7 Tips For Taking Photos in the Extreme Cold

I have this real romantic idea that one day, I will camp out under the Aurora Borealis in Norway or Iceland.  I also really want to go gliding upside down while filming the crags of the north, blanketed by piles of snow.  Truth is, although those would be my fantasy photo opportunities, I am actually planning to do them! So the next question is, how does this Canadian gal keep warm & protect my gear in sub zero temperatures?

  1. Extra Batteries & A Battery Belt
(photo credit: thinktankphoto.com)
(photo credit: thinktankphoto.com)

Cold temperatures affect the chemical process inside the battery that produces and stores electricity, effectively slowing it down and reducing the battery’s ability to hold the charge. As well, older batteries will typically already have reduced performance.

The best way to ensure a successful photo shoot is to carry extra batteries with you. Just make sure you tuck them away in a nice spot, like inside your pocket, close to your body, to keep the battery warm. You may even decide to purchase these funky Think Tank Battery Holder that enable you to keep them close, as you go. Whatever you decide to do, don’t forget to bring the extras!

  1.   Moisture-Proofing

(Photo Credit: plunderdive.com)
(Photo Credit: plunderdive.com)
Moving from outdoors to indoors causes havoc for any piece of  equipment, let alone one as sensitive as digital cameras and lens.  Often, the smallest of snowflakes that blow in the wind, fall into your camera and melt when you go indoors.  Overtime, this will cause extensive damage.

To protect your equipment there are many options.  First, you can use a Ziplock-style bag protect from any moisture entering into your camera system. Just slip it on before coming inside, and it will protect the condensation from forming directly on the camera. Alternatively, you can purchase waterproof camera bags, although these prove to be really almost as effective as a Ziplock bags.

If you plan on shooting the next day, try leaving your equipment outdoors, if you can, and then you don’t have to worry about having it needing to adjust. Once inside, make sure you dry off your camera with a chamois lens cloth,  and also remember to wipe the glass and rims, delicately.

Finally, and if at all possible, try and avoid breathing directly on your camera while taking pictures outside.  I know this can get tricky if you start shivering and breathing a little harder than usual.  But that warm moisture from your mouth collects instantly on your LCD screen which makes for both a difficult view to shoot through, and buildup of condensation to deal with.

  1.  Sunglasses
Ray Ban

I know, who would think that sunglasses are needed on a photoshoot? It doesn’t quite make sense, does it?  Let me tell you a secret.  As I suggested in my last article, 7 Hot Tips For Shooting On The Beach, photographers are photosensitive and perceive light differently.  Eye pupils, when exposed to snow will constrict because of the light reflecting off of the white snow.  Being sensitive to it, I think it is an excellent idea to use sunglasses to filter out some of the light, at least until you found the shot that you need, and then you can remove them.

There are some excellent brands out there for blocking out those rays. I sadly lost my pair of Ray-Bans, and am looking to replace them.  The good news is that they are versatile for hot weather and beaches, too!

  1. Winter Coat & Boots

(Photo Credit: @pajarouterwear (Twitter))
(Photo Credit: @pajarouterwear (Twitter))
These, by far, are the most important pieces of gear that a photographer must invest in to do any work in sub zero temperatures. Often overlooked as being a given, there are many reasons why you should take a long look at your clothing choices before venturing out into the cold wilderness. Being a Canadian we know how to dress! I’m currently eyeing the Pajar Outerwear clothing line for a new coat and pair of boots.

This Canadian company was established in 1963 by Paul Golbert, who originally immigrated from France. Designed and manufactured to withstand -40 degrees Celcius temperatures (-40 F), it has recently trended as the latest fashion statement in outdoor clothing. Replacing the over purchased Canada Goose products, I will be looking at this brand to keep me warm! I just want them to design a coat to stretch down to my ankles, please!

  1. Proper Gloves and Heat Warmers

(Photo Credit: videomaker.com)
(Photo Credit: videomaker.com)
I can’t tell you how cold my hands get when I am taking pictures outside in these subzero temperatures! My own fault, for sure, for not wearing the proper gear.  I just like to touch and connect to the camera, and it is really hard to do when you are wearing gloves. That is the simple truth.

In my own defense, I have only done an urban shoot in subzero temperatures. So if my hands start to freeze, I walk into a warm place, smile, and just ask the occupants if they mind if I warm up. Lucky me, I haven’t been thrown out yet!

In preparing for my subzero tour up north, this story will have to be differently.  I am looking at adding these amazing Thinsulate gloves and chemical hand warmers for my gear kit!  I know that my hands will need constant protection from the blistering wind, and cold Arctic air.  I would much rather have them snuggled under a protective layer,  and then some!  These gloves are particularly nice because they are designed to protect the camera from slipping.  We all need extra protection, n’est pas? 🙂

  1. Tripod Leg Warmers

(Photo Credit: smugmug.com)
(Photo Credit: smugmug.com)
Have you ever licked a flag-pole in subzero temperatures?  Try handling a tripod!  Regardless of whether you have carbon-filled or aluminium-alloyed tripods, these do need protection from the extreme cold.

The good news about using carbon-alloyed tripods is that they aren’t a great conductor of heat.  The not-so-good news is that the carbon will become very brittle in extreme cold temperatures and will eventually snap.  Aluminium alloyed tripods, on the other hand, have their own issues because they would collect moisture that will affect not just the tripod, but the camera too.

These little tripod leg warmers are the greatest fashion accessory for your tripod legs.  They will protect them from the extreme cold and ensure they remain dry and moisture free.  I will be definitely purchasing a few on my Arctic trip.  And doesn’t this just add some sexy to your camera shooting?  I think so!

  1. The Proper Camera

There are several cameras that can handle subzero temperatures. Certain Canon DSLRs like the 7D can handle zero for weeks on end, often down to -20°C and in extreme down to -30°C. They have been the camera of choice for many years, but can be pricey.  I am moving towards the mirrorless brand of the Sony A7s.  They handle the same as their Canon counterparts, but are not as costly.  In either case having the proper camera that can handle the cold will prove to be extremely important on your journey.  Make sure to check the range of the temperature of the camera before you endeavor the trip.

And my friends, this is where I have left off in planning my trip to the frigid Arctic desert, where few seldom venture to capture the beauty of this far-away land.  Rest assured, I have left out some really important details, like who to bring to keep you warm, but I will come back to this before my trip has begun… 🙂

à bientôt,


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