How to Take Care of Your Camera in Cold Weather

Mid-day, mid-winter, Alaska light. It just doesn't get any better.

Where I live, it gets cold. Not your “Brrr, I need to put on a sweater” kind of cold, but genuine, bone-chilling, spit-freezes-before-it hits-the-ground, kind of cold. Here in Fairbanks, Alaska, winter temperatures regularly drop far into the negatives, and yearly we suffer through snaps that send the mercury plummeting to -40F (-40C).

You’d think that in such conditions I wouldn’t want to step outside, let alone take photos, but you’d be wrong. Winter light, what few hours there is of it, is absolutely beautiful. That sweet, crisp glow can pull me from the deepest funk, and lure me out with a camera in hand. During many long winter nights, the aurora borealis dances overhead, and that too can draw me from my cozy cabin, into the snowy forest to make images. On the days I made the two images below, it was seriously cold, but that light, yep, that light will get me outside.

Low winter sun, and frosted birches near Fairbanks, Alaska. AK-FAI-Winter-sun-112172-17

To venture out in those temperatures, you’ve got to be prepared. You need the right clothes to stay warm, and you’ve got to make sure your camera equipment is ready too.

Forget about fashion

To shot the aurora during mid-winter in Alaska you need to dress warm!

To shot the aurora during mid-winter in Alaska, you need to dress warm!

You’ve got to dress right. It doesn’t matter what the light is doing, if you get frost-bite on your fingers, and can’t operate the camera. When dressed in my winter-photo clothing, I feel a bit like an onion, wrapped in layer upon layer. From inside to outside my system goes like this: long underwear, fleece or wool sweater and pants, down or synthetic vest, 800 fill down jacket with hood, windproof Thinsulate pants, two pairs of thick wool socks topped by expedition quality winter boots, a musher’s style hat complete with ear flaps, a balaclava or face mask, and thin nimble gloves with a pair of expedition overmitts dangling from wrist straps. Last, I’ll often throw a couple of chemical hand-warmers into my jacket pockets. When temperatures drop to -40F, it’s best not to mess around.

Two of my clients on an aurora photography tour, dressed for the weather.

Two of my clients on an aurora photography tour, properly dressed for the weather.

The author's well-worn NEOS overboots.

The author’s well-worn NEOS insulated overboots.

Stay Charged

The fluctuations of electricity mean that a cold battery cannot kick out the same amount of electricity as a warm battery. This means that on a brutally cold day, your camera or flash batteries will last only a small fraction of the time they normally would at room temperature. It’s a problem easily solved by carrying a spare battery or two.

A backup battery will let you swap out the cold, dead one in your camera, but there is a hitch: the spares should not be kept in your camera bag, but in an inside jacket pocket. That way they are warm when they go into the camera. When the dead battery warms back up in your pocket (with the help of the aforementioned chemical hand warmers) it will be ready to use for a while again. I find I can shoot at extremely cold temperatures for the better part of day by cycling two batteries back and forth from my pocket to my camera. Though this will vary a lot, depending on how power-hungry your camera is.

AK-FAI-Aurora-111154-35.jpg

Avoiding Bad Breath

The cold comes with other risks, one in particular, can ruin your day of photography, and that is – watch your breath. I mean it. A mistimed, warm, humid, breath will condense on your lens, resulting in a layer of milky frost on the glass. It doesn’t matter how much money you spend on your lenses, no amount of sharpness will make up for that kind of damage. Wiping at it, usually just smudges it more, and defrosting it inside (see below), can take hours. Watch where you breathe, if you turn your camera around to check lens settings, don’t exhale. I also usually wear a neck gaiter or balaclava that I pull up over my mouth and nose. So with your mouth covered, your breath is directed up, where it frosts on your eyelashes instead of your camera.

This is what happens if you accidentally breathe on your lens during a cold weather shoot.

This is what happens if you accidentally breathe on your lens during a cold weather shoot.

Lens Caps Exist for a Reason

Breath is the usual culprit of fogged lenses, but when shooting at night, there is always the chance that natural frost will form. To avoid this, use your lens cap when you aren’t shooting. If you are walking from one location to another, taking a break, or searching for a new composition, put the cap back on your lens. When I’m out shooting the aurora at night, my cap is on my lens, even if I’m just walking a short distance to a new shooting location.

AK-Interior-Whites-103193-8

Back Indoors

Last, and perhaps most importantly, is the return indoors. You know how on a hot day, your cold beer glass gathers condensation? Ever watched how those drips can form and run down the bottle, pooling in a messy ring on the hard-wood table? Imagine that happening to your camera gear. It can, and it will. When you step back indoors to take a break, warm up, or finish up for the day, place your camera and lenses into an airtight bag.

A properly bagged and sealed camera, ready to be taken back indoors after a cold outdoor shoot.

A properly bagged and sealed camera, ready to be taken back indoors after a cold outdoor shoot.

Ziplocks are good, but I favor light-weight roll-top dry bags like those used by boaters to keep their gear dry. These are tough, reusable, and work like a charm. Once sealed up tight in a ziplock or dry bag, condensation can’t form on your gear. Just let your camera warm up to room temperature before you pull it out.

