How To Use Your Camera In The Winter

Winter landscapes and weather offer some of the most picturesque and intricate photo opportunities. While the sights of the cold months can be crisp and breathtaking, the translation of the imagery to a digital camera or film may require some tricks and considerations in order to ensure optimum picture quality. The colder weather also presents special needs in safe care of your camera, lenses, and other equipment. When well executed, a few simple precautions and adjustments will help you achieve a memorable collection of winter images.

Transitioning the Camera Into the Cold

Cameras, lenses, and all other photography equipment is generally kept within a climate-controlled building or other warm space. If you take the room-temperature camera out into sub-freezing weather without gently transitioning it, your equipment will likely experience some damage or defect. Follow some simple guidelines to prevent any damage and to keep your camera and its components functioning at its best:

  • Pack more batteries than usual. The colder temperature outside will deplete the strength of your batteries, so it is necessary to have more backups than you typically would in a warmer climate or indoor shoot. Keep the spare batteries in your clothing pockets close to your body, as your body heat will help keep them warm and will prevent total depletion of the batteries until use.
  • Dress in layers to ensure you head outdoors well protected and have multiple layers to remove according to your personal temperature needs as the shooting day progresses. If you are not warm and comfortable, your photography work quality will suffer. Besides, it is hard to maintain a steady camera when your body is shivering and hands are shaking. Remember to wear warm boots or shoes that cover and protect your feet, particularly if you will be shooting around water or snow. Keeping your feet warm and dry is the first basic rule of remaining in comfort throughout the day. Wear gloves with fingertips which can fold back for shooting time. If it is very chilly outside, consider taking body warming adhesive packs or other supplementary heating devices. These boots, gloves, and heating packs are all available at quality outdoor sporting stores.
  • Pack your camera equipment in a quality weatherproof camera bag. If you will be working in moisture-laden areas such as around snow, misty weather, cold rain, or on or near water, definitely consider a waterproof case. There are some weatherproof cases which are both water-resistant and designed to endure colder temperatures. These camera bags may be hard-shelled or soft packs with accents such as rubber bumpers to protect your equipment from dropping or bumping of the case, which seems to happen more often when the photographer’s body is cold and thus more rigid in movement.

Shooting in Winter Weather

When capturing the aspects of winter – whether models, snowflakes, icicles, cold downtown streets or any other visions are your subject – there are special considerations to note in regard to what effect the colder climate has upon the photo quality and performance of the camera:

  • Snow and wintry glares off of the white surfaces of icy scenes will cause confusion within your camera as it tries to mechanically discern exposure levels. The first means of fixing this dilemma is to use a “sand and snow” setting if your camera has one. If you do not have a sand and snow setting, manually set the exposure dial to overexpose the shots by 1 or 1.5 stops. Just don’t forget to reset this if you transition back to a non-snowy setting, or those photos will be improperly exposed.
  • Keep a dry, lint free cloth handy to immediately remove any condensation or liquids such as water from your camera and lenses. In sub-freezing environments, one of the big concerns is that of breath condensation or water droplets freezing and causing damage to the components or altering the outcome of photos. If necessary, cover your camera with a plastic housing available from camera specialty retailers.
  • The dryness of cold air harbors static electricity which can build up within your camera and damage the film. To prevent build up of this static, simply advance your film slowly and carefully rather than using your typical quick motion on a manual camera. On an auto-wind camera, simply shoot only one frame at a time and allow the film to advance at a slower pace. When you advance the film quickly in cold weather as you typically would in warm weather, the action creates static sparks just like rubbing your socks or shoes does on carpeting during winter months.
  • In between shots, keep your camera close to your body, perhaps under the top layer of your jacket or a scarf. Doing so will help alleviate some of the battery strain and will keep the entire camera warmer.

Transitioning the Camera from Cold to Indoors

Finally, after your outdoor shooting is completed, you will be going back indoors to work with your captured images or to store your camera as usual. This temperature change can create its own concerns in how it affects your equipment. To prevent condensation which will occur on lenses and within the camera body if the cold-to-warm temperature change is too sudden, let your camera warm up slowly.

While still outside, wrap the camera and lenses in a plastic bag and ensure all air is pushed out of the bag before you seal and roll up any excess plastic around the camera body. When you go inside, place the camera – bag and all – on a cooler windowsill or somewhere that is not as warm as main living spaces. This will allow the camera to transition slowly back to room temperature and any resulting condensation will form on the outside of the bag, not within or on the camera, itself.

Shooting in winter weather provides a completely different view and encapsulation of the same scenes you may have shot during warmer months. This variance will provide variety to any photographer’s portfolio without the need to travel far from routine landscapes or to exert energy on finding an intriguing new background. With the proper considerations made before going outside, during the shoot and after the photography is completed, winter months provide a unique opportunity to further explore your own talent.