Photography in Extreme Cold

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. I live in a part of Canada that is known for extreme amounts of snow and temperatures that are accompanied by the terms “Arctic cold snap” on a regular basis so I get to practice taking photos under these conditions regularly.

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 of the things that I’ve learned in my endless winters.

1. Carry a Ziploc bag in your camera bag

I know, that sounds kind of weird but 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 (like me) 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. Yikes!

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 like the one I shot last week, 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 but I tend to just use a hat. I’ve gotten some strange looks from people when I pass them with one hat on my head and a matching one around my camera, but it works. I’ve also unzipped my coat and tucked the camera inside, zipping it back up until I need to use it again, but the odd shaped sticking out from your body may get even stranger glances from passerby!

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. I’ve even had a battery just about die on me the same day I fully re-charged it. 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 I stongly recommend 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. I recently photographed the Olympic torch festivities in my area and it was unfortunately the day after a blizzard. My feet were fine until I was coming back home and the slush and snow were finally too much for my boots to handle and my feet were soaked; luckily I was almost home by the time discomfort set in. Had it happened before I was done it could have ruined my morning, ruined my shots, and made me sick to boot.

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 as a hardcore Canadian I can tell you 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.

I’ve found 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. You can also try these which I thought were pretty inspired.

The other solution is the one I use most often. I combine two pairs of gloves/mitts. I’ll put on the thin knit type on my right hand, then pull a thicker pair of gloves or mitts over that. I can take the outer layer off as needed to take pictures, then put them back on when I’m not actively using my camera. It’s a bit tedious I suppose, but it works for me.

6. Reward yourself

When you get home, having survived a cold stint of winter photography, I suggest you 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!

Do you have any cold weather photography tips to share? Let us know in the comments, and feel free to show off some of your favorite cold day shots that you’ve taken that made the weather worth it.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Sherry Osborne carries her camera everywhere she goes, no matter how cold it is outside. When she thaws out she likes to help beginner photographers learn new things at

Some Older Comments

  • Michelle May 29, 2010 05:37 am

    In response to "1. Carry a Ziploc bag in your camera bag"

    Read more:

    Whenever I take my camera out in extreme cold weather, I simply put it on the floor in front of an electric tabletop fan the minute I bring it back into the warm. The cool air from the fan allows the camera to quickly return to room temperature within 10-15 minutes without condensation.

  • PhotoBuzz April 14, 2010 01:27 pm

    Those are some great tips, Personally I love B/W winter photography there is a lot of amazing contrast, I know its hard to keep warm, but for great photo its worth it, great post

  • sallster February 22, 2010 02:11 am

    If you're taking pictures in the cold or using video cameras, then check out these POW Pho-tog gloves...I've had a pair for a few years now and they're brilliant. They're really easy to use, warm and look smart...

  • Joe D Silva January 30, 2010 03:59 am

    Hmm.. I keep messing up trying to post images :)

    [eimg link='' title='Merced River in Winter, Yosemite Valley' url='']

  • Joe D'Silva January 29, 2010 04:41 pm

    Ouch the river didn't make it to the post :D

    [eimg link='' title='Merced River in Winter, Yosemite Valley' url='']

  • Joe D'Silva January 29, 2010 04:38 pm

    Winter also brings out some unique photo opportunities... like this shot of Mecred river in Yosemite flowing around the snow covered rocks. The difficult thing about this is that you have to be in the middle of the river to get the perfect view (yeah right ;) )... But I sort of spied on a decent spot where the river actually bent and there weren't any trees around to obstruct the view. There I setup my tripod and stuck the Variable ND in front of the lens to get that long exposure.

    Thus I caught the fish, err... I mean river without really getting wet.

  • bob January 25, 2010 12:34 am

    Like all the comments and suggestions.. Thanks everyone.

  • Ray January 22, 2010 12:25 am

    Thanks for all the tips. Great article!! I am going to Yosemite tonight and it should be beautiful there.

  • Joe D Silva January 9, 2010 10:50 am

    Among all those mittens and zip locs, also invest on a good crampon for your shoes, it doesn't weigh much and will easily sit in a pouch in your backback along with your other camera accessories.

    It can be a real saver when you have to walk on ice. You don't wan't to slip and fall on your precious equipment and smash them into pieces (not to mention break your back)

    I've got a pair of yaktrax which gives good grip for shoes while walking on ice. it's light weight and takes very less space.

    On a recent trip to NC, I had to walk in ice with only a non-marking sole shoes (don't ask)... Slipped a few times, fell once with my 5D Mark II in hand, only to be saved by a little acrobatic stuff :) . But that's a lesson well learnt. I shan't temp fate again.

