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Winter Photography, 8 Great Tips

Chugach National Forest, Alaska during winter.

Winter is a wonderful time for photography.  I thought I would provide a few tips to make photography in the cold more successful.

1.  Keep your camera cold.  Although it is tempting, don’t put your camera under your jacket.  Warming and cooling your camera will cause condensation and render your camera unusable.  It is easier to brush falling snow off a cold camera as well.  Falling snow on a warm camera makes for first a wet, then a frozen mess.  But don’t don’t try to blow snow off your camera with your breath!  This too can cause a frozen condensated mess.  I have learned all these things the hard way.

2.  Keep your batteries warm.  Your camera will work fine in very cold temperatures as long as it has functioning batteries.  The cold can quickly zap the energy out of any battery, but warming them up can restore much of their power.  If I’m taking extended exposures where I can’t afford to have my camera quit such as photographing northern lights, I use a rubber band and attach a chemical hand warmer to the battery compartment.  Otherwise I keep extra batteries in a pocket inside my jacket where I can keep them warm.  Sometime I put a chemical hand warmer in that pocket to speed up the process.  I then rotate the batteries between my camera and my warm pocket.

3.  Warm your camera slowly when you return home or in your car.  If you walk into the house with a cold camera, it will instantly become covered with condensation.  Anyone who has worn glasses in the winter will know exactly what I’m talking about.  Some photographers will put their camera gear in zip lock bags and that works fine.  I just leave my gear in the camera bag and make sure I don’t open the bag for an hour of two.  The camera bag seems to be adequate for avoiding condensation.  Be sure to remove film or cards from your camera before you bring it inside so you won’t be tempted to open your bag prematurely.

4.  Keep your car cold.  This is a tip you will rarely read, but I think it is a good one.  Having a cold car will prevent any condensation on your camera as you come and go while shooting.  This is really helpful when you are in and out of your car a lot, like when you are driving around chasing northern lights.  I have found that if I’m already dressed for the cold, like you need to be while driving a cold car, that I’m more likely to stop and explore photo opportunities.  If I have to stop and put on jackets, boots and gloves, I’m more likely to convince myself it really isn’t a good photo opp.

5.  Watch your breath.  I’m not talking bad breath, but you should watch that too :)   One exhale at the wrong time and the back of your camera, and more importantly your viewfinder will become instantly covered in a film of ice.  Once your viewfinder is iced over, it is very difficult to clear without warming your camera.  I can’t tell you how many times I have done this over the years once I get caught up in the excitement of shooting.  I raise my head to look over the camera and boom, in one breath the back is covered in ice.  Because I forget this so often, I will often cover my mouth with the collar of my jacket to help divert my breath so that it isn’t a problem.  I know of some fellow Alaskan shooters who have used snorkels to help direct their moist breath away from camera gear while working in severe cold.  That probably would work great, but may look pretty funny to anyone passing by.  I could just hear them;  “Dude, you aren’t in Hawaii anymore – just let it go!”

6.  Keep your tripod legs together in snow.  If you push your tripod into the snow with the legs sprayed, you can easily damage them.  I start with the legs just slightly apart, and then I will push the tripod into the snow which slowly spreads the legs as the tripod sinks further into the snow.  Having the legs spreed as the tripod sinks helps keep it a little more stable as well.

7.  Use chemical hand warmers.  These are one of the best inventions.  As a kid, I used to use hand warmers powered by lighter fluid – they were really a pain.  Today’s chemical hand warmers are easy to use, they start warming the instant you open the package, and can last 6 to 8 hours.  Warm gloves are also important, but gloves alone are not enough.  The problem with photography is it seems you are always taking your hands out of your gloves to change cards / film or something.  Once your hands are cold, gloves can’t rewarm them.  It is kind of like a well insulated Thermos that keeps warm things warm and cold things cold – gloves work the same way.  So for gloves to work with cold hands, you need a heat source, and that is where the hand warmers come into play.  I keep one stuffed in each glove or mitten, and this way my gloves are always warm and toasty when I go to put them back on.

8.  Wrap you tripod legs with pipe insulation.  This makes them easier on the hands in the cold, and a bit easier on the shoulder if you carry your camera and tripod this way.

Some of the most unique photo opportunities are during winter, don’t let the cold keep you inside!

Here are a few of our winter photos.


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About the author: Ron Niebrugge is an Alaska based outdoor photographer specializing in landscapes, wildlife and travel photography. Ron shares his travels and adventures here on the blog. To see more photos, or to learn about Ron’s photo tours and workshops, visit our main photo website.

{ 45 comments… add one }

  • Doris November 13, 2006, 11:01 am

    Great Tips!!!!!!! If i ever get a chance to shoot in that cold of weather I will have to remember them!

  • Ken January 17, 2007, 3:28 pm

    Ziploc now makes those obscenely large bags now – I find that the X-Large ones are big enough to put my entire camera bag into if I get the urge… great for stopping condensation when you come inside!

  • JJ October 29, 2007, 2:38 am

    Thanks. I’ve never shot in cold weather but plan on it this year. These tips will be of great help to me.

