Cold Weather Photography

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I live in Arizona – today’s high is supposed to be around 70 degrees Fahrenheit. In December. Yeah, it’s a rough life. Talk to me again in July when it’s 110.

I DO remember what it was like to live in colder climes – growing up in Maine, I had MORE than enough snowdrifts to last me a lifetime. Taking pictures in cold weather presents its own set of unique obstacles to overcome, so I thought I’d offer some tips on cold weather photography.

If your camera is warmer than the air around it, condensation can form on the lens and the reflective surfaces of the camera’s interior. Meaning that bringing your camera outside into the cold, from the warmth of your house or car, will cause your lens, viewfinder and/or mirrors to fog up. I’ve heard that it helps to put the camera inside a sealed bag (like a large Ziploc), then when you take it outside the bag collects the condensation but not the camera. I’ve never tried that particular trick, so if anyone else has, let me know how it worked out for you. Really, the only thing you can do to prevent camera fogging is to bring the camera up to (or down to) temperature as gradually as possible. There are also certain products, like Kalt Anti-Fog Lens Cleaner, that help prevent lens fogging.

Batteries tend to drain more quickly when used in a cold environment (which is counter-intuitive to me, since we always store our batteries in the refrigerator). Keep the battery area of the camera warm with a disposable hand warmer. Take spare batteries with you and keep them in a warm place (the inside pocket of your coat works well). Change out your battery as soon as it starts showing low power – it can cut out like a light switch on you, without warning.

Of course, it’s also important that you keep yourself warm! It’s hard to manipulate a camera with mittens or full gloves, so I recommend getting a pair of fingerless gloves. Dress in layers so that you can add and remove clothing as needed. Make sure your footwear is insulated and waterproof, and has a good tread to protect you from slick surfaces when you’re concentrating more on what you’re shooting than what you’re standing on. Toss a couple of those hand warmers in your pockets, too, so you can thaw out your fingertips between takes.

Snow can sometimes fool your camera’s exposure sensors because of the reflective nature of so much white stuff. For snow shots it’s better to slightly over-expose – 1 to 2 stops – in order to get the correct white balance. Using this tutorial to correct white balance in post-processing is helpful, too.

Protect your camera if it’s snowing. Some of the same tips that we talked about for keeping your camera clean apply for keeping your camera dry as well. Bag the camera and lenses when they’re not in use, rig a simple cover (shower cap) or buy a waterproof casing, and don’t change your lenses out in the middle of a snowstorm.

I hope these tips are helpful. I’m kind of homesick for the snow, so I’d love to see some of your winter weather photographs! Link them in the comments, or contribute to our Flickr Group.

Photo Credits (in order of appearance):
- “A blanket of snow” by R. Kramer on Flickr Creative Commons.
- “Winter Street Scene” by Tony The Misfit on Flickr Creative Commons.
- “The Mountain Exhaled” by Laszlo on Flickr Creative Commons.

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  • KKL

    I usually keep the moisture absorber pack in the bag when i know i go to any cold place
    since when u bring the camera back to warm place, it will have condensation.. so i usually let the absorber does the job after dry the outside with cloth.

    as for battery drain faster in the cold.. it's actually not that counter intuitive. we keep the battery in the fridge because it cold temperature will slow down the chemical reaction. hence it will last longer if it is not use…. however .. that also mean in order to provide the same amount of power to the camera, it needs more reaction since it is slower…. hence it drain the battery faster. ..

  • Canvas Aficionado

    Cold weather photography truely is king: the snow, the warm snug from a cozy sweater, you and the camera. There is nothing like it, great entry!