  • Chris M December 29, 2009 02:09 pm

    When it Comes to gloves I have a wonderful solution. Mechanix gloves, you can find them in the automotive department. they are thin enough to operate any pro camera equipment or small device (even iPhone screens!) and will block any wind. if you find them a little chilly, they can easily have something heavier put on over them.

  • Lola December 29, 2009 09:30 am

    Great tips!. Here are some cold weather sorts from Arctic Sweden -

  • ruby December 27, 2009 04:23 pm

    Snow? What's that? I've seen snow stick once in my entire life. That was last december just before finals my senior year in highschool. I went photo crazy, but we usually just get a nice slick slope of ice.

  • Stunner December 26, 2009 07:20 am

    This post could not have come at a better time! I live in Jamaica, but I am in New York for a month and the cold here is a challenge to someone from the tropics like me! Thanks for the tips!

  • Ryan December 25, 2009 10:21 am

    Can't beat a wireless flash in a bag!

  • Gary G. December 25, 2009 07:29 am

    To help keep your feet warm, use antiperspirant to them before you put your socks on. If you then wear thin polypropylene socks under wool socks, your feet stay warm because they stay dry.

  • Ryan December 25, 2009 07:26 am

    A Sb-800 in a ziplock bag can be a lot of fun!

    Ryan[eimg url='' title='745122470_kyupC-M.jpg']

  • Tittan December 25, 2009 07:03 am

    About what clothes you should wear. For me, who is living in Norway, Europe, finding a list of brand names is useless. Of course, I can buy them on-line, but it would be easier if people said "use wool". The very best protection you get from the cold is - wool. Wool underwear will keep warm even if it's wet, and it will lead your sweat away from your skin. Here's what I wear (when it's no wind to speak of!). Keep in mind that I grew up in Norway!

    Around 0 C (32F)
    My normal clothes. Jeans, boots, a t-shirt, a hoodie, and a jacket.

    Around -10 C (14F)
    My normal clothes, with extra woollen, long underwear. Thus adding another layer. A woollen hat, and gloves, jeans, boots, a t-shirt, a hoodie, and a jacket.

    Around -20 C (-4 F)
    Long woollen underwear, a health jersey (you know, like your grandfather might have had - it creates a layer of air that stay warm), a thin woollen shirt with long sleeves, winter trousers (with extra stuffing), a winter jacket, a woolen hat/balaclava, a woollen scarf, woollen mittens with a waterproof pair on the outside, woollen socks and sturdy winter boots.

    Around -30 C (-22 F)
    The same as around -20 C, but perhaps two sets of underwear, and special foot bags for my boots. Maybe also a face mask, in order to keep from breathing the freezing air.

    Around -40 C (-40 F)
    My normal clothes, a cup of cocoa, and my laptop. This is way to cold to be outside in!

  • George E. Norkus December 25, 2009 04:15 am

    Back in my highschool years, (1969-71), as the chief yearbook photographer, I had the pleasure of covering the school ski club with a big 2-1/4" square Yashica. One thing I have to add to the #1 suggestion. (Once in a while I used a rubber sealed bag.) When you seal your camera be careful about the moisture difference from the indoor area and the outdoor area.

    Skiers come in from the cold and bring snow & ice with them. After it melts indoors, the wetness evaporates. The indoor air gets very humid. If you take photos indoors then seal up and go outdoors, the inside of many unprotected cameras get condensation. That can ruin your day!

    To a smaller degree, the same thing can happen from many houses that have humidifiers. If you don't need to use your camera indoors, put in in a baggy before going indoor. that way you will keep the moisture content the same if you only need to warm up abit.

    About the batterys. In the last few years Lithium batterys hint the market. If your camera can use that type, I highly suggest you getting them! Those things act like they generate their own heat! A very good thing for cold times.

    In that situation, it's best to just keep the camera loosly in your jacket so air can get to it.

  • Michael December 25, 2009 02:54 am

    As a fellow Canadian, I agree totally with your advice. I have shorted out 2 cards by trying to view them in the computer after coming straight from outside. Condensation on the contacts was the problem and the pictures were lost.
    I keep an extra battery in my front pants pocket ( if it gets cold there it's time to go home) and I switch the bateries around about every 30 minutes - as the battery warms back up in you pocket the charge rejuvenates.
    The mitts with the index finger slit are a great idea. We used exactly that design in the military during cold weather operations and they perform very well.

