Although Australia is experiencing a rather warm summer at the moment, for much of the world it’s the dead of winter. That means it freezing cold, and there’s often ice and snow to contend with. This time of year can make for some beautiful photography, although it does not come without its challenges.
This sixteen and a half minute video from Mark Denney takes a look at the issues of shooting in winter and how they can be overcome. He goes over a lot of the problems of shooting in winter including your comfort level, your gear’s comfort level (yup, that’s a thing), camera settings considerations as well as a bit on post-processing the images.
Your personal comfort level (and safety!)
This is one of the most important things you will likely need to consider, particularly in more extreme weather conditions. When you’re walking to a location, you’re moving and generating body heat and you can feel quite warm (especially if you’ve walked there from a nice warm car). But once you stop to shoot landscapes or a timelapse, you can get very cold very quickly if you’re not dressed appropriately.
There are a number of items you can take with you, and Mark recommends several in his video including:
- Fleece Neck Gaiter (often called a “Snood”)
- E-Tip Gloves (you might need to access your phone while keeping your fingers warm!)
- Winter Photography Gloves (often warn with the E-Tip gloves in really cold conditions)
- Some good waterproof & breathable hiking boots (water might not be able to get in, but sweat needs to get out)
- Top Base Layer (this helps to retain your body heat close to your skin)
- Bottom Base Layer (see above)
- Hand warmers (these can be great in an emergency)
Mark talks more about your personal comfort level here so that you’re not worrying about how you feel and can get on with the process of making great images. But, and not to get too morbid, but extreme cold can kill.
When the wilderness is covered in snow, especially in unfamiliar territory, it’s easy to get lost or fall. If you’re wearing unsuitable clothes, you may succumb to nature before you’re able to get help. Fortunately, most of the clothes and bits you’d take just to feel comfortable will also help to keep you alive for longer, too, in the event you did have an incident, as they’ll help to retain body heat and keep all your faculties functioning.
I’d also suggest throwing a couple of spare pairs of dry socks in your bag, too. If freezing cold water gets in over the top of your boots, you’ll want to dry off and warm up your feet as quickly as possible. And definitely keep a full change of dry clothes in the car for when you get back to it, just in case. And pack a bunch of high energy snacks in your bag, too. The cold can sap your energy levels faster than you may realise.
Camera Gear Care
While most camera gear is somewhat tolerant of the cold, there are things you’ll want to be mindful of.
For a start, colder temperatures reduce the effectiveness of batteries. Although cold weather doesn’t technically drain your batteries any quicker than warm weather, the cold does affect their voltage. So, at a full charge, they’re already starting off with a handicap, and they’ll reach the minimum voltage threshold and shut off much sooner. And it’s why they’ll suddenly spring back into life when they get warm again.
Storing batteries somewhere warm while you’re exploring and shooting. For example, the inside pocket of your jacket where they can absorb some bodyheat will help to keep them warmer for longer and give you a bit more shooting time when out in the cold. Also, carry multiple batteries, so that if one does get cold inside your camera, you can swap it out for a warm one and let the cold one warm back up.
After you’re done, one thing you have to consider is the rapid temperature change your gear often goes through. If you’ve been out in freezing cold weather, hop into your car and throw the heating on full blast, your cold camera and lens could pick up a lot of condensation. Large ziplock bags can help to protect them from moisture exposure from the rest of the air in your vehicle. Throwing in a desiccant pack or two will help even further. Desiccant packs are handy to keep in your camera bag at all times regardless.
Camera settings & post-processing
A bright sky and bright white ground can still throw off a lot of camera metering systems. Some might intelligently detect “Hey, it’s a snowy scene, we should make it bright!”, but many will still try to bring the exposure down to that 18% grey average. If you’re in manual, you can compensate for this yourself with live view, but if you’re using one of the automatic metering modes (aperture/shutter priority or P mode) then you’ll want to dial in some exposure compensation.
Snow can also throw off your white balance. If there’s a lot of snow, but very few clouds in the sky, the ground will appear bluer to the camera as it’s reflecting that sky off its surface. It’s easy to correct if you’re shooting raw, but it’s something to bear in mind if the images on the back of your camera aren’t quite what you see in front of you.
There’s some great advice in Mark’s video, but it is by no means a comprehensive guide to shooting in winter, and particularly in heavy snow and icy conditions. It makes for great viewing to get you started, though.
What are your essential winter photography items?