Fall is well underway, which only means that winter is coming (except if you live in Australia in which case, yay summer is here!). And with winter comes snow and sleet, which may not necessarily be a photographer’s best friends. Truthfully, I never cared about seasons growing up in a tropical country where seasons consist of extreme heat, or extreme heat with extreme rain. But an upcoming winter trip has got me thinking and researching double time about how to care for my camera in cold conditions.
While many shy away from shooting in cold conditions, winter light and snowy landscapes could make for beautiful photographs and amazing photo opportunities. Yes, there may be a need for more caution and there are a lot more things to consider, but with the right understanding of what you’re facing and the right preparation, it should cause no problems or hassles at all. The following is a list of things to watch out for and be careful of when shooting at winter time in order to ensure fun, comfortable, worry-free, and successful photography.
Quick and Extreme Temperature Changes
Are you coming from your warm, cosy hotel room and heading out for a day of sight-seeing in the snow-covered hills? Or perhaps you just came from a long stroll through the quaint, white-capped village and the warm lights and rich aromas of the local café beckoned to you. Either way, you will be transferring from warm temperatures to cold temperatures in a short span of time, which is not such a good thing for your camera.
One of the biggest and perhaps most serious issues that sprout up when discussing cold-weather photography (and by cold I mean freezing, close-to-freezing, or below-freezing temperatures) is condensation. Condensation is when gas or water vapour turns into liquid water droplets. This causes lenses to fog up, or worse, the internal mechanisms of the camera like the sensors to get moist. Any kind of liquid is not meant to be inside gadgets like these, thus, condensation could be very dangerous.
To avoid condensation, the temperature change the camera experiences must be gradual. This way it can acclimatise to its surroundings. One way to do this is to let the camera stay in a room with temperature in between the outdoors and indoors for about 15 minutes. If you’re entering a warm room, it’s best to place the camera in the coldest spot so that the temperature change is slow. Another tried and tested pro technique is to place the camera in an airtight plastic bag, like a Ziploc, then putting in one or two packets of silica gel before entering and exiting the cold. This way the air inside the bag with the camera is that of its current state and will allow it to a slower rate of heating up or cooling down. The silica also helps in absorbing condensation.
Battery Life in Low Temperature
Batteries lose longevity in low temperature. While non-rechargeable batteries are the type that loses least battery life, it’s rechargeable batteries that DSLRs use. It’s been said that with every 10 degree Celsius drop, battery life gets cut to halfway, thus it’s most prudent to prepare for such scenarios.
The most fail safe way to ensure that your camera can keep taking photos simply by being alive is to bring with you several batteries that you can rotate throughout your time. It’s smart to bring at least two with you when you shoot, while the others are kept in the warmth of your room.
Warmth is basically the answer to keeping the batteries alive for as long as possible. The battery that isn’t in use must be kept in the warmest spot you can find outdoors. Inside a coat or pants pocket are usually the best, since this allows them to absorb the body heat. Swapping the batteries at regular intervals also helps in keeping their longevity since it allows the battery in use a break from the cold. This way, it’s able to regenerate more battery life by being exposed to heat. Once back in the room, it’s best to remove the battery from the camera and keep it somewhere warmer.
External Factors on the Body
Being in cold weather almost always means one thing: snow. When snowfall catches you in the middle of your outdoor shoot, it doesn’t have to mean the end of taking photos altogether. You just have to ensure that your camera is well-protected from the water.
One very useful thing is a lens hood. It helps protect the lens from falling snow and would spare it from getting pelted in soon-to-be drops of water. A lens hood would assure you a clear lens for clean shots.
As for the camera body, there are several ways to protect it from the elements, ranging from cheap, home-made ways to the use of hardcore, professional gear. Perhaps the easiest and quickest solution is to take one of the Ziplocs you already have and make a hole in it for the lens. This assures that your snow doesn’t even touch your camera. The professional method is to buy a hood or jacket that covers both you and your gear. Of course, you can always just toss a thick scarf over your camera to shield it. When snowfall becomes a blizzard though, shooting, or any kind of activity that involves being outdoors for that matter, should probably be reconsidered.
With this knowledge, your gear should be sufficiently protected from cold-weather related damage, and the elements shouldn’t get in the way of your art or your memories. At the end of the day, nothing should get in the way of photography with the proper preparation and care.
Julia Escano – Shoot The Frame