  • Rick December 24, 2009 01:43 pm

    Do it right - DO IT RIGHT!! Born from Idaho winters... Can you say "Under-Armor" underwear - wool socks and Thinsulate boots. Insulated hat and layered clothes... I also have a pair of waterproof, insulated pants that go over my wool pants when I'm trapsing around in the deep snow.. .. No - not too hot, but comfortable enough where the weather just doesn't become an issue when I'm out there.. I can concentrate on the art, and not any small inconveniences that may pop up. Those chemical pocket warmers also work wonders - one in each pocket and 2 in the pocket that carries the extra batteries. Also - not only tell someone where you're going, but carry a GPS and Cell Phone. Invaluable when/if you get in a little bind..

    UnderArmor about $100 for both top and bottom - good Merril thinsulate boots also about $100.. but I'll guarantee you that if you try and go cheap, you'll regret it.. This was a one time purchase for me and I'll never go any other way again...

    Also - I take a cooler with snacks that I keep in the truck... Just makes the day go nicer..

    Have fun...


  • Gary December 24, 2009 01:08 pm

    I don't know why these didn't load the first time.

    [eimg link='' title='2009_01_30_0258' url='']

  • Gary December 24, 2009 12:46 pm

    This is a great article. I enjoy getting out in the cold weather as well. Here's 2 of my favorite shots.

    I took this image during the blizzard of 08. The wind was blowing at 57 mph, which explains the sleet trails captured at 1/400th of a second. To keep my hands from freezing, I used a pair of those packaged "Hot Hands", hand warmers. They work best when inserted into the back of the gloves (not as bulky or obstructing, and improves circulation to maintain warmth). These can be purchased at most sporting goods retailers (usually found in the camping supplies), although they can sometimes be found on the "Impulse" racks at the checkout counter in some grocery stores. I also keep one in my camera case to prevent my batteries and lenses from getting too cold.

  • sonja December 24, 2009 12:30 pm

    one way you can keep your hands warm while shooting winter scenes is to purchase a remote shutter release for your camera (provided the model of dslr you own has such accessory available), just plug it in and take as many pics as you want without ever exposing your hands to the cold.

  • Warren Gammel December 24, 2009 09:53 am

    I shoot outdoors when it's sometimes 30 and 40 below in Fairbanks.

    Touching metal objects like your tripod is a big problem which I solved by purchasing that black foam hot water pipe insulation at Home Depot. It's inexpensive and works extremely well. You just cut it to length with a sharp knife and and then attach it to the tripod legs and then secure it with plastic ties. This stuff also works great on snow shovels and I even put it on the handles of my ice fishing rods.

    For the tripod's pistol grip head, I took an old sock, cut off the toes, and slipped it over the grip. Works great.

    I buy those chemical hand warmers by the case, don't ever leave home without them!

  • Caroline December 24, 2009 09:34 am

    thankyou - those tips might well come in usefull this weekend. It's looking like a white Christmas atm (several inches of white in fact ) - which is unusual these days in the uk :)!

  • Rick December 24, 2009 09:32 am

    Use foam hotwater pipe insulation (3/4" or 1" inner diameter) on the upper part of your tripod legs. This will protect you bare hands from contact with cold metal and frostbite in extreme cold or when your cmera is on the pod for an extended period of time (e.g. for those northern light photos). It can be held in place with (guess what?) duct tape, which can be colour matched in many instances.

  • Bonnie Rannald December 24, 2009 08:39 am

    When I am out photographing in Northern Nevada, I wear either Atlas Therma Fit insulated gloves or Tuff-Coat 400 meat packers gloves. They keep my hands warm and are flexible enough to use with the camera. I order them in bulk from Discount Gloves.

  • uscivicmc December 24, 2009 07:49 am

    Putting plastic bags on your feet is a bad idea, it'll make it so you're feet can't breathe, therefore making them sweat, and then the sweat will then get very cold, in turn, making your feet even colder.

  • Henk December 24, 2009 07:34 am

    The ZipLoc bacg is wonderful. To make sure that the moisture that will still be in that bag before you bring it in does not go into your camera/lens anyway, add a package or two of silica-gel in the ziploc and they will eat up the moisture before your camera can.
    You can find these little packages ("Do Not Eat - Throw Away!") in numerous boxes for printers, notebooks etc. Most companies throw them away, you should be able to get a big bag for free.

  • Dhruba December 24, 2009 07:12 am

    Thanks for the timely tips.
    I am going to a Ski holiday to south of Poland (Zakopana) in Jan 2010.
    I will have to get an extra battery and some good winter gear.
    I am buying Nikon 17-55mm lens for my D300.
    Hope it will be nice to do some experiment.
    Also taking Nikon 18-200mm and Nikon 50mm f1.4
    Off course my Manfrotto tripod.
    I will post my pictures when I get back.

  • Sue Harrison December 24, 2009 07:03 am

    You forgot to mention joining pairs of gloves and mittens with a cord or crocheted yarn string long enough to thread through your coat sleeves like Mom used to do, but only if you want to keep them instead of dropping or losing the one you depend on to keep your hand from freezing.

