Undisturbed, peaceful and beautifully white, winter is a season like no other. From the smallest ice crystal to the great expanse of a snow-covered field, winter’s cold is the visual architect for an endlessly evolving storyline. For photographers, it is a pure white canvas for contemplation and creativity. Winter is a wonderland!
It can also be pretty darn chilly, which is one of the biggest reasons many photographers choose to stay inside. But instead of avoiding the cold, let's talk about how to prepare for it. Comfort and working camera equipment are the keys to success. Here are a few suggestions to help you feel ready to adventure, even on the coldest days of winter. Once you're outside, you'll be able to concentrate on taking great winter photos.
Staying warm and dry is critical, and layering with the “right” clothing is the solution. REI (Recreational Equipment Inc.)is one of the best non-profit outdoor retailers in the country with the most technologically advanced clothing options, a “no questions asked” return policy and an expert staff to help you find out what’s best. If you’re a member you also get 10% back from your purchases at years end… Sweet! One of the best little clothing options for keeping your hands warm and toasty are gloves made by companies like AquaTechand Freehands. These handy winter gloves were designed for photographers, allowing your thumb and index finger access to adjust dials, press buttons, etc.
Another handy little accessory for cold weather photography is the disposable hand and foot warming packets. You’ll get hours of warmth from these safe little products. On top of your boots and gloves, they fit just about anywhere, like under your hat or in a pocket… and don’t forget, hydrating yourself and eating well will keep you warmer too.
Camera equipment and tripods are certainly much more resistant to the cold than we are, but when temperatures get well below freezing certain precautions should be taken to keep those happily working too. One of the biggest concerns when it gets really cold is condensation after you come inside from a shoot. Condensation on equipment surfaces is no big deal – it can be wiped off. The problem is condensation will occur on the inside of things too. This can be a real nuisance with lenses, taking up to a day or more to dry out.
Condensation + electronics is even a worse combination, so lenses, cameras, memory cards and even batteries should be warmed up before they’re exposed to room temperatures. I keep all this stuff in my camera bag (zipped up) until everything is at room temperature, which could take a couple hours. *If you're anxious to download and look at your images (and who isn’t), here’s a little tip. Before you come in from the cold, put the memory cards you’ve used in a zip-lock sandwich bag, remove as much of the air as possible and seal it. Store it outside the camera bag. This will help the cards to reach room temperature quicker. Batteries should be included too if they need a charge and you're going back out soon.
Speaking of batteries … cold temperatures drain power. Carry a couple extra batteries and keep the spares in a warm pocket (maybe with a hand-warmer?) close to your body. If your camera shows low battery power, install one of the spares and put the drained one back in your pocket. It will acquire a little more power after it warms up.
Be gentle with anything plastic when it’s really cold. It might break if you drop it or hit something with it. Carbon fiber and metal can also become brittle in really cold temperatures, so be aware of your gear. Seriously, I saw a metal tripod break in -20 degree weather.
If you use a tripod, treat yourself to some tripod leg covers. They not only protect the legs, but handling the tripod will be warmer for your hands.
Photographing in cold snowy weather is certainly a labor of love, but with a little preparation, you’ll fall in love with the winter wonderland and your photographs will be glorious as well.