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Working in cold weather can be hugely exhilarating for photographers, and while most other people would prefer to stay indoors if you get out into the wilds you can take some incredible photos! The cold weather often brings snow, ice and hail with it, all fantastic elements to work with as a photographer. Crisp white snow produces dramatic contrasts in color across the landscape as well as a calm sense of serenity; and consequently, it’s a good time for photographers to experiment and shoot some unique pictures.
However, working in the cold weather brings many challenges with it that have to be overcome, and if you’re not careful it can even cause your camera, lenses and other equipment to malfunction or break!
Of course, you shouldn’t let the potential problems hold you back from exploring cold weather photography because with the right preparations and gear you can work in almost any conditions imaginable.
What Should You Know About Photography When The Weather Is Extremely Cold?
The first thing you need to do when working in the extreme cold is to ensure that all your equipment is safe and able to function in the harsh conditions. This is easy enough to do but will take planning, forethought and the right equipment.
Always Put A Ziploc Bag Inside Your Camera Bag.
This is one of the best tricks that you can do to make sure that your camera and lenses don’t get damaged in the extreme cold weather. You simply need to put a sturdy Ziploc bag or two inside of your camera bag and then keep your camera and lenses inside them.
The reason for this is because when you return from your cold weather photography trip, coming from the extreme cold back indoors, condensation will immediately begin to form on and within your camera which can cause serious problems and lead to expensive repairs.
The rapid change in temperature causes the latent moisture in the air to form tiny water droplets on the surface of, and within, items such as lenses and cameras. However, if you keep your camera and lenses inside Ziploc bags then you will avoid this altogether. Once you’ve effectively lined your camera bag with Ziploc bags you’ll be ready to go!
As well as keeping your kit in a Ziploc bag, when you do get back in from the cold, leave your camera and lenses inside the Ziploc bag for a few hours, so that it can slowly warm up to the ambient room temperature indoors. This might be frustrating if you just can’t wait to see your photos but if you take out the memory card before you put the camera in the Ziploc bag to come home then you can see them straight away.
Be Aware Of Falling Snow.
If you’re out in the cold weather and it’s snowing you’re sure to get some amazing photos but you’ll also have to be aware that it can get your camera wet. There are several ways that you can deal with this problem.
One idea, that’s quite popular with photographers, is to use a spare hat to put over your camera while you’re taking photos! This might look a little strange but it works just fine as long as the hat is waterproof and will get you out of a spot of bother in an emergency.
Alternatively, if you want a more dependable solution then you can purchase an all weather camera cover. These are used by wildlife photographers and people working in the rain or snow. The cover simply fits over the body of the camera and lens like a tube, keeping all the snow off it, while leaving you to shoot your photos through the open hole at the end. All in one camera and lens covers are extremely cheap, costing no more than $20, and will allow you to shoot in even the worst blizzard without damaging your kit.
What Type Of Batteries Should You Use In Cold Weather?
It might come as a surprise but in cold weather, particularly in extremely low sub zero temperatures, batteries run down much faster! You might be wondering why this is but it just comes down to the basic chemistry of the way batteries work. In cold temperatures the chemical reactions that allow your batteries to deliver a current operate much more slowly.
This means that your batteries will produce less current than they do in warm conditions, which leads to your batteries quickly reaching the stage where they can’t actually deliver enough power to keep up with your camera’s demands.
There are some simple things you can do to address this issue which could otherwise be disastrous if you find yourself out in the field with an empty camera battery.
The first thing you should do is to always take spare batteries with you when you’re heading out into the cold. To help your spare batteries stay charged you should store them in your side pocket as opposed to in your camera bag so that your body’s heat can help to keep them warm.
Secondly, you should use the right types of batteries when working in freezing conditions. The very best batteries for seriously cold weather are primary Li cells, however these are quite expensive and they are not rechargeable either. When it comes to rechargeable batteries, your best bet is going to be a high quality Li-ion battery or a nickel-cadmium battery, usually referred to as a NiCd. Lastly, you can use a rechargeable nickel metal hydride battery, known as a NiMh battery.
Whichever type of battery you choose, don’t forget to fully charge them the day before and always have several spares with you every time you head out into the extreme cold.
Can You Take Photos When You Are Wearing Gloves?
When you’re working outside in the cold you’ll quickly find that your hands are stiffening up and it becomes hard to operate your camera properly. Changing the settings, fine tuning your focus with the lens and all the other things you need to do will become impossible if your hands are ice cold.
The solution for your outdoor, cold weather photography, is to wear gloves; but can you shoot photos while wearing gloves? Obviously, although they are very warm, you can’t wear ski gloves but you can wear purposely designed photography gloves.
These ingenious gloves have flip back finger caps which allow you to use your thumb and first finger to operate your camera while keeping the rest of your hands warm and out of the elements. Once you’re done taking the photos you simply close the finger caps so that your thumb and first finger can warm up between shoots.
Be Careful When Shooting In Cold Weather.
If you’re working in extremely cold temperatures you need to be careful not to freeze your nose to the camera! Many cameras are made of metal which can stick to your nose when temperatures get down below zero; and even a plastic bodied camera can pose these types of problems! It’s not only that though because if you’re out in the cold for long periods of time you can actually get frostbite on your extremities, including your nose!
However, you just need to wear a neck wrap, balaclava or scarf, which you can use to cover your face while you’re shooting photos in the cold. Alternatively, you can hold the camera further away from you and just use the camera’s LCD screen instead of looking through the viewfinder.
Take Chemical Heat Packs.
When you head out to take photos in the cold weather you should always take a few chemical heat packs with you. Not only can you use them to help you keep warm by having them in your pockets but they’ll also extend the life of your spare camera batteries. In between photos you can use the chemical heat packs to warm up your hands too.
You can buy single use heat packs but it’s much better to buy reusable ones. These can be used hundreds, if not thousands, of times which makes them an excellent investment, particularly if you live in a cold climate or are planning a big photography trip in subzero temperatures.
Use A Tripod.
There’s several reasons why you should always take a good tripod with you when working in cold weather. Firstly, it removes any shakes from your photos which is always helpful but more importantly a tripod allows you to get creative! For instance, you may want to use a slow shutter speed to capture the movement of the falling snow or be able to step back from the camera before you shoot your pictures.
When choosing the right type of tripod for your cold weather photography you should purchase a sturdy foldable model which is lightweight and easily portable. When looking for a tripod it’s always preferable to choose one that has adjustable legs so you can vary its height.
Photography In Cold Weather – Don’t Let Sub Zero Temperatures Hold You Back.
Good preparation will allow you to take your photography out into the snowy wilds without fear of damaging your equipment. When you are packing for the cold weather don’t forget to bring spare layers that you can put on if the temperatures start to drop. Always take a heavy fleece and wear a waterproof jacket and trousers so that you don’t get wet if it snows.
When you are taking your photos in the snow you should treat it as if you were shooting in strong sunlight. This means that you should be keeping your ISO low to reduce the levels of noise in your images.
Working in the cold weather certainly brings challenges but you shouldn’t let this hold you back. You can take truly stunning photographs in the snow and as long as you think ahead, take spare batteries, have a great set of gloves and the right protection for your camera, it’ll be a wonderful adventure that will leave you with some really unique images.
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