, 2008 10:55 pm

    I agree with L-Jay about shooting in arctic conditions, in Montreal we have been getting well below freezing temperature for the last month, and i am geting 400+ shots with my Rebel XS Canon before i give it a chargeand it is not because it needs it, i just want to have a full charge for the next outing.

  • Carlo December 31, 2008 12:41 pm

    I got some winter photos as well from Norway
    see my Blog

  • Slava33 December 30, 2008 12:13 pm

    Great advice! I just came back from Mammoth, where on Christmas the wind gusts reached 60mph and it was snowing the whole time! Was too afraid to use my more expensive FZ30 and opted for an Olympus P&S while outdoors. Next time will definitely try some of these tips.

  • Simo December 30, 2008 05:53 am

    The weakest link in cold weather photography is the photographer, so protect he/she well. Camera will work fine in much lower temperatures than photographers do.

  • Peter Phun December 30, 2008 03:45 am

    A very good practical post. I don't live in the snow belt fortunately. When it does rain in Southern California, it's still nice to get outside and take pictures in the rain.

  • Tyler December 30, 2008 12:38 am

    I've been hitting our local slopes and have had the coldness kill the battery. Well after it warms up of course the batteries are fine. I will be keeping a hand warmer in the pocket where I keep my little water-proof camera. Though since I'll be getting more into alpine photography (ski/snowboarding photography) I will have to have hand warmers I think in my camera pack when I take my dSLR up with me.

  • rlapoint December 30, 2008 12:09 am

    I use a plastic sealable bag like a "Zip-Loc". I put my camera in the bag going from one extreme temp to another.

    Condensation will form on the bag...not the camera or lens.
    Still allow for adjustment time.

  • jeff jones December 29, 2008 09:42 pm

    Also don't forget to add a couple packets of silica gel in the bag. This helps keep it dry by absorbing the moisture and also keeps it mold free

  • Alexandru December 29, 2008 07:29 pm

    One more tip: wrap the camera strap around the wrist (or around the neck for big cameras), this way you will avoid dropping the camera if your hands are frozen and you cannot move your fingers. It happened to a friend of mine.

  • L-Jay December 29, 2008 06:41 pm

    I understand that all these problems could arise if you spend days and days out in freezing temps, but who does that?

    I live above the Arctic Circle and I attend the World Reindeer Racing Champs in Kautokeino every year to take pics - which gets down to -20°C on a normal day in April. I have my camera out the whole time taking snaps of the racers, reindeer and Sami-folk - a lot of high action stuff where I need my camera to react fast. I take around 500 good quality shots, and often use multi shot mode.

    - one little battery (that came with my camera when I bought it) lasts the whole day. Actually I've only had this one battery for nearly 4 years - I take pics every day in the Artic climate and have had no problems with them running out of juice in the cold. As I'm AM with a passion, I tend to take 4x more pics that your average Joe-pro. I also am endlessly viewing and deleting my pics so I can adjust and take better ones. I have No problem with batteries in the Arctic.

    - I wear two sets of gloves in Kautokeino coz its so cold - one leather with fur inside which is fine to use to opperate the camera. I usually have woollen mittens on top too and I just take them off when I want to take a pic - no hassle at all, no need for special gloves. I never find my fingers freeze off in the Arctic - unless I forget to wear gloves ;)

    - It takes hours for a camera to acclimatise to indoors (-18 to +18!) but I just leave the camera in the bag while I download my pics. I'm not really worried about condensation as there are no moving parts inside the camera - and if there was consdensation, it will evapourate over a little time anyway.

    - of course you should watch out for rain. But you should not keep your camera warm or close to your body between shots when it is snowing - this is because the snow will melt on or stick to the warm camera (remember the tongue and pole thing?). You must keep your camera cold in such conditions so the snow will just slide, bounce or shake off.

    The only problem that happens in the Arctic cold to my little D50 is the time it takes to write to the memory card - but the camera speed and everything else is just fine.

  • zulfadhli December 29, 2008 01:25 pm

    I went to Turkey last 2 years and it was during winter season. My biggest problem there was, I am having a problem to click the shutter release button because I hardly move my finger because of the cold weather. It was my first experience in winter actually. But i admit that batteries is a big problem during cold season. What I did there was, I keep my camera inside my sweater or jacket whenever I am not using it. I only took my camera out when I want to shoot. This can keep the camera warm using my body heat. Besides that, try to reduce viewing your pictures. You can view them when you get home.

    Anyway, great articles. It will help me a lot the next time I travel during winter.

  • tim sullivan December 29, 2008 11:01 am

    fingerless gloves (or a cheap pair with the fingertips cut off) work great. many cameras have an alloy body--which proves shock-tough but also has a nasty habit of conducting heat quite well. keeping warm palms off the camera body means your lens won't fog up as readily.

  • Michael Warf December 29, 2008 04:44 am

    Warming the battery really does coax extra juice out of them in extreme temperatures. Here in Lethbridge, Canada - we've been under extreme winds and a very "white" Christmas. Only the brave have been shooting outdoors!

    Thanks for the tips!

  • Rachel December 29, 2008 03:34 am

    Also, be careful touching your metal or aluminum tripod with bare hands if it has been sitting out for very long. Most camera bodies are rubber/plastic, so they don't seem to hurt the skin no matter how cold they get. But that tripod can give you a mighty good sting.

  • Harley Pebley December 29, 2008 03:13 am

    Ann Torrence posted a similar article a couple weeks ago at just before our last photowalk.

  • Dave December 29, 2008 03:02 am

    What works for me is Glove Liners. Skin tight gloves that are designed to wick perspiration away, and fit inside beefier gloves. I got mine at a ski shop, but Amazon also has them listed.

  • Sherry December 29, 2008 02:09 am

    Living in Montreal, these tips are very useful. I've found the best thing for my fingers is to get the fingerless gloves with the mitten that folds over them. I can keep my hands warm when I'm just carrying the camera, and then quickly stick a finger out to snap a picture when I'm ready.

  • Chris Fiberg December 29, 2008 12:55 am

    The photo in that post is not the best example, because there is not a object to focus on, but I like the tips very much.