  • Ron November 28, 2007, 9:32 am

    Hi,

    This is a Wordpress blog with a design by Lancelhoff, you can see a link at the very bottom of this page.

    Ron

  • Einat January 19, 2008, 12:16 pm

    WOW – thanks! These tips seem so useful, and like you wrote in #4, you don’t find such tips elsewhere!

  • Ron January 19, 2008, 12:37 pm

    You are welcome Einat!

  • WINTER PHOTOGRAPHY February 8, 2008, 5:20 am

    I found your blog via Google blog search while searching for Winter photography and your post regarding “Winter Sports Photography Tips – Flash Compensation” looks very interesting to me. I have a few Photography websites of my own and I must say that your blog is really good. Keep up the great work on a really high class resource. I Love Winter photography and for most of us, even the thought of capturing on camera, a great shot of an idyllic winter scene is heartwarming and at the same time mind-numbingly depressing. We all know through bitter experience that a winter photography shot we thought of as perfect, might as well in fact be tossed in the garbage can. One really helpful trick that I learned for winter photography is to meter for something other than the snow

  • Ron February 10, 2008, 5:21 pm

    Thanks for the comment and the extra tips!

  • Digital Camera Deals May 19, 2008, 12:52 am

    Excellent Job on your blog, congrats to the article writer, it help me a lot to choose from other products that i thought were better for me, but it seems i was confused about it. Thanks a lot and keep updating it, Peter.

  • John Wall November 26, 2008, 12:19 pm

    Excellent tips, much appreciated!

  • Ron November 26, 2008, 1:05 pm

    Thanks John!

  • Lisa December 21, 2008, 8:37 am

    GREAT advice! Winter photo ops are great but people don’t always know how to go about it. I saw your link on NPN and you’ve done a great job summarizing. I have posted the link on my Blog http://lifethrulisaslens.blogspot.com/ because it is very useful. always knew about keeping my camera in the camera bag when I went inside, but never knew how long.

  • Ron December 21, 2008, 7:12 pm

    Hey thanks Lisa!

  • Digital Photography Tips January 4, 2009, 3:25 pm

    Tip #7 !!!!! .. That’s the big one to remember. You wont be taking many pictures if you can’t work your fingers.

  • Maria January 5, 2009, 3:38 pm

    I live in a warm state, so I never think about keeping my camera cold to prevent condensation but now that you mention it, it’s probably a good idea and something you don’t think of unless it affects you. If I take any trips to anywhere cold to shoot, I’ll definitely remember these great tips. Thanks!

  • Ron January 5, 2009, 7:51 pm

    You welcome Maria!

    Ron

  • Ashlie January 7, 2009, 10:51 am

    Thank you so much for this. I’m a photography student and I was assigned to shoot winter scenes today. It’s good to know that if I do it correctly, I won’t damage my equipment.

    :D

  • Tips Photo February 18, 2009, 3:22 pm

    These are great tips that I will be putting to use. I love taking pictures of snowy objects.

  • Ron February 18, 2009, 9:33 pm

    Thanks!

  • RaiulBaztepo March 28, 2009, 2:27 pm

    Hello!
    Very Interesting post! Thank you for such interesting resource!
    PS: Sorry for my bad english, I’v just started to learn this language ;)
    See you!
    Your, Raiul Baztepo

  • Ron March 28, 2009, 2:34 pm

    Hi Raiul,

    Your English seems fine to me! You are welcome, thanks for the comment!

    Ron

  • Tran November 10, 2009, 6:11 am

    I am a student studying in Sweden and I need to have some questions answered. I am currently working on a slideshow/video for a school project and it will contain many different pictures. Now i have found the image you used just before the text in this blog post via google that I found very nice and fiting to the content of my video. Now I kindly ask if i may make use of this particular picture in the aforementioned video. It will be published onto youtube from where I shall embed it onto a website. If my request is denied I will not make use of the picture. I do not plan to print it I just wish to use it in the video but it will be in a non commercial way. If its not you have taken it please let me know who did and if you know how to get in touch with that person.
    Please send your reply to my mail: paranoir_angelique@hotmail.com

  • Ron November 10, 2009, 9:57 pm

    Hi Tran,

    If it is for a school project, and you can use the version you found on line, then you have my permission to use the image. Thanks for asking!

    Ron

  • Adrian olivera December 4, 2009, 7:10 am

    This is exactly what i was looking for. Thanks Ron!

  • Edie Howe December 8, 2009, 9:18 pm

    Hiya, Ron! Thanks for this most excellent tute on cold-weather photography. Steve Berardi over at http://photonaturalist.net/7-great-resources-for-winter-photography/ recommended this article, and I’m glad he did. While winters here in Yosemite aren’t as brutal as they were in Rhode Island, they are still pretty taxing. A couple of things I’d add–toe warmers are a blessing for frigid feet from standing in snow waiting for the light, and a steel water bottle full of a hot drink and put in a sock do wonders for your morale.

