The obstacles faced by cold weather photographers are many, such as the venerable Ice Beard.

The obstacles faced by cold weather photographers are many, but the rewards are great, such as Randy Boverman’s esteemed Ice Beard. (Photo by Kyle Griffith.)

Winter in the Northwest makes for some beautiful and exciting photographic opportunities, but it also poses some big challenges. The cold and wet can wreak havoc on electronic equipment, and even weather-sealed cameras can fail in the harshest conditions. We asked local photographers Boone Speed, Tim Zimmerman, and Randy Boverman to offer their advice on protecting your gear in the cold. They know a thing or two about working in below-freezing temperatures, so I’ll go ahead and hand this over to the experts.

© Boone Speed (http://www.boonespeed.com)

© Boone Speed (http://www.boonespeed.com)

On working in the cold:

Boone: “The thing to remember when working in the cold is that everything slows down. In extreme low temps It’s hard to even work the camera because you’re either working with gloves on, or if not, your hands will go numb. So I always have hand warmers, usually inside thin, dexterous gloves.”

Tim: “Make sure you’re starting your day with dry camera gear. Nothing is worse than opening up your bag on location only to find that you have an internal fog spot in a lens that will take forever to dissipate in the cold. If you do have a fog spot, point the un-mounted lens into the sun and wait for it to go away.”

Randy:  “Aside from the basics of cold weather layering , I have accumulated some specialized gear. I use battery powered ski boot heaters after getting mild frostbite in four toes while shooting near the summit of Mt. Hood. I use fingerless gloves a lot. Also, there are glove liners that have great dexterity so you can leave them on while operating your camera. I carry plenty of the hand warmer packs too. My ski gloves have pockets that accommodate hand warmers, and I can tell you it is a nice feeling to put your hands in warm gloves after working on a shot for a while!”

© Tim Zimmerman (http://www.timzimmerman.com)

© Tim Zimmerman (http://www.timzimmerman.com)

On batteries and frozen cameras:

Boone: “Batteries go into suspension once they get too cold and the camera just stops working. I always have a fresh battery, or two, in an inside pocket that’s close to my body so I easily can switch them out and keep shooting.”

Tim: “Alkaline batteries are not your friend in cold temperatures. Keep your Alkaline batteries in a warm pocket close to your body until you’re ready to use them. Crucial gear like PocketWizards are the first things to fail in really cold temps and I’ve found that using gaffers tape to attach a chemical hand warmer to the battery compartment door can go a long way to making them more reliable. Modern DSLR batteries like the one in the Nikon D4 are incredible in cold weather. I don’t do anything special with these except keep them charged each night.”

Randy: “Batteries have come a long way and these days I usually wear out before my camera does, but the cold does sap battery power. On extended shoots I will carry extras with chemical hand warmer packs rubber banded to them. Lithium AAs also do much better in the cold than alkaline batteries, and are much lighter too. When I shoot in snow with my Canon 1D series cameras I don’t take any special precautions and I’ve never had a failure. They will ice up completely and I just keep the lens and viewfinder clear. The LCD will sometimes be affected by the cold, though.”

© Randy Boverman (http://www.randyboverman.com)

© Randy Boverman (http://www.randyboverman.com)

On condensation:

Tim: “As far as I’m concerned your number one camera destroying enemy is condensation. It’s tempting to get back into the warmth at the end of the day and open up your bag to get your cards and start editing, but that is the very last thing you want to do. Take your cards out while you’re still in the cold and put them in your pocket. When you get inside don’t open your camera bag until it comes up to room temperature. This way the outside of your bag condensates instead of your camera gear. After your bag has come up to room temperature take all your gear out & hang the bag up to dry. If you put dry gear in a wet bag you’re just asking for internal fog spots. It might seem a little overkill but when I take my gear out to dry I like to take all the caps off, open all the battery doors, remove the batteries and let it all dry out. The next morning it all goes back together, dry and happy.”

Randy: “This is your worst cold weather enemy. It affects sealed and unsealed gear, but can be avoided. Just like eyeglasses fogging up when temperatures change rapidly, your lenses and the inside of your camera can fog up with condensation. The key is to bring your gear slowly through the temperature changes by sealing it in a ziplock bag so the condensation forms on the outside of the bag. This is very important, and in my experience especially necessary going from cold to warm, as in entering the lodge after skiing with your camera. It takes a long time to equalize, so if I know I will be returning outside, I will put my gear in my cold car rather than taking it through the temperature changes. You also need to be aware of your breath or skin causing condensation. I carry lots of microfiber and a small shammy to dry surfaces.”

© Boone Speed (http://www.boonespeed.com)

© Boone Speed (http://www.boonespeed.com)

On using camera bags:

Tim: “If you’re working in the snow ALWAYS keep your camera bag zipped. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen photographers and cinematographers take something out of their bag and start shooting only to have their entire kit get packed with snow from a skier/snowboarder above them.”

Randy: “I like using chest packs if I’m not carrying too much gear. I don’t have to take the pack off (and set it down in the snow!) to shoot, and it keeps my weight forward while skiing.”

© Tim Zimmerman (http://www.timzimmerman.com)

© Tim Zimmerman (http://www.timzimmerman.com)

On everything else:

Tim: “Hoard those little silica packs that come with shoes, electronics, etc. Throw them in your camera bag to help eliminate moisture. If they bust open though, the little pellets get everywhere. Keep a Giottos Rocket Air Blower in your camera bag at all times. If you get snow on your lens try removing it with this before you go to a cloth. If you have to change lenses in the blowing snow make sure you turn your camera body off and change the lens between gusts with the camera body opening facing down. The key is to do things quickly and deliberately. That said, be ready to get your sensor cleaned after particularly brutal days.”

© Randy Boverman (http://www.randyboverman.com)

© Randy Boverman (http://www.randyboverman.com)

Cold weather photography may not be for everyone, but Randy makes a strong argument for why he keeps at it, and why you may want to, also:

As a ski photographer for over 25 years, I have spent a lot of effort taking care of my photo gear to make sure I am able to bring home the shots. I truly believe interesting weather makes for interesting photos, so I don’t consider just waiting for sunny days an option! Skiing and the mountains are a big part of my life. It is not easy to bring back images when you must endure freezing temperatures, but for me it is well worth it!”

Get the latest news!

Get the latest news!

Want to stay up to date on new products, classes, events, articles, and videos? Sign up for our email list! Don't worry, we hate spam as much as you do — no daily junk mail here, just our monthly newsletter and occasional worthy announcements.

Thanks for subscribing!

Pin It on Pinterest

X