  • Kelly Peet December 24, 2009 06:15 am

    I agree with Titan on protecting yourself and about leaving word of where you are going and when you are expected back. Also call the designated person when you get back to let them know you are safe. I was shot in the face on April 4th 2009 while on a photo-shoot taking pictures of my German Shepherds and an old log cabin. You can read more about it if you wish by going to It almost killed me and I hadn't told anyone where I was going since it was only a 1 mile country walk from my farm.

    Here are some things that I have learned to do to fight off cold (I'm a whimp in the cold) and to protect equipment and myself.

    - Wear an orange hunting vest so that people can easily see you (I do this even around the farm now…to many crazy, stupid people running around with guns).
    - Wear a ski suit
    - Wear goose down coats - best insulated coats in the world and they allow moisture to escape instead of trapping it inside. I tried Gortex once and loved it, but if I remember right it trapped in sweat. Maybe a combination would work well if the goose down isn't keeping you warm enough. Gortex is not thick, and easy to pack in a bag, so it could be carried for emergencies.
    - Wear knit hat and wool scarf (preferably bright orange or red for safety)
    - Carry soft drink bottles filled with hot water - put in pockets to warm up hands, or equipment. You can always drink the water in emergencies, but I don’t recommend it otherwise because the toxic plastic chemicals get into the water and are harmful. You could always find stainless steel bottles and carry them so you could also drink the water.
    - Wear - thinsulate gloves - cut trigger finger fingertip off and use “hot hand” warmers inside - (I get mine for $5. at Wallmart)
    - Use plastic shopping bag wrapped around camera to protect from rain and snow - cut out hole for lens – Carry extra bag for when first bag gets to wet
    - Use red electric tape on lens cap, battery case, digital card case or anything you might drop - makes it easy to find when dropped in snow or grass
    - Wrap red rubber bands around things like the Nikon pen so that it gives you a better grip and if you drop it you can easily find it due to the red.
    - Buy good insulated boots with tongue that comes all the way to the top and sealed on each side - keeps snow and rain out
    - Wear wool socks - great even when wet - allows moisture to move away from feet (I was in the Army and that's what they had us wear)
    - Carry nylon knee-highs to put on under socks if you are going to walk a lot. This reduces friction and blisters.

    Here are more safety recommendations, especially if you are photographing by yourself in remote areas.

    - Walkie Talkie with extra batteries (Better than nothing if you can’t get cell reception)
    - Cell Phone
    - Contact information (for all people that you would like to have contacted if you are seriously injured – Needs to be water proof – Best if secured in waterproof container that is easily visible in case you are unconscious and someone is trying to help you.
    - Swiss Army Knife
    - Carry compass, whistle, mirror/magnifying glass (can be used to start fires and signal for help), lighter, matches, and some lint/matchsticks to start fire. The whistle really is nice if you have to make some noise to let people know where you are. My voice box was hit by the bullet, and I’m not sure if I could have blown one or not, but if I couldn’t have walked I sure would have tried.
    - Carry clear Emergency rain poncho – can also be used to protect the camera. I get inside mine, cover my head and face completely with it and stick the lens through the armhole to shoot when it’s raining or snowing hard. I see where I am going by looking through the viewfinder
    - Carry small first aid kit.
    - Carry small emergency blanket in case you get trapped out.
    - Pack the car with emergency kit with first aid gear.
    - Have drinking water in the car
    - Full tank of gas

    I could write more. After growing up on a farm, being in the Army, and going through being shot out in the woods, I’ve learned some pretty good camera and personal survival tips, but I’m always open to learning more.

    Good idea about the zip lock bag. I also tried using one for protecting my camera but it didn’t work well. The best solution I have found so far is to take a plastic shopping bag and cut a whole for the lens and leave the side with handles towards my face, or use the clear emergency poncho.

  • Christina December 24, 2009 05:58 am

    Thank you very very much for these precious advices.
    I am spending right now my christmas holiday in lapland and your information will help me a lot.
    Wish you a merry merry christmas and a happy new year.

  • Cathy December 24, 2009 05:00 am

    I just did my first winter high school senior (14 degrees) and engagement photos outside. I have done several winter weddings with some photos outside the coldest was -15.
    We plan the photo, run out get-r-done and warm up to plan the next photo. photos are online at

  • Suresh REddy December 24, 2009 04:56 am

    Great tips...and great photographs. I recently started taking pictures with my Canon XSi after reading book on "understanding exposure". Recently we had snow storm...and I tried taking pictures of the snow fall/falkes using larger aperturein Manual mode..but couldn't get it...I am wondering what would be the settings for this. When I saw these pcitures I jumped to joy as these were exactly what I wanted to shoot. Any pointers will be greatly appreciated.
    My setting 5.0 and 1/100 at 100 ISO

  • RichardH December 24, 2009 04:03 am

    So the concensus seems to be: keep yourself and your batteries warm, let the camera take the cold.