AK-NoatakPreserve-KellyRiver-1083-491

The cold scares a lot of photographers, and make no mistake, a frigid, mid-winter Alaskan night is nothing to mess around with. But with a few precautions – warm clothes, spare batteries, avoiding frost, and protecting against condensation – you can take advantage of the stellar beauty of crisp, clear, days and nights like this one.

The post How to Take Care of Your Camera in Cold Weather by David Shaw appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Never Ending …



English: I'm so confused these days, I can't stay still ... . As you can see on my last posts I like being in another dimension. Anyway, I'm so grateful that I have a camera, I hope you like it! And of course, some more realistic shots will follow ;).

German: Die letzten Tage sind irgendwie anders, still stehen ist gerade überhaupt nicht möglich. Wie in den letzten Posts unschwer zu erkennen ist, wäre ich gerade lieber irgendwo in einer anderen Dimension. Nun ja, so bin ich dankbar eine Kamera zu besitzen und vielleicht könnt Ihr diesen Bildern etwas abgewinnen. Ganz sicher werden auch bald wieder leicht realistischere Aufnahmen folgen ;).


Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark II
Lens: Canon EF 70-200mm F/4 L IS
Focal: 144 mm
Aperture: F/4
Exposure: 1/640s
ExposureBias: 0.7 EV
Sensitivity: Iso 400

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For A Walk



English: No typical words - no story for this capture ... . The advantage of a pure photoblog is its definition: Let's talk the moments :).

German: Diesmal gibt es keine Beschreibung, keine kleine Geschichte. Das ist doch auch der Vorteil eines Fotoblogs: Momente sprechen für sich selber :).

» Original shoot attached

Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark II
Lens: Canon EF 70-200mm F/4 L IS
Focal: 200 mm
Aperture: F/4
Exposure: 1/1600s
ExposureBias: 0.7 EV
Sensitivity: Iso 400

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Standalone [Complex] II



» Original shoot attached

Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark II
Lens: Canon EF 17-40L F/4
Focal: 19 mm
Aperture: F/4
Exposure: 1/25s
ExposureBias: 0.0 EV
Sensitivity: Iso 1600

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Standalone [Complex]



English: Back home - otherwise: Doggie Mila and me just moved to the new apartment. I start loving this new part of live, I love the experience of living in my own "castle". So many people supported the removal - thank you so much! For showing you some of my feelings I choosed this capture taken 4 weeks ago. But my progress will be continue next weeks, some trips across Germany, not without camera (if I do found some of my equipment inside a dozen of removal boxes *ops*). See you!

German: Zurück zu Hause - oder anders: Hündin Mila und ich sind nun endlich in der neuen Wohnung angekommen. Ich mag diesen neuen Lebensabschnitt und ich liebe die Erfahrung im eigenen "Zauberschloss" zu wohnen. So viele Menschen haben mir geholfen, ich bin überwältigt - ein riesengroßes Dankeschön an alle! Und da gibt es so viele Gefühle im Bauch die ich mit dieser Aufnahme, vor 4 Wochen aufgenommen, zeigen möchte. Die Reise nimmt aber noch kein Ende, ich werde in den nächsten Wochen viel in Deutschland unterwegs sein aber natürlich nicht ohne Kamera, wenn, ja wenn ich denn endlich mal die gesamte Ausrüstung aus einem Dutzend Umzugskartons zusammengesucht habe. Wir werden uns bald wiedersehen!

» If you are interested in, this picture is as print available
» Original shoot attached

Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark II
Lens: Canon EF 70-200mm F/4 L IS
Focal: 100 mm
Aperture: F/4
Exposure: 1/1250s
ExposureBias: 0.7 EV
Sensitivity: Iso 400
Cropped: none

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A Lensbaby Adventure



English: Based on my last post Carlos wanted to see more of my trip "Disturbia". On that day I also had to relieve my mind - thats why I choosed the Lensbaby Composer for getting some "other" captures. For all who are interested in (I receive many questions on postprocessing), I used Apples Aperture 3 for this series, no Photoshop or anything else. In the past I used Aperture only for archiving - It was time to check out his opportunities. I'm not really fascinate yet of Aperture, but it worked for me on this collection. What do you think, I'm very interested in your thoughts!

German: Bezogen auf die letzte Aufnahme wollte Carlos mehr von meinem Trip "Disturbia" sehen. An diesem Tag musste ich meinen Kopf ein wenig "auslüften" und deswegen bin ich auch gleich mit dem Lensbaby Composer losgestreuselt um auch "andere" Bilder zu schiessen. Für die Interessierten von Euch (Ich bekomme immer noch viele Fragen), hier habe ich nur mit Apples Aperture 3 gearbeitet, kein Photoshop oder Ähnliches. In der Vergangenheit habe ich Aperture lediglich zum archivieren genutzt, also war es an der Zeit endlich mal herauszufinden was für Möglichkeiten zur Verfügung stehen. Auch bin ich immer noch nicht richtig angetan, dennoch ganz gut um eine Bilderserie zu überarbeiten. Was sagst Du dazu? Ich bin gespannt!

