Cold Weather Photography
Tips to maintain camera performance in cold temperatures.
Camera performance in below freezing conditions.
Prepare your gear for our great Alaska Winter Photo Tours. Your photography gear will perform well down to about 32ºF (0ºC), performance decline as temperatures drop below that. Symptoms include slower shutter speeds, faster energy consumption, and slow display response. Here are some of my personal practices and tips developed from photographing and filming around Alaska.
DSLR Body and Lens Cold Weather Protection
Cold hands and cold cameras don’t make for fun photography conditions. Keep your hands, camera and lenses warm by picking up a cold weather camera jacket. I personally like Mekingstudio’s DSLR Cold-proof jacket, it’s not bulky, sturdy, warm, and for $30 it’s a competitive buy! Another one I really like is Ruggard’s DSLR Parka for $99 as of this post.
Exposed to the elements, most lenses will work in cold temperatures. The more electronics on your camera lens, the more likely you’ll experience function issues. Classic symptoms include focus hunting, slow response or increased power drain on your camera. If you don’t have a manual lens, switch off your IS (image stabilizer), and auto focus features when the temps reach below operating temps.
It’s critical to have a bunch of fully charged batteries as cold weather can quickly drain them. Keep your batteries close to your body heat as possible, but easily accessible. Inside pockets are nice, but the closer to your body core the better!
Changing Lenses in the Elements
Most semi-pro and pro cameras are sealed pretty well against the elements, but changing your lens in snow or sleet exposes your core components to moisture. Changing lenses in the elements is risky, I choose my most versatile lens to get me through your shoot. This is why I justify the value of having two camera bodies in extreme conditions.
Transitioning Between Environments
Transitioning from cold-weather to the indoors puts your gear in danger from condensation. Before I head indoors, I make sure I power off my camera, put the lens cap back on, and zip up my gear in the camera bag. In severe cold or wet freezing rain I place my cameras and lenses into a large ziplock plastic bag and seal them up before bringing them indoors.
Once inside, keep them in your camera bag or place them in the coldest area you can so they can slowly warm up to the new indoor temperature. Reducing the degree of temperature change between indoors and outdoors reduces fogging and condensation buildup. Once I open my bag, I inspect the camera for any condensation appearing and wipe down the gear of any minor residual moisture I discover.
Protecting Media Cards
Keep your CF (compact flash) and SD (secure digital) media cards stored in a weatherproof container. I personally like my Pelican Memory Card Case, which I also keep close to my body for warmth.
Plastic Camera Parts
Cold temps are not friendly to plastic, especially in places like here in Alaska where temps drop down to -30ºF or more. It’s important to be sensitive and gentle to you thin plastic camera parts, lenses and tripods. Most common thing I’ve witnessed is tripod heads, clamps, plastic lenses fail, and worse camera battery compartment doors. When selecting your gear, I recommend reviewing manufacturer operating temperatures for key plastic features.
Get out and enjoy your winter photography adventures!
If you have any cold weather advise you’ve learned, I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below.