7 practical tips for working with camera gear in the cold
Jan 3, 2024
7 practical tips for working with camera gear in the cold
Snowy winter scenes are a photographer’s dream until your gear becomes a moisture magnet. And that moisture can literally transform your entire photographic experience into a nightmare!
I love winter, and it is a fantastic season for landscape photography. It offers a plethora of unique opportunities and challenges that make it an incredibly rewarding and magical experience.
The simplicity of a snow-covered landscape can lead to minimalist compositions, unveiling scenes that are rare or even impossible to capture in other seasons. Frozen waterfalls, icicles, and unique ice formations provide photographers with the chance to capture scenes that are truly extraordinary.
Photography in cold weather brings up some challenges, though.
And the most obvious concern that likely comes to mind is not freezing. Investing in good outdoor gear that’s gonna keep you warm and protected from the elements is often more important than the camera and lenses.
Staying warm is just one part of the equation.
Do you ever worry about how to keep your camera gear safe and protected in such harsh conditions? Let’s talk about some useful tips and tricks on how to keep your photography equipment in top shape when shooting in cold weather.
When photographing in cold weather, we need to ensure the optimal functioning of our equipment.
Now, moisture is the biggest problem you need to worry about.
It’s one of the biggest enemies of your equipment, as it can cause corrosion, mould, fungus, and other problems that can ruin your images and damage your gear.
When you go to a place with high humidity, it gets into your camera gear. This has happened to some people on my trips before, so that’s why I decided to write this post.
The zoom lens is often where the moisture gets trapped. When you zoom a lens, it moves back and forth. That’s how some of the moisture gets in the lens barrel. And then your camera stops working. It just freezes up.
Another thing that can happen is that your tripod legs get stuck. The moisture gets in the joints, and then it freezes. You can’t open the leg lock, no matter how hard you try. So, you can’t use your tripod properly. These are things that you might not think about. You just can’t take it for granted.
When you’re out shooting, your breath is warm and moist. It hits the cold surface of the camera and lens, and your breath can fog up the eyepiece and the back LCD.
Then you can’t see anything. You can’t shoot. You’re blind. So you have two options:
- Some companies, like Canon and Nikon, make anti-fog eyepieces. They have a fine texture that prevents your breath from fogging them up.
- Or you can bring some alcohol wipes with you. They don’t freeze, and you can use them to clean the eyepiece.
Okay, you’re going back from a cold environment to your room at the end of your photo session.
Condensation tends to be the actual problem on the camera: bringing a cold camera in from the very cold air (where condensation has dropped out due to low temperature) to the warm air (where the air can hold more moisture due to temperature, plus, humans are breathing) tends to cause moisture to condense on the cold camera, both inside and outside.
This moisture can cause damage to the sensitive electronics in your camera.
How do you prevent condensation?
This is my routine: once the photo session is finished, I remove the battery from the camera and take the card out, placing it in my pocket. Then, I pack the gear back into the bag before heading back indoors.
The first thing I do is drop my shoes off right by the door because they’re going to have moisture on them. Trying to keep that moisture out of the equation is the primary goal here.
Next, I place the camera bag on the bed and grab one of the big bath towels—clean, dry, and taken from the bathroom.
I take the gear out of the bag and place it on the bed, covering it all with the towel. Why do I do that? The towel won’t insulate anything, but what will happen is that moisture, instead of collecting on your camera gear, will be drawn towards the towel. This way, it won’t accumulate on your equipment; it’ll gather on the towel.
Once the camera gear reaches room temperature, I proceed to clean it and also check the sensor.
This process should help to keep the moist air away from the camera.
If you don’t have a towel at your disposal, just don’t take the camera out of the bag until the camera has warmed up to room temperature.
Once all my camera gear is cleaned, then I’ll place it back in the camera bag. Afterwards, I’ll position the camera bag in the farthest, coldest part of my room. Why do I do that?
Because I don’t want the camera bag or the camera gear inside to be warm, this way, when I go out the next day to a cold location, everything doesn’t fog up on me. Allowing this cycling process helps prevent any issues.
If you’re heading out, don’t take the camera out of the bag until you’re back outside.
We aim to prevent condensation both when we’re out shooting and when we’re back in the room. It’s crucial not to let any moisture into your camera bag, as it would act like a significant steam vent in this scenario, causing more problems.
So, those are the basics for working with your gear in this environment.
Weather Sealing Insights
You might have recently bought a camera, and you’re still learning the basics of photography. You might not have considered weather sealing as an important feature.
The X-T4 has 63 weather-sealed points, which gives it an advanced level of dust- and moisture resistance.
Many modern cameras boast of having built-in weather-sealing features. “Weather sealed” is a term that camera manufacturers generally use to indicate that their products have some degree of protection against moisture and dust.
However, not all cameras have the same level of weather sealing.
This usually means that they have rubber seals and gaskets around the camera’s entry points, such as where the lens attaches to the body, the buttons, dials, the battery and memory card compartments, and flaps to keep water out of the camera.
