“Shooting in Cold Weather” (Oct-Nov 2009 Show-Me Nature Photography Newsletter)

Photographing in the winter, when temperatures drop drastically, can be very rewarding.  Ice and snow can make the most recognizable landscapes look so much different.  And wildlife are dressed in their best, thick winter coats.  But shooting in winter does have challenges.  Since cold weather is on our doorstep, I thought a review of what we should and should not do would be a very timely thing to talk about this month.  Not only do we need to keep ourselves warm (to prevent hypothermia), but we need to keep our equipment in good working order.  This November tip covers some of the things we should all do when shooting outdoors in the extreme cold.

When we talk about equipment malfunction in winter, the most common malfunction we encounter is a weak or dead battery.  Shooting at such cold temperatures tends to affect most camera batteries by reducing their “working life” while in the cold.  To minimize this condition, or at least be able to work around it, the most important thing you need to do is to start with a battery that is at 100%; always charge your batteries before heading out in the cold.  Secondly, keep your backup battery (or, batteries) somewhere warm while out in the field.  I recommend a shirt pocket or pants pocket, or an inside pocket on your heavy coat, somewhere your body heat will help to keep the battery warm.  Then, when your camera battery starts to weaken under the cold temps, just change out the failing battery with your “warmed” battery, placing the failed battery in the warming pocket to warm back up.  After all, when batteries start failing in cold temperatures, they usually can be “rejuvenated” simply by warming up.  Using this scenario, you can spend a lot of time in the cold weather, always ready to shoot.

The next thing to be aware of is to minimize the potential to get any moisture (snow, ice, or rain) inside the camera.  Getting moisture inside the camera in extremely cold temperatures can cause the moisture to freeze up and potentially cause damage to the camera.  To prevent getting moisture inside the camera, it is recommended that you do not change lenses very often.  This is an excellent time to use a zoom lens that has a large focal range (i.e., 70mm to 300mm, etc.), eliminating the need to change out lenses.  By not needing to remove and change a lens in the field, you don’t open up your camera’s inner workings to moisture.  Also, shield the open camera from the weather conditions when changing out cards or batteries, and complete these tasks as quickly as possible.

If you happen outside when it is actively raining or snowing, you should try to use some type of rain protection over your camera and lens.  There are many commercially available products for placing over the camera-lens.  Many of these are very quick and easy to install and remove from the camera and are normally quite inexpensive.  However, if you do not own one, you can make a simple “rain shield” by modifying a plastic bag so that it fits over the camera and lens, and keeping it in place with some rubber bands.  You will need to cut an opening for the lens to extend through, but it will work fine in a pinch.  After all, this is not a fashion show … we’re simply protecting our expensive cameras and lenses!

Memory cards may or may not be an issue for you in cold weather.  I have heard of some photographers having trouble with the memory cards in extremely cold temperatures, but I have not experienced this.  However, I must note that I use an “extreme” card that is guaranteed to function at very low, as well as very high temperatures.  So, if you are using lesser-known brands of memory cards, you may or may not have some problems.  You might want to try to check with the card manufacturer, or go on-line, to see if you can find any temperature range specifications for the card you are using.

For really cold days, take a large plastic bag with you – a garbage or trash bag works well.  Before you get into a warm car or back to the warm house, place your camera and lenses inside the bag and close up tightly.  Then, when you take it inside with you, you will not have condensation form on your equipment.  Instead, the condensation will form on the outside of the bag!

And lastly, be sure to dress warmly!  Always wear a hat/cap and gloves.  I have a pair of “fingerless” wool gloves that I wear over a pair of  “glove liners”.  This allows me to be able to manipulate the camera controls and depress the shutter button, while leaving the gloves on!  And if it is raining or snowing, wear a waterproof layer over your other clothing.  Shooting in winter conditions can yield some interesting and good images, but to fully enjoy the experience, you must be warm and dry.  So, prep your camera, dress up in warm and dry clothing, and get out there and have a great time!

Do you have any tips or suggestions for shooting in winter conditions that I have missed?  If so, and you’d like to share with my readers, just drop me an e-mail with your ideas and I will gladly add them to the list (and give you credit for the idea).  Just click on this link to send me an e-mail:


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