Cold Weather Shooting Tips – 2012 Version


Snow Owl 2011 02 13 7980

4 years of cold weather shooting (down to -23F) has taught me a thing or two.  Here are a few rock solid tips – some you’ve probably read a few times, along with a few that will be unique!

Camera and Gear

  • Moving from cold to warm – and vise versa
    • Probably the most common topic addressed, my answer is very simple – pack your gear in a photo bag, and leave it there for a little while. For example, the pack will be warm when leaving your house and will allow the camera gear to gradually cool down in the car or field.  The same concept works when going back into the house – I take my memory cards out of my camera/bag (and anything else I want to get to immediately) and then let the bag sit for a few hours in the warm house.  The camera gear will gradually adjust to room temperature.
  • Keeping your breath in check on a really cold day (this is the really big one)
    • Use a lens hood  - the shorter the lens the more critical this tip is.  Your breath (even straight from your nose on a really really cold day) will roll around and frost up the front of your lens – and there is no easy way to get it off without warming up the lens.  This is a real killer just as the sun starts to crest above the horizon on a fantastic cold weather sunrise shoot (yea, ask me how I know about this!)
    • Use some “Scope Dope” to help keep your LCD clear.  This stuff does a pretty decent job on the LCD and an ok job on the view finder.
    • Use a Hoodman Eye Cup to keep your breath away from your view finder.  Actually turn it vertical like in the image below for the best results, it does a great job of keeping your view finder fog/frost free in all cool to cold weather.
  • Battery Power – I’ve never had trouble with battery power in cold weather – and I keep my spare battery in my outer most pocket for easy access.
    • My spare battery is easily accessible, but it is also kept company in my pocket by Mega Size Hand Warmers to keep them warm – along with my hands when I stick them in there.
      • Open those hand warmer packs in advance of heading out into the cold, they take 5 to 15 minutes to warm up to full strength.

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The Photographer

 

Feet

  • Keep your feet warm, dry – and on the ground where they belong
    • Don’t slip!  There are now plenty versions of the YaK Trax seen in the image below.  Get a pair, they work wonders on ice (including ice that is hidden below a layer of snow)  There are even versions now that have actual spikes.

  • Dry feet are happy feet!
    • If you’re in wet or snowy conditions, it goes without saying to at least have water-proof boots/shoes.  In light snowy conditions (1″ – 3″) consider a simple pair of elastic leg gaiters (as seen above) to keep the snow out of the top your boots.
    • In heavier snow (greater than 3 inches and up to 7 inches) try some of the Neos brand products.  The image below shows me using the Neos Trekkers in water but they do the job in snow as well.  Warmer versions are also available – to cover both the “dry” and “warm” requirements.  And yes, you CAN COMBINE the Neos product with Yak Trax.

Iphone blue herons 4 4 10 2010 04 04 55 original

Hands

  • My hands are the hardest body part to keep really warm.  Before I talk about gear, here is the most important tip I’ve learned over the years – once your hands (fingers) get cold, you’re in trouble.  Get out of the cold and get them plenty warmed up again.  So the best tip is to have your hands fully warmed up before you set foot outside – “gear up” in advance so you move into the cold with maximum advantage.
    • 1st layer of protection – liners with pockets for warmer packs.  The pockets locate the warmer packs on the back of your hand, above your blood vessels, enhancing the warming impact for your fingers.
    • 2nd layer of protection – primary winter gloves, water proof with thinsulate or other warming material.  How heavy this primary pair of gloves are is up to your personal needs.
    • 3rd layer of protection - Mega Size Hand Warmers. Depending on how cold it is, I’ll keep 2 or 4 of these in my coat pockets.  Hands go in the pockets when not in use and I’ll actually hold these mega warmers in my hands (between my hand and the camera) when I’m doing extending shooting in really cold weather.

Body

  • Keeping your core body temperature up helps you stay warm longer.  So similar to your hands, get toasty (without sweating) before you head outside.  Staying dry is a very critical component of staying warm, and layers are the other key.  If the “core” of your body starts to get cold, it will quickly contract and divert warm blood from your extremities, sucking the heat right out of your hands and feet
    • 1st layer of protection:  Light duty long underwear made of water wicking material (not cotton) to help you stay dry
    • 2nd layer of protection: Medium duty long underwear is added as a layer to increase warmth
    • 3rd layer of protection: Heavy duty long underwear is added (depending on how cold it is)
    • 4th layer of protection:  Outer shell winter coat that is roomy, (with your layers on) wind and water proof.  Collar protection and an insulated hood are a must as well

Head

  • Your head is one of the primary places heat escapes your body, so keep protection on and layer it as much as needed.  I’ll typically wear a full face mask and my winter coat’s insulated hood.  When it’s needed, I’ll add a neck gaiter or a warm cap.  That’s me below in full cold weather gear! 

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Staying warm is not only the safe and smart way to shoot in the winter, it’s also the path to great images.  When you’re warm and comfortable, you can place all your energy on the task at hand – getting some great shots!!

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Stay in focus,

Mark

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2 comments so far

  1. Bella Remy Photography on

    Fabulous post, and completely spot on for cold weather shoots. Thanks for sharing your expertise!

  2. John Correa on

    Great post!

    Thanks for the tips!


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