Shooting in the Cold – Tips for Winter Photography

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Just because it’s cold doesn’t mean you should stop doing any photography. Winter photography can be magical, here are some tips for shooting in the cold to help you.

The weather

It’s easy to go out and shoot when the weather is nice and the weather God’s smile down with big fair sky grins. Summer, Spring, and especially Autumn are popular times for photography because there’s no shortage of photo opportunities – comfortable photo opportunities at that.

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Seasons change, though, but that doesn’t mean that you have to be discouraged, or worse, stop shooting just because winter comes around and the weather outside turns cold.

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That’s not to say that making photographs in winter doesn’t come with its own set of problems – well, not really problems. Let’s just say that making photos in the colder months is more challenging than it is when at warmer times of the year.

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There are still quite a few reasons to venture out into the cold with your camera. Here are a few tips that will help you stay productive (and safe) during those frosty months between Fall and Spring.

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Protect yourself

All the know-how and skill in the world won’t do you much good if you’re too cold and miserable to actually make photographs. Always be aware that you and your well-being, above all else, is the most important thing to protect while shooting in frigid temperatures, doing winter photography.

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Keep a well updated on current and future weather conditions and dress accordingly. Wearing layers of clothing will help you adjust your body temperature based on your level of activity while shooting, to prevent sweating which can lead to hypothermia. Protect your face, hands, and feet.

Winter Cold Weather Protection

This includes wearing warm gloves that allow good finger movement so you don’t have to constantly remove them before using your camera. Also, a face wrap or scarf goes a long way to shield your face from the wind but also to protect your camera from freezing condensation of your breath. More on that oh so wonderful phenomena a little later.

Protect your batteries

Yes, we all know most of our cameras are electric and that means batteries. Batteries are essentially little chemical reactors that produce electricity. High or low temperatures affect batteries to varying degrees (temperature humor). Cold batteries discharge themselves faster than do warm ones. So basically, the cold temperatures faced when shooting winter photography can drain your batteries.

Winter Batteries

Take this into account and bring an extra battery or two when you venture out for some chilly winter shooting. If you can, carry your extra batteries in your pocket or closer to your body to keep them warmer and working more efficiently. There have been times when I was working in single digit temperatures when I put my battery in the camera only immediately before composing in order to maximize my shooting time.

Don’t breathe

Well, breathe of course, just not on your camera, or lens for that matter. Your breath contains a relatively high amount of moisture and heat. When the temperature outside drops, the very air you exhale can spell disaster for your winter photography. If you breathe directly onto your camera or lens condensation forms. Just like blowing your breath on a mirror. When it gets cold (below freezing), that condensation WILL FREEZE. This means that lens elements can glaze over with your own brand of self-made ice and viewfinders become unusable.

Winter Frozen Camera 2

To combat this frosting effect, remember to never carry your lenses close to your body and never blow your breath on them. For that matter don’t hold them in your hand for extended amounts of time because this too will warm them up which can lead to condensation. When composing your images, it’s a good idea to hold your breath.

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It only takes a few moments and will prevent a buildup of frost and ice on your camera.

Understand your tripod

I remember one late afternoon of shooting, a few winters back on a secluded stretch of a mountain stream. I was standing in the water with my tripod, making exposures until the light was gone and then packed everything up to drive back to the hotel. The temperatures were hovering somewhere in the lower twenties F (-4 to -6c). I carried my gear inside but left the folded tripod in the car.

The next morning found me beating on my now frozen tripod with a boot in order to break it free of the ice caused by leaving a wet tripod in a car overnight.

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I learned my lesson that day and there are a few things you can do to prevent my mistake from happening to you.

Winter Frozen Tripod

If your tripod gets wet, do what you can to remove as much water as possible. This will reduce the ice buildup. If you find yourself unable to store your tripod in a warmer place after shooting, leave the legs fully extended and be sure not to lock the legs. By leaving the legs unlocked you will have a much easier time making the tripod usable if it does freeze.

Leaving the legs fully extended may be cumbersome but it will keep water from being introduced further into legs. The key factor to remember when using your tripod in winter is that water and moisture are your enemies. Anything you can do to reduce the moisture will help ensure your tripod functions more easily when things get really cold.

Summary

Cold weather shooting and winter photography can be an extremely rewarding experience. Winter time transforms landscapes and locations into dream-like scenes different from any other time of year.

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Be sure you understand how to cope with the winter temperatures so you can protect yourself and your gear. Here’s a quick recap of the things you can do to make your sure your winter shooting is a great experience.

