Winter is coming and we need to get ready for winter photography. There are several different challenges that a photographer needs to overcome to produce good images. Cameras, lenses, batteries and all sorts of equipment behaves differently in the cold and we will go over the best ways to adjust to the weather and have good results.
Cold plays havoc on our equipment. First of all, batteries will not last as long in the cold, it drains them much faster than normal. Make sure you have a few spare batteries and store them in your vehicle or in your front pocket where they will stay warm. That way when your battery in the camera runs down you can have a fresh one that wont’ be drained. This isn’t’ as much of a factor if you are working out of your car because the car will keep things warm, but if you are out hiking it will drain fast.
In the extreme cold you have to remember that things will work slower as well. Autofocus will slow down and sometimes your memory card won’t write as fast. Make sure you remember this when you are choosing your subject.
When you take your camera out in the cold it gets cold. You have to be very careful when you bring it back inside. Everyone knows that when you wear your glasses outside and then come back in they get all fogged up. Same thing can happen to your camera and lenses. Condensation or moisture forming on the camera when it warms up is obviously a bad thing because it will form on the outside AND the inside where you can’t see it. This is actually simple to avoid. BEFORE you go inside, take a zip lock bag and put your camera inside it. As the camera warms up the condensation will form on the outside of the bag and your camera will be dry inside. Make sure you have the bags with you and make sure you have bags that are big enough to fit the whole camera and lenses all at once. A garbage bag will work as well but you have to make sure you have it sealed well.
It usually goes without saying make sure you are prepared for the weather yourself, but many photographers are more concerned with getting their equipment ready that they forget about themselves. I’m a big one for comfort, I like to be warm and not freezing. I live near an army base so I can get some really cool clothing. To explain things easier I will start at the feet and move up, ha ha.
Boots are super important, you never know where you will be and what’s ahead of you. There are many times where I have been walking along and my foot crashed through some ice into water. Make sure you have a good pair of boots, waterproof them with mink oil. If they are high enough tuck your pants into the boots before you lace them up, then you wont’ get snow in your socks. Socks are critical, I have an extra pair in my car for those water mistakes. Wool is your friend when it comes to socks.
Pants are pants, we’re not talking about Arctic tundra expeditions here, just a normal pair of jeans work good, same for a shirt. Your coat is super important though. I wear an army gortex parka. You can find them on ebay. They have huge pockets everywhere and zippers, velcro, drawstrings, and the hood is functional, not just for decoration. Gortex will keep out the water and let your sweat out, and if you sweat and get wet from it you can get hypothermia fast–very bad. These coats are not usually insulated well because the army uses a theory of wearing layers. So under the coat I usually have polartec fleece on. I don’t know what we ever did before fleece.
Hats and gloves are last on the list. Gloves and photography don’t mix, but sometimes you have to wear them. Thinsulate gloves seem to be the best I’ve found so far. There are also some gloves where the fingertip comes off, those work good too. As far as a hat, I wear the goofiest looking hat in the world. Basically I have an elmer fudd hunting cap. Go to your hunting and fishing store and get one of those horrid bright orange hats that has the flaps that go down around your face. They are usually fur lined and they are sooo warm. If you are lucky you can find one that isn’t bright orange.
Some other small things that make it easier, cross country ski’s work well and there are tons of established trails all over the place in the winter. Most of the trails are beautiful and wind through a forest giving you limitless photo opportunities. Snowshoes are a great way to get around as well, and today’s snowshoes are easy to put on and very lightweight.
Don’t drive beyond the ability of your car. It’s easy to get distracted and keep going “just a bit further” on that unplowed road. But it’s a real pain when you have to dig out for an hour just cause you drove 10 feet too far.. Carry a small shovel in your trunk just incase. Also, if you are anything like me you are often out of cell phone range and that’s the only time anything will go wrong. If the car dies and you are stuck there don’t try to walk out in the dark. Make sure you have the necessary supplies if you have to sleep in your car, blanket, food, water. Then the next day when you have to walk, make sure you leave a note in your car where you are walking to so the rescuers can find you.
Winter photography is a lot of fun and very rewarding. The images are stunning. This seems like a lot of preparation but it’s pretty simple once you have it set up the first time, after it’s all in place you just get in the car and drive and enjoy the day.