Cold Weather Photography-updated with hint!

posted on 21st of december, 2009

Winter is here, bringing with it the challenge of photographing in cold weather. Personally, I have found two main challenges: Keeping your equipment warm, and keeping yourself warm.

High end DSLRs are extremely durable. My 40D itself doesn't need to be protected in any weather I've been in. I've dropped it in deep snow, shot in rain, dropped it on the ground, photographed in sub-zero temperatures (F). It does react to the cold in certain ways though. Scrolling through pictures on the LCD looks like a fading slideshow. This is not serious though. A more challenging issue is the battery. Many batteries will be drained by the cold. There is no total solution to this, but there are ways to compromise. Keep a spare battery in your pocket. Remove the battery from the camera and put it in your pocket during times when you are not shooting. The transition from cold to warm (inside) is another problem. I have gone through almost 100 degree transitions in a couple seconds, and this will cause severe condensation to form on the camera. A well known solution is putting your equipment inside a large plastic bag outside, sealing it tightly, and bring that inside. This has worked well for me. Don't take the camera out of the bag for half of an hour or more, depending on how cold it was outside. The bag must heat up to room temperature first. And the condensation will mostly form on the inside of the bag instead of on the camera. Those are the most major issues I've come across with keeping my equipment warm. You could build off this, and see what works for you.

I've had lots of trouble with keeping my body warm while shooting. Most of my body is easy to insulate, but the hands...
You must keeping yourself warm while maintaining nimbleness. It's very hard, but what I do is probably the best it gets. I use 40 gram wool gloves lined with merino wool. I can operate all of the controls on my camera quite easily. These are pretty warm, but I cold temperatures, this isn't enough. I have beaver mittens (see here and request a catalog. They are expensive, but very well made and warm.). I tie them to myself so I can slip out of them and they dangle at my wrists. I put these mittens on over my 40g gloves when I'm not shooting, just walking or setting up my tripod or waiting for the shot. If it is cold enough, I put chemical hand warmers inside these mittens to keep my hands warm.

HINT: Most hand-warmers have a life of 7-8 hours. I am rarely outside for that long at a time in cold weather, so it seems a waste to toss a pair of 1/4 used hand-warmers in the trash. My hand-warmers are powered by a chemical reaction using air. Thus, taking air away from them will "pause" the hand-warmers. I have stuck partially used hand-warmers in a small zip-lock baggie, and open them up a few days later, and they're still going strong. It has worked very well for me.

This day it was -10 degrees F. I used my techniques of keeping warm, and was able to shoot for a lot longer than usual.

Comments (17)

Posted by Kringstad on January 12, 2010
Yes thank you so much for the help! I am only planning on shooting when its around -20 or above anyway. When its -40 below or colder you don't go outside unless you absolutely have to haha. This is a little off topic but I was wondering how to start my own message board? As you can tell I am very new here. Thanks again for the great support. So far I love DT
Posted by Elimitchell on January 11, 2010
I have no extreme weather experience with the T1i, so I can't give you a definite answer. But from my experience, Canon DSLRs are very hearty. Keep in mind that the T1i isn't weather sealed (but at that temperature, about everthing has left the liquid form).

If you keep the precautions when warming the camera up, then the outside part of shooting probably won't effect the camera a whole lot. The camera will probably not die on you (until the battery does), but the LCD will start to really slow down. You might have to wait for the image to clear up. The LCD starts ghosting images especially when you pan fast (or are shivering or shaking). That is the main extent of how cold effects the camera that I can think of. Again, I can't say anything for sure because I haven't used the T1i is severe conditions.

I am quite sure that it will last as long as you will--and longer. My 40D has never failed in down to -10 and -20 (haven't had the opportunity to try -40 yet this year, although the...(More)
Posted by Kringstad on January 10, 2010
Hello, I have recently purchased a new Canon Rebel T1i and I was wondering how cold of temperatures this little baby could handle??? I live in the northeast part of North Dakota where temperatures can reach -40F degrees. Given that I warm the camera back up slowly, keep myself warm, have several batteries, etc how long could I keep photographing outside. Thanks in advance
Posted by Elimitchell on January 05, 2010
Thank you for the compliments Yuri. Those three images that were posted above were taken in a 40-60 minutes shoot I did outside after a fresh snow.

