Winter has arrived in the northern hemisphere. Many are hoping for a “White Christmas” tomorrow. Temperatures are falling as the days have gotten very short. While it might be cold, winter weather brings wonderful travel photography opportunities.
When we travel to “exotic” winter locations, we can come upon places of great beauty with challenging photographic conditions — the Grand Canyon in winter, Iceland watching the Aurora Borealis, or hiking in the snows of Baxter State Park, Maine.
The challenges are snow, freezing rain and very cold temperatures.
Have you ever watched the History Channel’s “Ice Road Truckers”? The temperature in Coldfoot, Alaska, the truck stop along the Dalton Highway, drops as low as -56° F, at this time of year.
Few of us will encounter that kind of cold when traveling in the winter, but even temperatures some will encounter, 20 degrees Fahrenheit or colder, are winter weather’s great photography challenge.
Zoom lenses and autofocus can seize, LCD panels can freeze, shutters can fail and batteries can quickly lose as much as 75% of their capacity in extremely cold winter weather. When returning from the cold, moisture can get on and in your camera, ruining its electronic and mechanical components.
We’ve all seen great winter weather photographs, so we know these problems can be overcome.
Today’s cameras and lenses generally do well mechanically even in temperatures approaching -40 degrees. They use modern lubricants which don’t harden unless enduring even more severe temperatures. That being said, the liquid in camera LCD panels can begin to freeze at less severe temperatures.
Below freezing, the batteries running your camera/lens can quickly lose as much as 75 percent of their capacity, according to how cold they actually get. I’ve been in situations in which I got less than 30 minutes of usable power from fully charged batteries, which would run my camera all day during the summer.
You can meet these challenges. Keep your camera/lens as warm as possible and follow these suggestions:
• Use a multi-layered approach when dressing to go outside in winter weather. This approach can help your camera. I wear a parka which uses an outer shell and an inner liner. When not using my camera/lens, I stow it under the outer shell of my parka. That will get it out of the wind and keep it warmer.
Note: Do not put your camera/lens under the inner lining of your parka. That might keep it warmer, but it may end up getting unwanted moisture inside your camera/lens from your body’s perspiration, which could damage your camera/lens.
• Use a winterized camera case such as the Cozy Camera Bag. This bag is manufactured from nylon, fleece, neoprene and foam padded core. That alone will help keep the camera warm, but it also contains built-in pockets for heat packs (hand-warmer packs).
• Rotate at least two sets of batteries for your camera/lens every 15–30 minutes, according to how quickly the cold is sapping the energy from your batteries. Keep the spare set in a pocket with a hand-warmer pack in a cloth bag to protect the batteries from it.
You also need to prevent moisture from snow, freezing rain and condensation from getting in your camera. Here are a few suggestions.
• Keep snow and other precipitation from damaging your camera/lens with a protective cover. I’ve extensively tested many precipitation protection products and recommend the Think Tank Photo Hydrophobia products.
• Outside, moisture from your breath can fog your viewfinder, LCD monitor or lens. Don’t wipe it off. It will dissipate quickly if you let it.
• The biggest moisture problem during winter weather photography is when your camera/lens and spare lenses come in from the outdoor cold, into the warm, humid indoor air. The moisture from the warm humid indoor air will condense on and in your cold camera and lenses when brought inside, potentially causing serious electronic and mechanical problems.
To avoid the problem, put your camera/lens inside an air tight plastic bag you’ve had outside in the cold before you come inside. Let your camera warm up slowly on a cool windowsill or unheated porch first, if you can, then bring it inside. Don’t remove the camera/lens from the bag until it’s reached room temperature. The moisture will settle on the outside of the bag rather than on and in the camera. Don’t forget to do the same with your spare lenses and other equipment which can run afoul, if they get wet.
Ned Levi is a long time professional photographer with a passion for wildlife and travel photography. You can view some of Ned’s travel and other photos at NSL Photography or get more travel photography advice at the NSL Photography Blog.