    All the best,
    Edie

  • Ron December 10, 2009, 3:01 pm

    Hi Edie,

    I had to rescue your post from spam. Great idea on the toe warmers – haven’t tried them myself, but I’m sure they work.

    I just spotted a rt that article on twitter – thanks for the heads up!

    Ron

  • Sara December 13, 2009, 11:16 pm

    Your pictures are gorgeous! Have you edited it using photoshop as well? Also what camera have you used?

  • Ron December 14, 2009, 5:52 pm

    Thanks Sara!

    This is an older photo, it was actually captured on slide film and the digital file was adjusted to look just like the slide. Today I use a digital camera – a Canon 1Ds III to be exact.

    Thanks,

    Ron

  • Anton Khoff December 28, 2009, 11:29 am

    Really useful tips especially here in cold Russia! Thanks for sharing, Ron…
    Anton.

  • Ron December 29, 2009, 4:24 pm

    Russia, wow you do live in the cold! Thanks.

  • Donna Bolstorff January 3, 2010, 3:34 pm

    Ron.
    Thank you!

    I am a newbie to photo.net from where I was directed to you. I am interested in taking rising moon photos during any season. Tonight there will be a full moon rising on our Clear Lake. The temperature will be way below zero!

    The tips you have provided here are extremely helpful to me–especially placing my camera equipment into a plastic bag when coming back inside. Also, I appreciate the hand warmer idea for my mittens!

  • Ron January 3, 2010, 8:02 pm

    Hi Donna,

    Thanks for the comment, I’m glad this you found this useful. How did your moon photos turn out?

    Ron

  • Kathleen December 4, 2010, 9:15 am

    Great tips Ron. Thanks for the reminder. Although I live in Canada, and should know better by now, I always forget the breath thing and suffer from the iced-over viewfinder. I nearly bought a balaclava yesterday but the eye holes were too small for photography so I ended up with a tight-fitting ‘tube scarf’ instead (I don’t know the proper name for them). I’m hoping it will stop the frozen jaw syndrome and the breath-on-viewfinder problem. I also bought a pile of chemical hand and toe warmers for my upcoming trip to photograph winter wildlife in Montana.

  • Ron December 5, 2010, 8:15 pm

    Thanks Kathleen!

    I have one of those “tube scarfs” – I think they are called neck gators – they work great!

  • opticbard January 24, 2011, 10:37 pm

    I love your tip about gel warmers. I only recently once tried winter photography – to catch the lunar eclipse a month ago. I certainly had fog issues on my view finder. And gave up on the shoot because of cold hands taking the gloves on and off. Thank you.

  • Ron January 25, 2011, 9:02 am

    You are welcome!

  • Denver Photographer February 22, 2011, 6:03 pm

    I definitely like the chemical hand warmer tip…. that a great one.

  • Lumix Camera Reviews March 6, 2011, 2:45 pm

    Never actually thought about using a chemical hand warmer in winter. It makes absolute sense, it’s so hard to take a shot during winter time when your hands are cold. Keep us updated!

  • Libby October 8, 2011, 5:16 pm

    Storage: Do you rely on external hard drives or do you use one of the “clouds”? I have looked into several services, but retrieving a photo shot in RAW can take forever. It doesn’t seem practical. On the other hand a lost, stolen or erased hard drive isn’t so good either.

  • Ron October 9, 2011, 11:01 am

    Hi Libby,

    I have a large NAS storage unit – Ready NAS pro. It if for our online storage, and offers some redundancy. For the rest of our backups we use external hard drives. We keep two sets off site for extra safety – one in our RV, and one at a friends house.

    I haven’t used a cloud solutions as I was afraid it would be too slow. We do have a much faster internet connection – but the amount of material we would have to move would take forever.

  • John from Macro Photography For All January 16, 2012, 6:23 am

    Good advice here, esp. about avoiding condensation on camera and lens. I’ve lost many good shots due to forgetting about quick temperature changes.
    Winter photography is a gift to hardy souls, and rewards those willing to get out in the cold. Because winter days are so short, you don’t have to get up crazy early, either, like you do if you want to catch best light in summer.

  • John from Macro Photography For All January 16, 2012, 6:24 am

    Good advice here, esp. about avoiding condensation on camera and lens. I’ve lost many good shots due to forgetting about quick temperature changes.
    Winter photography is a gift to hardy souls, and rewards those willing to get out in the cold. Because winter days are so short, you don’t have to get up crazy early, either, like you do if you want to catch best light in summer.

  • Ron January 17, 2012, 9:40 am

    Thanks John! I do enjoy the late morning sunrises!

  • Bill B. January 18, 2012, 11:43 am

    Good tips, Ron. Most of those I already knew and tend to use, but as ever I also learned something new: the tripod legs. Usually, I’ve stomped three “holes” where my tripod would go and then deployed the tripod into those holes. Your approach seems much easier!

    The comment about the cold car is very true. There’s a balancing act there, too, though: You need to keep the car at least warm enough to not fog up the windows with your breath driving from spot to spot!

  • Ron January 19, 2012, 10:04 am

    Thanks Bill – true, keep the windows above freezing and let everything else drop below works the best I think.

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