Though you may not be shoveling snow from your driveway where you happen to live, winter has arrived. And that’s great; you can find a lot of wintertime photo opportunities out there. But before you head outdoors to take a picture of your neighborhood snowman or to capture frost on tree branches, get ready for the cold weather and winterize your photography techniques.
Insulate your fingers: This might sound obvious, but hey—it’s cold out there. Even though my mom taught me to dress in layers and to protect myself from the cold, for a long time I still stuffed my gloves in my pocket so that I could more easily control my camera. It doesn’t have to be that way, however. If you’re headed into the cold to take photos, be sure to wear gloves. For extra control, consider getting gloves that expose your fingertips. My favorite variety are gloves or mittens that peel back to expose the fingertips; that way, you can cover your fingers as soon as you’re done fiddling with your camera.
And if you’re a smartphone photographer, you already know that you can’t control the touchscreen to focus, make adjustments, or snap pictures with any kind of fabric over your fingers. Not a problem: Be sure to look for gloves with special fingertips that work with a smartphone’s touchscreen as if you were using your bare fingers. Only warmer. You can find a number of options at Amazon.com.
Keep a spare battery handy: If your camera uses replaceable batteries, you might want to carry a backup with you. Batteries don’t last nearly as long in very cold weather, so if you’re out in the bitter cold for hours, keep the second battery in an inner pocket, ready for the inevitable power failure. After you swap the batteries, put the dead battery in an inner pocket, where your body heat and protection from the weather might revive it enough to allow you to take a few more shots if your backup battery gives out as well.
Keep the lens dry: Chances are good that you’ll find yourself outdoors when it starts to snow. Don’t panic; almost any camera can handle a little moisture like a champ. You’ll definitely want to keep the lens clear and dry—and you shouldn’t do that with a glove, a jacket sleeve, or tissue from your pocket. Carry a couple of microfiber cloths, the same kind that might have come with your camera lens or eyeglasses for cleaning. In general, though, a lot of moisture can be a problem. Don’t keep your camera out in the elements in heavy snowfall. For these kinds of conditions, consider tucking your camera into a waterproof enclosure. You can find inexpensive enclosures, such as versions from Aquapac, that are perfect for rain and snow.
Prevent condensation: The moisture that forms on your camera when you bring it in from the cold has the potential to cause some damage. It’s fairly easy to prevent condensation problems, however.
To minimize the risk, enclose your camera in an airtight plastic bag before you go indoors. Place your camera in the bag, force out as much air as possible, and seal it. Then bring the bag inside and allow it to warm up for a few hours before you take the camera out of the bag. Even better, try the airlock method: If you have a room that is an intermediate temperature (such as a garage or an unheated mudroom), put the bagged camera there first for a few hours, and then bring it into the fully heated house.
You’ll find that the condensation forms on the exterior of the bag, not in your camera. But if you discover condensation inside the bag—on the lens, for example—stay calm. Open all the camera compartments (such as the battery door and memory slot cover) and let it dry thoroughly for the rest of the day. If you have some silica gel—those little desiccant packs that often ship with electronics to stave off moisture—you can put the camera in a closed container with the silica to help speed along the process.
Incidentally, a lot of people misunderstand condensation. Condensation happens when moisture is pulled out of warm air and settles on a cooler surface. That’s why cold drinking glasses develop condensation. The moisture isn’t already in the camera, and condensation won’t happen the other way around—it won’t occur when you take a warm camera outdoors into cold weather.