  • Chuck December 24, 2009 04:02 am

    Baby it's Cold Outside......
    Having no choice, when I shot the 48 Straight ski tour * in SV, Idaho, I researched what the photographers in South Pole do, and they will leave the equipment outside overnight.
    So my approach is I just pull the memory card, put the camera in a supple plastic bag and back in the camera case, and let the camera acclimate while I edit pictures.
    Last week I shot a VR over the frozen river here, and in 28 shots, lost control of most fingers. ouch
    Going to try those charcoal warmers again.

    * Partying at 14 below.

    [eimg link='' title='EagleCreekice01' url='']

    [eimg link='' title='Liquidice-02' url='']

  • Andrew Fish December 24, 2009 03:44 am

    I took a few pictures of the Blue River in CO, where I just recently moved to. It was very cold. The Hot Hands work pretty well to keep them in your pockets. I haven't quite figured out what works best to protect the camera from the snow.
    [eimg link='' title='122209_0508e' url='']
    [eimg link='' title='121309_0443' url='']

  • snowblader December 24, 2009 03:42 am

    An extra battery is a must when shooting in the cold, especially for me, since I'm always the one with the camera on our ski trips.
    As for choosing the right gloves, I used to use a thin knit pair of gloves, but my hands would always freeze, so I looked around for other gloves, and found a pair of Thinsulate leather gloves. They are thin enough to feel the buttons on the camera, and they are insulated so my hands stay nice and warm all day. Being leather, they also breath, so that they don't sweat. I also really like that the leather grips the camera better, since before I always felt like I was going to drop the camera, since it would slide in the knit gloves.

  • Melanie December 24, 2009 03:39 am

    Thanks for the tips--especially the plastic bag and warm up advice. I will try the hat as well.
    Just took many beautiful photos yesterday after the snow storm.
    Happy Holidays.

  • Tittan December 24, 2009 03:23 am

    I have found that you can use the "tripod in sand"-trick on snow as well. (Depending on the snow of course.) Get three tennis-balls, and cut holes for the feet of the tripod. Place the tripod in the balls, and it won't sink so far into the snow. Or, if you know if there are a lot of places to use it in the area, you can bring a gorilla-pod.

    We have a few common rules here in Norway too: The Norwegian Mountain Code (Fjellvettreglene)

    Be prepared
    Be sufficiently experienced and fit for your intended tour. Practice hiking or skiing with a pack away from trails and tracks, even if conditions are poor. It's then that you gain the experience needed for mountain tours. Your physical and mental fitness, your experience and your gear determine the sensible length of a tour.

    Leave word of your route
    Many cabins, hotels and other lodgings have tour notification boxes in which you may put written notice of your tour route. In an emergency, the details you give will aid the rescue service. However, the best safeguard is to plan your tour so you need not be rescued by others.

    Be weatherwise
    An old adage advises that you should always be alert to forecasts of bad weather yet not rely completely on forecasts of good weather. Regardless of the forecast, you should be prepared for bad weather. Even a fresh breeze (Beaufort Scale 5) combined with sleet or frost can produce frostbite. Weather forecasts aren't sufficiently detailed to forecast local weather in mountain areas. Despite forecasts usually being right, it's difficult to predict when weather will change. So you should heed forecasts in adjoining lowlands as well as in the mountains, and follow weather changes.

    Be equipped for bad weather and frost.
    Always take a rucksack and proper mountain gear. Put on more clothing if you see approaching bad weather or if the temperature drops. A roomy anorak, long wind trousers, wind mittens and warm headgear are good outer clothing. Put them on in good time. Stand with your back to the wind and help others put on their clothing. Use a survival bag for additional protection.

    Learn from the locals
    Local people often can tell you about avalanche train, wind and snow conditions and good choices of route.

    Use map and compass
    Always have and know how to use map and compass. Before departing, study the map and trace your route to gain a basis for a successful tour. Follow the map, even when weather and visibility are good, so you always know where you are. When visibility deteriorates, it can be difficult to determine your position. Read the map as you go and take note of points you can recognize. Rely on the compass. Use a transparent, watertight map case attached to your body so it cannot blow away. Take bearings between terrain points on the map that can guide you to your goal. Use the compass to stay on a bearing from a known point.

