This week I got snowed on for the first time this season, on the Colorado Plateau in southern Utah. It’s been cold too, well below freezing some mornings. So I think it’s time to talk about winter photography.
First of all, I’m assuming you want to keep shooting in wintertime. There really is no reason to stop. There is a beautiful crystalline light that is unique to winter. And this is the time to go for fog and other moody atmospheres. Most important, how else are you gonna get a shot for that Christmas card?
Don’t worry, your camera will be fine. In fact, excessive heat and humidity are much bigger worries than cold is. Camera manufacturers publish a lower limit of around 32° F (0° Celsius). But modern DSLRs can function just fine down to 0° F and even lower with no ill effects. You just have to follow a few simple precautions:
- Be Gentle: Cameras and even many lenses are mostly plastic these days, and plastic gets brittle and will break much more easily in frigid weather. The metal parts also get more brittle. So avoid knocks and be especially careful with both camera and lens. Glass doesn’t care how cold it gets, but you’re already being careful with that spendy glass, aren’t you.
- Beware Condensation: When you bring a camera that has been in the cold inside, or anywhere warmer, there’s a risk of moisture collecting inside the camera and lens. Obviously this is not good. So before coming in from the cold, put your equipment inside your zipped-up camera bag at least. A large ziplock or otherwise sealable plastic bag is even better. Let your gear warm gradually inside that bag before taking it out. The colder it is outside, and the more humid the warm place you’re bringing it back into, the more important it is to follow this advice. It’s also a good idea to let it cool off gradually, inside your camera bag, before shooting.
- Battery Blues: Batteries have shorter lives when they’re cold, and the colder the shorter. So bring extra batteries and keep the spares in an inside pocket, near your skin. If you know you’ll be shooting again next day, keeping the camera and lenses inside your trunk, where they remain cold, will avoid the whole condensation thing. But remember to take the battery out and bring it inside to recharge. If you take your memory card out to upload photos, stick it in a little ziplock before coming inside and let it warm up gradually.