For many photographers, the chance to shoot outdoors in cold weather can yield amazing new results, but it also poses a unique challenge in terms of looking after your gear. Any experienced surveyor can tell you that even rugged outdoor equipment like Trimble scanners need repair and maintenance when you work in the extreme cold. These preparations will take your mind off factors such as personal comfort and gear safety so you can focus on the essentials and get the right shot.
Dress for the cold
As the saying goes, half of photography is about what’s behind the camera – you. If you’ve never had to venture out in the cold for an extended period, let alone handle a day’s work of taking photos, it’s easy to overlook the importance of personal comfort when making your preparations.
Check the day’s forecast, including hourly variations and possible precipitation. Not only does this help you anticipate lighting conditions for your shooting schedule, it will let you choose the right outfit for the environment. A warm jacket with deep pockets is essential; snowshoes and chemical heat packs may be necessary as well. Wearing a scarf around your face not only helps prevent frostbite, but can save your nose from accidentally sticking to the metal surfaces of your gear. Above all, choose the right pair of cold weather gloves – you want to retain maximum dexterity for handling your camera, without having to expose your fingers to the bitter cold or repeatedly don and remove the gloves.
Pack right and light
Experienced travel and landscape photographers know that every item of gear you squeeze into your backpack can easily be another couple of pounds. When heading out for a cold weather shoot, layers of clothing already add to the burden; be prepared to compromise and leave behind quite a bit of gear in the studio – your back and shoulders will appreciate it.
As with any professional shoot, you’ll want to bring a backup of everything – memory cards, batteries, lenses, tripods, and camera bodies – in case something goes wrong. Whenever possible, go for equipment that’s listed as weather-sealed or waterproof, and that includes your backpack; snow can be brushed off, but if it melts from skin contact, or if it rains instead of snowing, your gear will be at risk. A hand-held fan or air blower also helps remove snow from surfaces without having to touch it.
Careful gear handling
The actual operation of a camera under cold outdoor conditions is where much of the risk is involved. You’ll quickly find that fingers become clumsy and ordinary tasks such as changing lenses or filters become more difficult. To avoid accidents, take your time and ensure that you have stable footing and surfaces on which to place your gear. Camera rain covers help to keep out water; this not only protects your gear but can save your shots.
Moisture is a critical factor in cold weather; your gear needs to acclimate properly as it’s moved from a warm indoor environment to the cold outdoors. Glass can easily fog up due to condensation, ruining shots and risking long-term damage to your lenses. Pack your lenses and bodies in an air-tight Ziploc bag with packets of silica gel to further absorb moisture, and give your gear time to acclimate to the ambient temperature whenever you transition between warm and cold environments, or vice versa.
Maintain awareness of these practical tips for preparation and safely handling the scenario, and you can better concentrate on the quality and composition of your winter photos.