Winter Photography Notes: Using A Camera During The Cold Season

There are many wonderful photographic opportunities during the winter season. Digital photography in extreme temperatures, in this case extreme cold, can perpetuate several problems if certain rules are not followed. Winter is a beautiful time, and should be timelessly captured in well thought out images, so heed the following tips and let the artist shine through.

The three main things to consider when taking a digital camera out into the bitter cold:

1. What to do first when a warm camera goes out into the cold weather?
- We'll discuss this part in detail.

2. Is condensation going to be a problem when the camera starts to get cold?
- No, because cold air has very little moisture, so no condensation taking a camera from warm to cold. Viceversa, however, is where it can become an issue.

3. What is the main obstacle in winter photography for the digital camera?
- Loss of battery power is the main obstacle, because cold batteries are useless.

Preparing Your Battery Reserves

Due to the way batteries are designed, they become very inefficient at low temperatures and are basically useless and as good as dead. This is particularly problematic in this era of digital photography because every aspect of the digital camera is reliant on battery power.

A good habit to get into while photographing outdoor winter scenes is to keep extra batteries in a pocket close to body heat, and not put batteries into the camera until the time is right to use it. This may give the batteries a few crucial extra minutes of life. Do not throw the batteries that have given in to the cold, however.

Just put them in a pocket close to body heat and let them warm up to a usable temperature again. So, to prepare for the expected and unavoidable battery failure during a cold weather photography session, there are a few good ideas to keep in mind to help minimize the impact of the cold battery phenomenon.

First and foremost, keep the camera and flash as warm as possible until it is time to use them. Body heat works well for this, so make sure there is a bit of extra room in the winter coat of choice. Let the camera stay warm until the time they are needed out to take the actual photograph, and not a minute before.

This will actually accomplish a second important task, and that is to keep the shutter lubricant from freezing and causing the manual shutter to stick. That would be nearly as problematic as unexpected battery failure.

The second idea, as was briefly mentioned above, is to carry extra batteries in pockets nearest to body heat. These batteries can be switched out with the ones that have reached their critical low temperature, and the photography session can continue, uninterrupted.

Lastly, if the scene is winter perfection, but the main subject has not yet presented itself, there is no need to set the camera on the tripod until the last moment. If the tripod is frozen stiff, that is OK because it's supposed to hold still anyway. When the perfect subject comes into view, get the camera out of its warm hideaway and attach it stealthily to the tripod and begin taking photographs.

If the batteries begin to lose power, it is no longer unexpected and there are plenty of extra batteries keeping warm in various pockets until they are needed.

Taking Creative Photographs

This is the final tip for shooting in cold weather, and it might be the most obvious, but needs to be stated, nonetheless. The batteries are warm; the entire photographer should be warm as well. Dress in layers in case of an accidental dousing, the wet clothing can be removed and there might still be enough clothing to act as a reasonable barrier to the cold.

Hot soup is always a good idea, but coffee and alcohol are not. The latter are counterproductive and actually make the human body less capable of maintaining the correct body temperature. If the weather is extremely cold, there are chemical packets that can be put in pockets and boots and mixed by squeezing when their warmth is needed. They will last for several hours, depending on the size of the packet.

Thick gloves are necessary, but make maneuvering the small buttons on the camera difficult, but there are mittens and gloves with removable fingertips so the more dexterous bare fingertips can be used when it is time to press any of the small buttons on the camera.

Snowbound? Take A Shot!

Taking photographs when it is snowing or sleeting outside can cause problems in addition to the previously discussed battery issue. Dependent upon the amount of sleet or snow that is falling, there are a couple of suggestions to keep a digital camera in working order both during the shoot and after the shoot.

If it is just a light winter dusting of snow, keep the digital camera warm and out of the elements until the time is right to capture the image sought. If the snow or sleet is coming down at a steady rate, try to keep the camera as dry as possible, because if the warm camera collects even a modest amount of snow or sleet, the warmth of the camera will eventually melt anything collected on its exterior, and the resulting moisture can make its way into the DSLR circuitry, causing the camera permanent damage.

In short, keep the camera warm and dry until it is absolutely necessary to expose it to the weather, and then make sure it is shielded from collecting any snow or sleet by working properly, but expediently. If the serene winter precipitation turns into an all out blizzard or downpour, do not use the DSLR for cold weather photographs unless it is properly outfitted with a waterproof housing made specifically for digital cameras.

These devices are a type of plastic sealable bag that comes equipped with a clear optical glass filter made specifically for the lens to shoot photographs through without compromising the quality of the image. They were first made for underwater photography, and used by snorkelers, but work perfectly well for winter elements as well.

In addition to the physical damage that could result from the snow or sleet, the droplets can also ruin a perfectly framed subject by obscuring the lens with droplets. If any water droplets obscure the lens, merely wipe them off with a microfiber cleaning cloth, or even a dry, lint-free, well-worn cotton t-shirt.

If the above precautions are religiously practiced while photographing outdoors in cold weather, the possibilities for beautiful, original images are endless.

What Happens To Your Camera When You Come From The Cold?

When returning to the warmth of a studio after a busy day of outdoor, winter photography, vigilance must be taken with properly drying a digital camera, because this is the time when condensation can become a true problem. Much the same as moisture condensing on the outside of a cold glass in a temperate environment, the lens and electronics in the digital camera will behave like the glass, causing moisture from the warm, indoor air to collect on the them due to their cold temperature.

This problem must be avoided, and luckily there is a fairly simple way to discourage it. The camera must be warmed slowly by placing it in a cool area indoors, such as a windowsill or an unheated room, and allowing it to sit for a few hours until it rises to room temperature.

An easier remedy is to wrap the cold camera in a plastic bag before it is brought indoors, and while it warms up, the condensation from the air will settle on the plastic bag and not endanger the camera and its electronic components.

There seems to be quite a few rules to remember when using a digital camera for outdoor winter photography, and there are. However, practice does make perfect, and eventually all of the rules that apply to digital cameras and cold weather will become second nature. Winter photographs are like no others, so heed the rules and dress warmly because the opportunities that await outdoors are endless.