It was absolutely gorgeous, and I only captured a fraction of the natural beauty. That is one of the main challenges of photography. It has probably happened to most of us: you see what you think would be a great photo, but when you look at the picture, it is mediocre, or just plain BAD. There is nothing like actually being there. The natural beauty that day was what inspired me to get out and shoot, in spite of the freezing weather.
Posted by Paparazzidub on January 05, 2010
Hey mate I see this is as an extreme photography. Well done, rare images, absolutely beautiful. I wonder how long it takes to capture star trails so blurred. Amazing. I bet you spend couple of hours outside in a freezing cold.
Posted by Elimitchell on January 04, 2010
Thanks for your comment Bluwarrior. The 40D is an extremely reliable camera. It has always worked for me, and I'm not nice to it all of the time. What I really like about it (coming from a P&S) is that is has very nice large controls. Therefore, I can use thicker gloves while operating it. The camera is a great deal for how cheap you can get a used one. I saw one sell at FM B&S for $329! It sold it a few minutes, literally. FM is a good place to look for used equipment. Also, I love B&H and they have a used 40D quite often. As for gloves, I think I covered that above in the blog post.

Hope that was helpful to you,

Posted by Bluwarrior on January 04, 2010
Agree with you Elimitchel,the important thing with cold weather,is how to keep your self warm while shooting!... Sometimes I just keep using my camera till my hands are frozen... Your post is very helpful,giving good advice for this kind of conditions. Also interesting what you said about your 40D,because I have just been thinking about buying one...seems like a reliable camera. Thanks
Posted by Elimitchell on December 23, 2009
I'm glad it was helpful to you. Hope you enjoy the Christmas and New Year season too.
Posted by smartview27 on December 23, 2009
Great informations! I wish you a Happy Christmas and a Happy New Year!
Posted by Elimitchell on December 21, 2009
Thanks for the comment Jessiee.
Posted by Jessiee on December 21, 2009
Thank you very much for the tips you have given especially it will be very helpful this winter. By the way, did you know that Glee has become a sensation, and the leading man, Matthew Morrison as teacher and glee club director and founder Will Schuester, is making a huge buzz for his first leading role on a prime time TV show. He also got nominated for a Golden Globe, in the Best Actor category. That's pretty good for the first time out, but to be fair, he worked his way up. A few short years ago, all he was doing was Off Broadway productions, small roles on TV and in film, though he had a steady gig on a soap opera. Another season or two, and he won't need a payday loan again.
Posted by Elimitchell on December 21, 2009
Thank you. And Merry Christmas to you too!
Posted by Marilyngould on December 21, 2009
Tips that are both timely and very helpful, thanks!
Posted by Mani33 on December 21, 2009
Good tips! Useful to keep! Merry Christmas ;)
Posted by Elimitchell on December 21, 2009
Lots of people are probably looking for tips on snow photography now. :) I don't have a whole lot to say about it. Just make sure you get the whites accurate.

1.) Get the right exposure. You may have to step up the EV to +1/2 or +1. Sometimes it works fine at 0 though. Check that the whites are white, and not grey, or blown out.

2.) Get the right White Balance. Either shoot in RAW, or custom set WB. Often AWB isn't reliable. A couple nights ago, the floodlights on the frosty tree was absolutely gorgeous. I went out and photographed it using AWB. The pics turned out orange. Fortunately, I had taken them in RAW, so I was easily able to correct the WB when PP in DPP.
Posted by Rosedarc on December 21, 2009
Very interesting thing about the bag. I won't need these tips for quite a while since I live in a tropical place but I'll try to keep them in mind in case I travel to a cold place again one day!
Posted by Studioportosabbia on December 21, 2009
thanks for all the tips! Seems that you are in a cold climate with snow so snow shooting tips are welcome too, if you have some:)

Comments (17)

This article has been read 2857 times. 8 readers have found this article useful.
Photo credits: Elimitchell.

About me

Whether the subject is a soaring eagle, snowy Mount McKinley or a blooming Dahlia, ever since I began photography a few years ago I have discovered details through the viewfinder that I would not have seen otherwise. Through my photography, I hope share these incredible facets of Creation with others.

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