Our cameras are more resilient than you think. Of course, they are not designed to go underwater without a special housing. But they can handle a lot of rain and spray without any damage. I think sometimes, people who are new to photography can be overly concerned about their gear and its safety.
However, this does not mean that the camera is completely waterproof and can be used underwater for a swim. It only means that it can withstand some rain or mist for a short time.
Therefore, weather sealing is not enough to protect your camera from the elements by itself. You should still take precautions to keep your camera dry and clean. Weather sealing is better seen as a backup plan rather than a guarantee.
PRO TIP: Different camera brands have different levels of weatherproofing, but many cameras have a weak spot behind the articulating screen. If you are exposed to heavy rain or spray, it is better to keep the screen closed and not pull it out. Water can get in behind the screen, depending on the camera model.
The lens mount is another vulnerable part, although some lenses (usually the more expensive ones in a manufacturer’s range) have rubber seals around the mount to prevent water from getting in.
You should always have a soft cloth in your camera bag so that you can wipe your camera if it gets wet (but remember to take the cloth out of your bag and dry it afterwards).
When capturing seascapes, for example, if salt water touches your camera, you should clean it with a slightly damp cloth and then dry it to remove any salt residue (sea spray can be very hard to detect as it is often very fine and invisible).
Battery Care in Cold Weather
Batteries don’t like the cold very much. They lose their power faster when it’s cold outside. You may be used to taking hundreds of shots with one charge, but in cold weather, your battery life can go down a lot—by 50-70% or more.
But don’t worry, you can trick the cold by keeping your spare batteries warm. Just tuck them in your inner pocket, close to your body heat, and switch them when needed.
If you have a mid-layer with a zipped chest pocket, that’s ideal. I keep two there, and they stay out of the shoulder and chest straps without too much bulk. I’ve never had a problem with this system, and they stay plenty warm.
Below, my Vallerret Merino Wool Zip Jersey equipped with dedicated pockets to conveniently store two batteries.
Ice Claws for Stability
Snow is not the most stable of mediums to work on, especially if there’s ice underneath it. So that’s why I always have on the ice claws.
Ice claws are a must-have accessory for any landscape photographer who wants to photograph in the snow or frozen terrain. You need to ensure that your tripod is stable and secure on slippery and uneven terrain. That’s where ice claws come in handy.
Ice claws are metal spikes that attach to the feet of your tripod, providing extra grip and stability on ice and snow. They are easy to install and remove, and they come in different sizes and shapes to fit various tripod models.
Ice claws can make a huge difference in the quality and sharpness of your photos, as they prevent your tripod from sliding or sinking into the snow. The tripod does not move.
Be aware. They have very sharp edges, and I tell you, I’ve stabbed myself so many times (ouch!) with these things.
Now you might wonder, what about those spikes? I have single spikes on the bottom too. They work, but there’s a problem. The spike goes right through the snow. It doesn’t stop.
But because the ice claw has a cup and teeth, it stops when it hits the snow, and it doesn’t keep going down. So your tripod doesn’t slowly sink.
When you have a small camera and lens, there’s not a ton of weight, so not having ice claws might not be super necessary. But when you put something big on it, then gravity pulls the tripod down. And at some point, the tripod falls over. Your gear falls over. And then you have dirt on your camera. And you’re toasted!
And that leads me to the next thing.
Snow Removal Tips
You’re out there shooting, and snow is falling. It gets on your gear. Many times, I’ve seen people get snow on their equipment and attempt to blow it off with their mouths.
What exactly happens if I do that?
Snow is frozen water. When your warm, moist breath hits the snow, it melts it, and it turns back into liquid. The liquid drips into your gear and then freezes again, and you’re in the disaster zone.
What you need to do is take a towel, or you can use your gloves and just pat the snow off.
Blow some air from your gloves or your towel, and use that to move the snow off your camera gear. Do not blow snow off. It gets to be a mess!
Lens Hood Importance
One other thing that I want to talk about and that a lot of photographers don’t think about very often is the lens hood. The lens hood is a device that attaches to the front of your lens and blocks out the light that comes from outside the angle of view of your lens.
This prevents the light from hitting the front element of your lens and causing flare, which is a loss of contrast and colour saturation, or ghosting, which is a faint image of the bright light source in your photo.
It happens quite easily in the snow, even if the sun is not in front of you but on the side or behind you, because the snow reflects the light into your lens.
When that happens, you get that flare, and it really shows up shooting in a winter environment. So make sure to always have it with you and use the lens hood to keep that light from bouncing into your front element.
How do you protect your camera gear when shooting in cold weather conditions Do you have any cool tips or tricks up your sleeve that I didn’t mention here that you’d like to share?
About Andrea Livieri
Andrea Livieri is a full-time travel and landscape photographer and educator based in Italy. He regularly runs photography workshops and tours. You can see more of his work on his website, follow him on Instagram or subscribe to his YouTube channel. This article was also published here and shared with permission.
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