My experience shooting in extreme cold. (well below zero Fahrenheit)

Dec 19, 2016

Evan Pak

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My experience shooting in extreme cold. (well below zero Fahrenheit)

Dec 19, 2016

Evan Pak

We love it when our readers get in touch with us to share their stories. This article was contributed to DIYP by a member of our community. If you would like to contribute an article, please contact us here.

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I know that for a lot of people, the cold keeps them inside, but it can be really rewarding to go out in the bitter cold. Tonight I got the bug to go out and shoot, but the air temp was -15, with a windchill of -30. Here are a few reflections:

  • Bundle up. It’s really not optional. In temperatures like this, you can get frostbite in a shockingly fast time (less than half an hour). It’s not worth losing body parts for any photo. Tonight, I wore heavy boots, snow pants, a heavy jacket, face mask, ski goggles, a hat, and two pairs of gloves. I also tucked hand warmers into my gloves, which really helped with the cold. Sure, it’s a lot of gear, but I was comfortable for over an hour outside.
  • Set up as much as possible indoors. You want to make the most of your time outside, so fiddling with lenses or tripod plates is a waste of time. Assemble everything you can indoors. I even guessed on some exposure values, so I could set my exposure before going out.
  • Keep in mind that your batteries will last far less time. I used a battery grip to double my capacity, and even then my camera went through a good chunk of its power in just over an hour. If you are carrying extra batteries, do what you can to keep them warm.
  • Don’t breathe anywhere near your lens. If you do, your breath will condense, or even freeze on the lens, and won’t evaporate. This is what the back of my camera looked like after I wrapped up. It may be hard to tell, but there is a ton of ice that has formed on the back.

Yeah, it’s a lot of work, but IMO it was worth it. Often, you only get clear skies on the coldest nights, and that gives some cool opportunities for snowy landscapes with stars. It’s not my favorite shot ever, but I like the way this one came out.

About the author

Evan Pak is a photographer based in the Northfield area, specializing in portraits and nature photography. You can see more of his work on SmugMug, follow him on Instagram or like his Facebook page. This article was also published here and shared with permission.

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4 responses to “My experience shooting in extreme cold. (well below zero Fahrenheit)”

  1. North Polar Avatar
    North Polar

    Not bad advice. A couple tips from someone who lives in North Pole, Alaska for dealing with cold weather.

    -once the camera is outside, it stays outside till you are done shooting. No exception. You’ll end up with frost, fogging, and ice buildup everywhere otherwise.

    -hold your breath when using the viewfinder. Freezing up the back of the camera is bad.

    -personally, I gaffer tape a disposable heat pack to the bottom of my camera in -30f or colder.

    -fully charge all batteries and make sure disposables are Li-on. They’ll last longer.

    -batteries inside your coat in a chest pocket if it has one. Body heat will keep them warm.

    -mylar glove liners. That way you can wear thinner gloves and still feel your controls.

    But you are right, the colder nights are the clearest. Took this off my back porch last night. I don’t have a budget for a wide angle, so this was a 50mm 1.8 on my D7200. 3 second, f/1.8, iso 800.

    http://pre07.deviantart.net/2ae7/th/pre/f/2016/353/3/4/dipper_by_aknorthpolar-das7qit.jpg

    1. Evan Pak Avatar
      Evan Pak

      All of those are excellent points!

      It’s especially bad if you accidentally breathe on the viewfinder itself. I did once during my shoot, which meant that I had to take off my gloves to wipe it clean. Not fun.

      I was using disposable heat packs on both the battery grip and lens.

      As to keeping batteries warm, you definitely have to strike a balance between keeping them warm, and keeping you warm! It’s less than ideal to have to open your coat to get batteries out, so putting them in a chest pocket is a good compromise.

      Glove liners are fantastic. I paired mine with hand warmers and a light pair of leather gloves. I had the dexterity to operate the controls, but my hands were also comfortable.

      1. North Polar Avatar
        North Polar

        I’m just happy I’m not shooting film anymore. Don’t get me wrong, some days I missed it, but 1 or 2 alkaline AA batteries would last 5 minutes in the winters up here..

        Keep up the good work :)

  2. mksystem Avatar
    mksystem

    What extreme?:) Normal winter in Siberia. I shoot every day outdoors and never had any problems with camera. Yes, you need keep spare batteries in warm (I sometimes keep them under my hat on my head), but even one Nikon EN-EL15 in my cold camera is enough to take 1000 pictures (down from 1200-1500 in summer), but still no problems to get through a day. Yes, you should not breath heavy on viewfinder or it will cover with fog, but usually it can be easily wiped with gloves, so I don’t care where I breathe. When you enter warm room put your camera in a camera bag for 10-15 minutes.

    When going outdoors you need think first about protecting yourself from cold (warm coat, gloves, boots etc.), because if you can endure weather your camera will too.