» This is a collection of 13 pictures, click on the image to see all.




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My Disturbia



English: As I told you - I'm still in process moving to my new apartment. But this day I was burned out a little bit, thats why I took doggie Mila and the Lensbaby Composer for a walk. And? I could not resist showing you a scene I really like. It's fascinating - sometimes I think my soul put his finger on the trigger, not me. And sometimes such shots are the result. I love life, I love so many things - but sometimes I'm looking for something more ... sometimes.

German: Wie schon angekündigt - befinde ich mich mitten im Umzug in die neue Wohnung. Aber an diesem Tag stand ich nur noch unter Strom, deswegen bin ich mit Hündin Mila und dem Lensbaby Composer zu einem kleinen Spaziergang aufgebrochen. Und? Ich konnte schwer widerstehen und zeige nun doch eine neue Aufnahme. Irgendwie ist es faszinierend - manchmal glaube ich mein Geist hat seinen Finger am Auslöser, nicht ich. Und manchmal sind dann solche Bilder das Resultat. Ich liebe das Leben, ich liebe so vieles darin - aber manchmal suche ich nach etwas mehr ... manchmal.

» If you are interested in, this picture is as print available
» Original shoot attached

Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark II
Lens: Lensbaby Composer
Aperture: F/4
Exposure: 1/160s
ExposureBias: 0.0 EV
Sensitivity: Iso 640

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Ruegen-Island / Beachcombing #2



English: I could not believe how many shoes and other urban pieces we found along the shore in one day. I took a lot captures and this one is my little fav: As you can see, this is a shoe from a child. I havn't cropped the frame for showing you its real size. I hope you like it - what do you think of such shots combined with that processing? I like it so much to spend some time for such a result.

German: Ich konnte kaum glauben wieviele Schuhe und andere weggeworfene Gegenstände wir entlang der Küste an nur einem Tag fanden. So entstanden auch viele viele Aufnahmen und diese hier ist mein kleiner Favorit: Unschwer zu erkennen ist dies ein Kinderschuh. Um das Grössenverhältnis zu wahren, habe ich die Aufnahme nicht beschnitten. Ich hoffe es gefällt - was denkt Ihr über diese Art zu fotografieren kombiniert mit der digitalen Dunkelkammer? Ich für meinen Teil liebe es sehr Zeit damit zu verbringen, um zu solch einem Ergebnis zu gelangen.

» If you are interested in, this picture is as print available
» Original shoot attached

Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark II
Lens: Canon EF 70-200mm F/4 L IS
Focal: 144 mm
Aperture: F/4
Exposure: 1/160s
ExposureBias: 0.7 EV
Sensitivity: Iso 400
Cropped: minor rotate

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Ruegen-Island / One To One With Mom



English: Mom's christmas gift was a analog body. She love to shot for getting real-photos and no digital stuff. I used the chance and she got a one to one training: How to shot with DOF, change the point of view and perspective and how to compose a motive? We both spend more time lying on the ground instead walking like the other passers :). It was so funny and she becomes better and better. Later she told me: "Son, I would also like to have such a white and red dashed lens." Mom?! ...

German: Mama's Weihnachtsgeschenk ist eine neue analoge Kamera. Sie liebt es zu fotografieren um dann "echte" Bilder anstatt digitale Daten in den Händen zu halten. Ich nutze die Gelegenheit für eine kleine Fotoschule, ganz gemütlich zu zweit: Wie lässt sich Tiefenschärfe einsetzen, einfach mal die Perspektive oder den Standpunkt wechseln und wie komponiere ich ein Motiv? Wir beide verbrachten mehr Zeit liegend im kalten Sand, anstatt wie die anderen Passanten zu spazieren. Es war lustig und sie wurde immer besser und "mutiger". Später sagte sie mir: "Sohn, ich möchte auch gern so ein weisses Objektiv mit rotem Ring besitzen." Mama?! ...

» Original shoot attached

Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark II
Lens: Canon EF 70-200mm F/4 L IS
Focal: 135 mm
Aperture: F/4
Exposure: 1/640s
ExposureBias: 0.7 EV
Sensitivity: Iso 400
Cropped: minor rotate

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Ruegen-Island / Magic Mom



English: The reason for my trip to Ruegen-Island was to spend some days with my lovely Mom. And what should I say? I think that this portrait tells a lot ... we had a exciting/crazy time there. I'm proud of her, thankful and still pushed of this 3 days. Note to Mom: To be continued ... :)

German: Der Grund für meinen Ausflug nach Rügen war die Weihnachtszeit mit meiner tollen Mama zu verbringen. Was soll ich sagen? Ich denke, dass diese Aufnahme eine Menge erzählt ... wir hatten eine aufregende und verrückte Zeit. Ich bin so stolz auf sie, dankbar und immer noch von diesen 3 Tagen aufgedrieselt. Notiz an Mama: Das wird auf jeden Fall fortgesetz ... :)

» Original shoot attached

Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark II
Lens: Canon EF 50mm F/1.4
Aperture: F/2.2
Exposure: 1/500s
ExposureBias: 0.7 EV
Sensitivity: Iso 400
Cropped: minor to 4x3

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