  1. Dress yourself according to the conditions. If you feel you’re not adequately prepared don’t risk it.
  2. Bring extra batteries and keep them warm. Carry your batteries close to you in order to extend their life.
  3. Don’t breathe on your gear. The condensation from your warm breath will freeze on your camera and lens. Hold your breath when composing.
  4. Be mindful of your tripod. If it gets wet the water may freeze making it difficult to use. Keep it as dry as possible.

Please share any other winter photography preparedness tips in the comments below. Of course, share your winter images as well!

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Adam Welch is a full-time photomaker, author, adventurer, educator, and self-professed bacon addict. You can usually find him on some distant trail making photographs or at his computer writing about all the elegant madness that is photography. Follow his blog over at aphotographist.com or pick up his new book Cameras in the Wild.

  • Kate Pitterson

    I would like know, I’ve nikon D5. What is the best way to protect my camera in a very extreme cold weather?

  • Mike Rooke

    A very useful article. All obvious points but so easily forgotten for those of us who don’t get out in very cold conditions very often. I’m off to Norway in January, way above the Arctic Circle, and it is going to be way below minus. Keep batteries warm, keep water off tripod, don’t breath!

  • Great tips! I was reminded of those the hard way when I went shooting snowy self-portraits on Monday, especially the battery one!

    https://500px.com/photo/186613111/finally-a-snowy-day-by-amaryllis-lachapelle?ctx_page=1&from=user&user_id=12727353

  • Vivek Rameses

    What about the camera body? Is there any covers that work to protect it from cold and moisture?

  • David

    I work in Murmansk as a creative writing tutor in the Arctic University and adore taking photos outdoors. A couple of days ago it was -26, and the Polar Night season is here until the 11th of
    January and we don’t see proper daylight at all, which makes things doubly difficult. I have a Nikon Coolpix L840 and it works perfectly in all temperatures – in the summer I go to my home in the south of Spain and it can reach +45 sometimes too.
    I agree about winter, it’s a magical season and there are so many really interesting things to photograph up here in the north such as derelict buildings, the aurora borealis, reindeer or ski races, ice swimming, frozen motor vehicles…..and lots of smiling Russians who love the winter as much as me

  • Jumantri

    All of the above advise is great, but is also one more point to take into consideration to avoid condensation damage in your camera. If you have extra batteries you can be for long period of time outside and the problem happen when you return inside, to a warmer temperature, condensation will occur not only outside but in the inside of your camera and this is really, really bad. The solution I found is to have always with you a plastic “click” bag where you can put your camera and close it before you move to a warmer location. This will allow to keep the condensation at minimum. You must wait for some time to allow the camera reach the new temperature before open the seal. Where I live is normally below -25C in winter, and this trick works perfect. Hope it helps you.

  • Rahn

    What about using some of those silica gel packets in the “click” bag to absorb some of the moisture?

  • Jeff Sinon

    Kate, I’ve taken every camera I’ve ever owned out in temps as low as -15F on a regular basis with only few precautions. Never exhale on either the front lens element or the viewfinder. I keep my spare batteries warm in an inside pocket, and if it’s really cold I’ll put one of those small chemical hand warmers in there with them. The only other cold weather precaution I take is to put my camera into my camera bag and close all the zippers. The padding acts as insulation and has prevented me from having any condensation issues. I usually leave the camera bag closed for at least 24 hours to allow the camera to slowly acclimate to inside temps. If I have to bring my camera inside where it’s warm but I’ll have to go back out in a short time, this is when I use the zip-lock bag trick.

  • Gareth Owen Davies

    I’m often out during the winter months for astro photography and use a shower cap to prevent frost settling on my camera. I also have rubber bands holding hand warmers around the barrel of my lens to stop fogging.

  • Barry of Bexley

    Great reply. I don’t often experience extreme cold but even in the temperatures I have experienced condensation has been a problem; slow acclimatisation is the key.

  • Katielee4211

    And carry a baggy(s) with silicon packets in them. Place your camera & lenses in seal – I squeeze out as much air as I can as well, then let your camera & gear warm up gradually. This will also prevent condensation when moving to a warmer temp.

  • Thanks Jeff! glad to get a real life lesson.

  • nakamichie

    nothing said about protecting camera when you go inside very important

  • Having no understanding as an expert photographer without a designer of http://www.designercountry.com , I am not involvement with photography but rather I am in an extraordinary and expected interest in photography and for this reality as a rule in my available time I generally attempt to go to better places as not as expert but rather to top off my leisure activity. Here you appended the tips for winter photography truly exceptionally viable in the wake of understanding I have caught on. A debt of gratitude is in order for your sharing.

  • Thank you so much Jeff. Your tips are really helping me so much.

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