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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Cold Weather? No Problem

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© 2009 Simon Hucko

Winter officially begins on Monday, but it's already been pretty wintry around here for the past few weeks. So what do you do when the snow starts falling and the thermometer plummets below freezing? Why, take your camera out and keep shooting, of course! Snow and cold weather are actually very minor inconveniences for your camera, even if they may be less than minor inconveniences to you. Here's a few tips to get you through the winter weather:

- Slow temperature changes are better. Warm air contains a lot more moisture than cold air, so any sudden change will cause condensation. This is especially problematic when bringing cold gear back into a warm building. If you just carry your camera in, it'll probably fog up pretty quickly. This won't necessarily harm it, but it does make it useless for a while. There's also a chance of condensation on the sensor, which could require a sensor cleaning. The solution? Keep your camera closed up in the bag and allow it to come up to temperature slowly. If you're in a hurry or are more paranoid, you can also zip your camera and lens up into a large plastic bag before bringing it in. This way, any condensation will happen on the bag and not on your camera. Once your camera has come to room temp, it's good to go again.

- Batteries don't like the cold. The chemical reaction going on inside your battery slows way down when the temperature drops, which can have a very severe effect on battery life. The good news is that this effect is only temporary, and your batteries will "come back to life" if you warm them up again. The solution here is to carry at least one spare battery somewhere close to your body (inside pocket somewhere) and swap it out when the cold one in your camera starts calling it quits. By putting the cold battery in your pocket, it will be ready to go again when the fresher battery starts to fatigue. Swap out and repeat. You can keep going like this for a long time.

- Falling snow likes to hang onto your camera and lens. No trickery here, just keep a microfiber cloth with you and use it to gently wipe off your gear when it starts getting covered. Be careful when wiping off glass not to smear the water around or fog things up with your warm hands - a brush or blower might be best if you've given your camera time to cool down so that the snow doesn't melt, it just falls off like dust. Try to keep your lens pointing away from the falling snow if possible to minimize the problem. Make sure you do a final wipe-down before shoving your gear back in the bag and bringing it inside to keep the snow from melting all over everything. You might want to keep your lens caps off for a bit too until everything is nice and dry.

- Fingerless or thin cotton gloves might be a good investment. Your nice warm goretex gloves with the down insulation are going to give you zero control over your camera, and it gets pretty annoying having to pull them off every time you want to change a setting or even press the shutter. Thin or fingerless gloves aren't as warm, but can save you from having to remove them every time you take a photo. Mittens are definitely out, for obvious reasons ;) (edit: Unless they're the convertible fingerless kind. Thanks for the tip, Adam!)

That's it for this installment of winter shooting tips. I'll definitely do another one at some point about exposing for snow. I also have a post coming on shooting Christmas lights (I promise!) - that should be done for Monday.

If you haven't done so yet, go check out the [tob] 52 weeks group. The more people that join and participate, the more fun this will be for everyone! Remember, it's only one photo a week. You can do it!


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  1. Great tips Simon. I've got a pair of convertible fingerless mittens that give me the best of control and warmth. Easily my best winter related photo investment.

  2. Yeah, I'm with Adam on the convertible fingerless mittens. They're the best of both worlds.

    Great tips!