    Don't go solo
    If you trek alone, there's nobody to give first aid or notify a rescue service in an emergency. Yet there isn't always safety in numbers. A large party is inadvisable, particularly if its members are unequally experienced. A party never is stronger than its weakest member.

    Turn back in time; sensible retreat is no disgrace
    If conditions deteriorate so you doubt that you can attain your goal, turn about and return. Don't try to defy weather, as others may risk their lives to rescue you. If you change your goal, be sure to notify the cabin that expects you. If you start a tour in windy, uncertain weather, go against the wind. Then it will be easier to backtrack if need be.

    Conserve energy and build a snow shelter if necessary
    The stronger the wind, the tougher the trekking. Suit speed to the weakest member of the party and avoid sweating. If you go in single file, turn often to ensure that the others follow, more so in bad weather when it's hard to hear voices. Remember to eat and drink frequently. Physical activity increases the body's need for liquid intake, even if you don't feel thirsty. Insufficient food and drink lead to lethargy, and you can become discouraged. Start building a snow shelter before you are exhausted; a few hours is enough to build a snow trench or snow cave. When you have surplus time and energy, practice building a shelter; the experience gained can be valuable. A survival bag can provide emergency shelter.

    Of course, these guidelines are more aimed towards you as a person, not your equipment. But what good is your equipment if you're dying from the cold? I have been out in bad weather, with -40 celcius and a snowstorm, and survived because I followed these guides. It ended up quite a nice trip. ;)

  • Mild Mannered Photographer December 23, 2009 04:56 am

    I would totally suggest getting little hotties. They stay in your pockets and get nice and hot.

  • Emma f December 23, 2009 01:54 am

    Is there any special equipment required for shooting in the snow? No matter what the sky looks like, it always turns out flat in my photos. Also, I can never capture the texture of the snow. Any tips?

  • Spendlove December 23, 2009 01:27 am

    I for one have to disagree with any advise of putting the camera in your coat to warm it. I know as I am moving around in the snow and cold, I'm generating lots of heat and moisture inside my coat. That moisture would condense on my cold camera and then freeze inside my camera when I pull it out to use it.

    Plus, the repeated warm/thaw cycles would be very hard on the camera parts, like they are on cracks in rocks, concrete, and asphalt.

    If anything, just pop the battery out and warm that.

    When I'm done, I leave the camera in my camera bag and leave that in the garage. It slowly warms up enough overnight or through the day that bringing it in the house later doesn't cause condensation.

  • Doc Holliday December 22, 2009 08:27 am

    As for the batteries... I carry four batteries for two cameras. One battery in each camera. One battery in the pocket of my parka with two chemical heat packs wrapped around it. The other battery in the palm of my left hand, (I'm right handed), inside my glove with a chemical heat pack. The one in the glove is easy to swap out. Quite often, taking a cold 'dead' battery out of a camera and putting it in my glove for a bit will revive it. If not, it goes in my parka pocket with two heat packs. That usually revives them.

    Remember to replace heat packs liberally. I buy them by the case, it's cheaper that way.

    This method works for me for shooting down to minus 30 degrees F...

    As for me - it's Sorel SnowPaks and a North Face GoreTex parka with a goose down liner. This works down to minus 50 degrees F, (well, that's the lowest I've ever been out in with this outfit). My exposed hands will drive me in before anything else.

  • Mattias P December 22, 2009 08:01 am

    This post would have been a great read two days ago, before I ran out into the Swedish winter. The thermometer showed -13 C. But it was worth it. Now I've added "mitts that open at the top to reveal fingerless gloves underneath" to my Christmas wish list.

  • kate December 22, 2009 06:02 am

    Ooooh thank you! I am totally making those mittens now. I took my camera out in the first snow in just my backyard and ended up having to have it sit for a couple hours just because snow had gotten on the lens and i zoomed.

  • Jesse Kaufman December 22, 2009 05:04 am

    @Mat Packer hahaha ... ouch! yeah, that does sound painful!!

  • Silverzz December 22, 2009 03:46 am

    The only tip I can pass on is that if you are going to be outside for a while you really do need some suitable clothing otherwise you will becaome very uncomfortable very quickly.
    I use ski gloves and socks to keep my hands and feet warm along with several layers of good quality clothing, and when out in the open fields the icy wind can really freeze your face and ears so for the more extreme conditions I use a full face balaclava.

  • Jason December 22, 2009 03:44 am

    I live in Saskatchewan I know exactly how it feels. I was out a few weeks ago taking pictures in minus 40 with a minus 50 windchill!

  • Keith December 22, 2009 02:49 am

    My only comment is that it probably isn't a great idea to put a cold camera under your coat to keep it dry. The environment in there will be warm and very humid which will cause condensation problems. However the hat idea is a great solution.

