When it goes below freezing most people just want to make a fire in their living room and try to wait out the cold. But photographers are some of the weird people who actually look forward to being out in the snow and scenery of winter. It’s a guarantee that if you’re out there in that weather you’re already taking steps to stay warm. Wearing a heavy coat, gloves, and a hat are all good places to start. But if you’re looking to get into some really serious cold weather shooting, here are some tips to help you along your way.
The first tip has to do with keeping your hands warm in the outdoor weather. Anyone who has tried knows that using a camera or phone with big gloves on can be a pain. Since it’s often easiest to not wear a glove on one hand you’ll need a way to rewarm those cold fingers within a few seconds. My advice for this is to keep a Hot Hands Handwarmer in your pocket!
They’re relatively cheap and a couple of them should allow you to rewarm your hands for several hours in the cold outdoor weather.
If it’s just too cold to go without a glove on one hand, you can always try the fingerless convertible gloves like these:
I have a pair similar to this and they work great. They’re surprisingly warm even in very cold weather with the mitten part flipped over my fingers. And if I need to operate controls on my camera I can easily flip the mitten out of the way so I change settings or use a touchscreen if necessary. Combine a pair of these with the hot hands handwarmers and you’ll be ready to take on any conditions that humans tend to be comfortable with, lol. No guarantees for a trip to the arctic however, you’ll need to do more research for that level of cold!
Keeping your hands warm is all well and good but what about your camera and lens? There’s a solution for that too! Check out this well reviewed lens warmer available on Amazon.com:
It’s basically just a USB powered wrap that goes around your camera lens. They claim that the warming action helps prevent fogging of the lens elements when you’re out in the extreme cold. Whether this is strictly necessary or not is an interesting question, but if it was REALLY cold out and you’re planning on staying out for several hours or even all day, something like this might help keep your lens glass clear.
Another use for this USB warmer could be to wrap it around a group of batteries when you’re out hiking. Keeping your spare batteries warm will ensure that your backup power isn’t going to be DOA when you go to use it.
One great tip for keeping your lens clear in any kind of adverse conditions is to use a UV filter or clear filter on the front of your lens. I always use a UV filter anyway so I’m good here. But if you aren’t using UV filters or clear protective filters on your lens, then winter weather photography is a good time to start. Whether you’re in falling snow, rain, or just trying to keep fog from forming on your lens, the front filter makes it easier to clean your lens if moisture or water gets on there.
One confusing thing about filters is choosing one that will work properly on your lens. Generally speaking, if you have a 24-105mm or 24-70mm zoom most cheap filters should be ok.
Some lenses like many 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses will demand higher quality filters. There’s almost no limit to how much one can spend on filters so I would say be pragmatic about how you plan to use the gear. It’s probably not 100% necessary to get the most expensive filter for every lens you own. While I haven’t had trouble with my cheaper filters I have noticed that many brands in the lower price range aren’t the greatest.
One brand of UV filters I think are a good value are the cheaper Kase filters:
While these filters aren’t bad, they aren’t great either. This is one brand that I noticed isn’t always perfectly sharp on every lens I own. However, on most standard focal length lenses they should be fine. I should note that I’m being a little picky about the results here.
The lenses that really require super high end filters are super telephoto’s that are 300mm and longer. This is because the magnification is so high that even slight imperfections in the glass can lower resolution. Very sharp 200mm lenses may also need higher quality filters to reach maximum resolution.
Another thing to consider is the camera and lighting you plan on shooting in when buying filters.
My next tip is a basic camera protection tool that is great in snowy weather or rainy weather. They’re called camera emergency rain covers. I’ve used these several times in the rain and they’re actually great at keeping the camera dry:
Sure, they’re a little bit finnicky to get setup correctly, but once you have it all setup it’s easier to deal with. I keep one in my camera bag at all times and I think I even have one in my car too. I don’t know why but rain always seems to sneak up on me when I’m out shooting so I want to make sure that I can keep working even when the rain hits. Even though my cameras and lenses do have weather sealing I like to do everything I can to keep water from hitting my camera.
These are great to use in snow or when it is extremely cold and windy. I figure that if I work better with a windbreaker on in the cold my camera probably will too. Whether you feel the same is up to you but I like to take at least some precautions in the extreme cold and wind.
Batteries are a commonly misunderstood technology when it comes to freezing cold weather. Lithium ion batteries tend to lose capacity when they get cold. Most likely you’ll find that when the temperature drops below freezing you’ll only get about half the battery life that you’d normally get in warm weather. Different batteries may react differently to the cold so make sure you’re aware of how your camera and batteries will react to the cold before heading out on a trip. Regardless when going out on a long hike I would take 2 extra batteries in below freezing weather.
Canon LP-E6NH (For R, R6, R5, 5D, & 6D series cameras)
Sony Battery (For a7 III, a7 IV, a7 V, a9 II)
Canon LP-E17 (For EOS RP)
And just one more piece of advice for your batteries! Keep the spares as warm as possible, stick them in your coat chest pocket or keep them in a pouch with a handwarmer. Keeping the batteries warm will help keep them from being dead when you insert the spares in your camera. Whether the batteries are in the camera or not, when they get cold they start to lose capacity so keeping them warmed will help.
My next tip is regarding shoes. Many photographers dress warm but wear the same shoes they always wear in the cold such as tennis shoes. The main issue with that is if you’re in deep snow tennis shoes aren’t made to keep snow from getting into your shoe. Once snow goes in your shoe it melts due to your body heat and your socks will slowly get more and more damp as more snow piles in. Needless to say damp socks lead to cold feet. If it’s below 0 degrees Fahrenheit your toes may start to go numb, eventually leading to frostbite. Frostbite is a real danger in temperature below 0 degree Fahrenheit, and especially when it is windy.
The last tip is don’t underestimate the cold. Any temperatures below freezing should be treated with respect. If you’re starting out on your hike and you feel freezing cold within 10-15 minutes, consider that you might not be dressed warm enough and that you should turn around and go home. While we tend to worry about our camera gear the truth is professional cameras and lenses are probably going to deal with both high and low temperatures a lot better than most people will.
Be safe and stay warm out there this winter!