Winter is a glorious time for us photographers. A snowy landscape is the greatest blank canvas we could ask for. The cold can be biting though. Simply reaching for you camera can come at a high cost too. Maybe even frostbite? Then there’s the dead batteries, foggy lenses, frozen snack bars, and just generally freezing your butt off. Not to fear, here are my 8 tech tips for cold weather shooting.
Know your camera and your equipment like the back of your hand
This starts before you even get outside. Sit down with you camera at home and memorize your menus. Set up all your custom buttons and make sure you memorize what each custom button does. When you’re cold and there’s a nasty wind, the last thing you want to do is navigate confusing menu’s and search for a setting that you could have easily setup as a quick custom button.
This can apply to outdoor equipment too. Maybe you’re using crampons, snowshoes, helmets, etc. Double check to make sure everything fits. Adjust all your straps and know how to quickly put your equipment on, and take it off. Anything that might require you taking your gloves off needs to be dialled in before you go anywhere.
In no other setting is having the ‘right gear’ more important
I can’t stress this enough. Cold weather shooting in winter is not the time to cheap out on gear or even worse, “make it work without”. Invest in yourself and your equipment. Whether that’s cameras with better cold weather battery life. Or that’s snow pants and extra layers. Get exactly what you need. Make sure you have a solid pair of boots, gloves, jackets, and sufficient batteries. Checkout my gear list to see what I use and swear by here.
A few years ago I was relying on my Sony A7R II for cold weather shooting. The batteries would last 20 minutes in freezing temperatures if I was lucky. Sometimes the camera would just crash or wouldn’t even turn on at all. It’s performance or lack there of really effected my cold weather shooting. The A7R II was completely unusable for professional commissions in that environment. Since switching the the A7R III – I can get almost a full day of shooting in up to -20 degrees.
Keep your camera equipment switched on
This might take some experimenting with your own equipment… However, I find that all of my camera equipment will preserve battery life more effectively if I keep it’s switched on. Camera equipment tends to run warm when it’s in use. In the case of freezing temperatures, the warmer the better. You’ll still drain your batteries quicker than if you were on a warm beach somewhere, but they should last a lot longer than if you had them freezing while switched off.
Air blasters aren’t just great for dust
Keep your air blaster handy incase you get snow on your lens. Snow on the end of your lens can be tricky to get off while you’re out in the cold. Using your air blaster to blow the snow off your lens will negate the need wipe it and clean it with solution. This will save you time, and your hands!
Keep your backup batteries and your snacks inside your jacket
Your shell should be protecting you from the wind and the initial shock of the cold. But every layer underneath your shell should be fairly toast (hopefully not too toasty or you’ll risk sweating). Take advantage of your self-made warmth and keep your backup batteries and your snacks in pockets on the inside of your jacket.
Snacks will freeze in your backpack and by the time you get hungry enough to dig around your pack, you’ll be pulling out a rock hard snack bar that might as well have been in your freezer.
Choose your lens wisely
The goal is keep your gloves on. It takes a lot of time to fumble around with pretty basic things lake changing your lens. Depending on conditions, it can be a matter of seconds to get frostbite on exposed skin. Set yourself up for success by equipping a “do-it-all” lens. Something like a 24/70mm or a 24/105mm.
Covering a larger focal range will keep your lens swapping to a minimum. As a personal rule, I will sooner bring two bodies with dedicated lenses than switch them out in the cold. The wind can blow snow onto your exposed sensor and destroy your camera in the blink of an eye.
Moisture is not your friend
There’s a handful of scenarios where you might easily run into moisture issues with your camera equipment. Stuffing your camera into your jacket, going indoors from the cold, breathing too close to your lens. These are all likely ways you might run into moisture problems when shooting in cold weather.
Just being conscious about moisture should help you avoid most problems. Other problems like coming in from the cold is pretty hard to avoid. The best way to avoid moisture in this scenario is by opening your camera bag outside, and putting your camera away into your bag and fully closing it. This will create a bit of a seal, locking the cold into the bag with your camera. Then bring your bag inside with you and keep it closed for a few hours while the temperature in your bag slowly adjusts to the temperature inside.
If you find yourself going in and out of a warm vehicle. Try the same thing and keep your gear in the trunk where it’s much colder than say the passenger seat.
Bring more layers then you think you’ll need
This seems obvious but it I’m always surprised to see how cold and underprepared photographers are when they’re shooting in the cold weather. When you’re packing your camera bag, think to yourself, “will I be sufficiently warm if I’m sitting on ice in the freezing cold and not moving for 3 hours”? If the answer is no, pack more layers. You never know how conditions may change and you want to be prepared for anything.
I think that the cold is responsible for snuffing more photographers than any other element combined. If you plan to stay warm, you won’t run the risk of freezing and giving up before you capture your vision or goal.