  • Bruce December 22, 2009 01:53 am

    Great post, with some great suggestions (and that includes those in the comments).

    I would add that taking a tripod and if possible a remote shutter release will make for crisper images - I went out on Saturday at -5 and didn't get a single usable image as I was shivering too much to hold the camera steady!

  • Mike December 21, 2009 11:45 pm

    Placing the camera in a zip lock bag is very important to ensure that the camera is protected once you come in out of the cold. Having photographed in Iceland in January I used the zip lock bag method and waited about 3 hours before downloading images. No matter how much I wanted to see them on the big screen (laptop) it was worth the wait to ensure the camera and glass were well protected.

    I've been asked this same question of how to protect your equipment in winter conditions numerous times so this is a timely post.

  • Mario Bucolo December 21, 2009 09:47 pm

    WInter on Mt. Etna

  • Neil December 21, 2009 06:19 pm

    Woke this morning with no snow, travelled 5 miles down the road and its about 5 inches!!!!! To dark for photos and left my tripod at home.... oh joy of a winter snap!!!

  • Joopajoo December 21, 2009 05:58 pm

    I shoot regularly in the cold (Arctic circle, Finland) and occasionally really cold ( around -37 C /-35 F) and I could add that if you go inside in between shots to get yourself warm do not take your equipment with you. Leave them outside, in your camera bag etc. If you get your equipment inside and warm they get wet all over and then you go out and start to shoot... not good. No ziplocks or plastic bags will help you on this. After a shoot you should just leave your camera for few hours to warm up and get rid of moisture.

  • Richard December 21, 2009 04:13 pm

    I wish I had thought about the ziplock idea before I decided to shoot in -40ºC weathers in Edmonton. Condensation put my camera out of commission for while.

  • Lon December 21, 2009 02:59 pm

    Thermos is the only thing I can think of that I'd add. It may be a little cumbersome, but if your planning to be outside for more than an hour or so is always nice to have a hot beverage for if you get a few minutes to sit down and rest.

  • Bjorn December 21, 2009 02:39 pm

    Good tips!

    My winter consists more of wet than cold, with the occasional snowy day thrown in. I have found that sometimes it's just easier to change approaches and change cameras along with it.

    It's very cheap to find plastic waterproof bags for compact cameras, especially handy for wet snow.
    A second approach I use is to switch from my D300 back to film and shoot my FM2n instead. If it gets wet, cold or (more) beat up, I don't worry so much about it. Just be aware that the little button cell batteries really don't like the cold :)

  • dcclark December 21, 2009 02:00 pm

    Agreed with sillyxone -- I don't worry about a ziploc bag or anything in the winter, nor do I particularly protect my camera from the snow (it's been lens down, buried in snow, with me on top of it, more than once!). Maybe it's not the "safest" way to do things, but I have never had a problem -- and my life is much easier not worrying about all of the details.

  • Jose December 21, 2009 12:50 pm

    Buy a Pentax camera! Most of them are weatherproof.

  • Mike December 21, 2009 12:48 pm

    A suggestion for gloves and winter shooting. What I did was buy about 4 or so pairs of those thin black cotton gloves. They're absolutely dreadful for keeping your hands warm on there own, but with a little bit on ingenuity I came up with this idea:

    If you cut the fingertips off of two of those pairs, you can put on two pairs of the uncut ones, followed by the two pairs of cut ones. After they're on, you'll have 4 pairs of gloves covering your hands, but because you cut the tops off of two of those pairs, you'll have enough dexterity in your fingertips to be able to press the shutter and work buttons easily, all while keeping your fingertips somewhat protected from the elements

  • Nicole December 21, 2009 12:19 pm

    Thanks for these tips - I just moved from Vancouver to Atlantic Canada, where -10 seems to be the average winter temp. I'm in love with the scenery, though, and have been shooting like crazy. I like the ideas for keeping out the cold... and I have no idea what thermal underwear is. =) Gonna have to find some.

    How does the Ziploc help the camera? Doesn't it lock moisture in?

    My tip: A thermos that slings over your shoulder. It keeps the gear from getting wet, and a hot drink warms up your insides!

  • Dominique December 21, 2009 12:06 pm

    Bring a Thermos full of hot "something" so that when you have a moment, you can warm up a little. I like green tea personally.

  • sillyxone December 21, 2009 11:48 am

    I shoot outdoor quite a lot in Minnesota winter, and it's a wonder that my D40 is still working. I never thought or worry about carrying Ziploc bag though, haven't got any problem with fogging. AFAIK, there is no moisture in this air :-), my humidifier runs 24/7 but my skin is still cracking up.

  • Ron Gibson December 21, 2009 11:32 am

    Nice post. The only things I can think of adding-

    Bring a grey card to measure your white balance. When shooting in a mostly white image (snow) your camera has a good chance of freaking out and believing the white snow is your grey point.

    If using a monopod, use a spike foot on the bottom. This way you will be more secure when shooting and have less of a chance of slipping. Manfrotto makes nice little spiked feet.

    I would also suggest trying out a skylight filter and/or polarizer filter to cut down on the rays (you can't adjust this in post properly so you have to adjust with a real filter).

    And lastly, don't exhale while shooting- hold your breath. This way you won't fog your lens or capture your breath in the image.

  • Alberto December 21, 2009 11:18 am

    In the fresh snow i suggest you to be sure that your lens cap (and also other small things) is in your pocket!
    Yesterday I almost lost mine, damn, it took 15 minutes to find it!
    To prevent the soaking of my not-weathersealed DSLR in the snow without buying nothing I used a freezer bag with a hole for the lens, not perfect but it works, specially if you protect the camera when you don't use it.

  • Matthew Dutile December 21, 2009 10:19 am

    Good advice. I'll be heading to Boston for two photo shoots next week and my Arizona blood is unused to cold weather shooting. :) Planning on picking up some of those shake warmers at REI.

  • JonZenor December 21, 2009 08:46 am

    I recently went out taking pictures with a -17º F wind chill. I found two helpful things. I went to a sporting goods store and invested in some really good gloves that are thin enough that I can use all of the buttons on my camera. The other thing that helped a lot is I bought some toe warmers. They were $2 for a pair, but well worth it. They kept my feet at a comfortable temperature the entire day, even after I got home. :)

    I really need to get a new battery for my camera though.

  • Angie Thornton December 21, 2009 08:24 am

    Taken in Lincolnshire UK

  • David December 21, 2009 08:22 am

    Just this week I was reminded of the battery problem. I had two batteries (fully charged) and did most of a set of shots before the first died. The second one, however, was in the camera bag so was ALSO dead. Warming the batteries in my hand at a local tea shop revived them and I was able to go back out to finish the shoot.

    As for gloves, I use carpenter's gloves because only the thumb and first two fingers are exposed, and they are thin enough to put a second warmer pair over them.

    Some of my best shots were made at temperatures below -10C (and in one case, approaching -30C). The air is wonderfully clear at those temperatures, especially at night.

  • Tyler December 21, 2009 08:17 am

    I like convertable mittens, I have a pair that I can flip back my mitten and thumb covers and expose my finger tips to adjust a meter and turn dials.

  • Jack Fussell December 21, 2009 08:17 am

    Thanks for the tips...I'm moving to Copenhagen so I'm sure I'll be shooting in the snow and cold. Thanks!

  • Jesper Revald December 21, 2009 08:16 am

    I can add another suggestion. If you're going for a longer shoot (i.e. 4-6 hours or more) you can bring along some of these chemical heating bags you can buy at sporting/fishing/hunting stores. You simply shake the small plastic bag and it begins to generate heat for 5-6 hours. This can either help you keep your hands warm, or help keep your battery warm if you find a way to attach it to the outer shell of your camera close to or on top of the battery bay.

  • jdepould December 21, 2009 08:08 am

    Really thin synthetic glove liners, plus Alpinestars driving gloves. Put a heat pack in between the two layers. It's still a compromise, but it works pretty well.

  • Helly (Travel by the Calendar) December 21, 2009 07:57 am

    My tip for photography in extreme cold is to watch where you walk. It's easy to ruin a pristine snowy foreground with a few misplaced footsteps.
    This shot was taken on the drive from Calgary up to Lake Louise for some -25C skiing. I love the incongruity of the snow on the hay bales, something I normally associate with summer.

    [eimg link='' title='Hay bales near Calgary' url='']

  • Helly (Travel by the Calendar) December 21, 2009 07:45 am

    My tip for photography in extreme cold and snow is to be careful where you walk. No, not just because of falling over but because you can't erase the footsteps. Many a photo of otherwise pristine snow has been ruined by my footprints in the foreground.
    [eimg link='' title='Hay bales near Calgary' url='']

  • Andrew December 21, 2009 07:43 am

    Beautiful! I'm going to ask my mom to make me some of those mittens :)

    And living in Utah has taught me that sacrificing some warmth and comfort can make for some fantastic photos. This one was taken at about 6:30 in the morning, while it was less than 2 degrees F outside. It was dark enough to require an 8-second exposure, but I'm happy with the result.

  • Mat Packer December 21, 2009 07:09 am

    I've heard of photographers taping batteries up under their armpits to keep them warm. I tried it once, took way too much hair off my chest as well.....gotta be very careful where you put the tape.