Photographing during winter periods is quite challenging. Every aspect of the photography workflow gets slightly more difficult, and when you add everything up it ends up being significantly harder. However, if you are like me, harder equals better. Even if I produce the best pictures without much hassle, they don’t hold the same value to me as pictures for which I’d have to work for. Winter shots are almost always hard shots.
But first and foremost, before venturing into the sub zero degrees you should know some stuff about your gear. You don’t want to end up with damaged or broken gear due to the elements.
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The working temperature of most electronics ranges from 0 to 40 degrees Celsius. This means that when you are above or below those values you risk damaging your gear. When you are above, there are risks, but they aren’t that big because the only issue is overheating. However, when you go below 0 degrees Celsius, you risk several things: freezing, condensation, materials becoming brittle and easily broken, and so forth. Thus, you’ll have to protect your gear from the temperature as much as you can.
When going out from a warm room to the freezing winter, don’t bring out the camera straight out of the bag. Instead open the zipper slightly and give it some time to acclimate. Usually, 10-15 minutes should do it. The same goes for the reverse – when heading back into warm areas, don’t open the bag just yet. Allow for 10-15 minutes so the gear can acclimate. In case there is condensation visible (in the lens, viewfinder and so forth), remove the battery, dismount the lens, put the lens cap and lens mount cap on the camera, and hope for the best. Do not, under any circumstances, power the camera back on until it is completely dry. You don’t want to short anything out.
The batteries don’t like cold weather. In fact, the colder they get, the more charge they lose. There is nothing you can do about this, except keep spare batteries warm. Keeping them in the inside pocket of your photographer vest, or in an insulated pouch of the bag should do. Also, avoid charging the batteries in rooms that are really cold.
Cameras produce heat. That heat will keep the insides of the camera from freezing over. Therefore shoot more, in order to produce heat from the camera to keep it healthy. It is also good for the gears in your shutter mechanism: the friction they produce will keep them warm enough so they don’t become brittle and break.
There are many products on the market that will protect your camera from rain and snow. Some are better than others, but most of them do the job. Yes, the camera can be weather sealed, and the lens can be weather sealed, but there is no guarantee that it will be enough. Some lenses are partially sealed, others are completely sealed. You wouldn’t want to risk it now, would you?
If you are up in the mountains in the winter, snow and everything, I don’t have to stress the point that you should keep yourself safe first. Do your homework, research the area, ask around, and inform yourself if it is safe to venture there in the first place.
The day during winter is significantly shorter. The Sun rises later in the day, and it sets quite earlier. Use tools like “The Photographer’s Ephemeris” or weather applications to know when the Sun rises and sets, in order to be able to plan your activities accordingly. Bear in mind that Golden and Blue Hours last quite shorter in the winter.
Having that in mind, it is wise to scout beforehand and get familiar with your locations, and in doing so be more efficient – you will be able to take more shots during the shorter period of nice light available.
Winter weather can be quite dull, and it can change quite quickly. Thus, make sure that you avoid overcast weather during winter for most of the photography since it is just gray on gray, and it doesn’t provide contrast nor point of interest.
However, that weather is perfect for high-key portraiture. The snow will act as a reflective surface for fill light, and the light will be soft and envelop the subject quite nicely.
is basically water. It is funny that most of the time we perceive snow as a different matter – we don’t bring umbrellas when it starts snowing, because, well it is snow, it is fun! That is true, snow is almost always fun, except for your gear. Your gear hates snow. The snowflakes turn to water, and water and electronics are never a good combo. However, if your gear is protected while it is snowing, you can take some excellent shots. It will provide a great atmospheric and foreground element. Just make sure that the shutter speed is not too fast so you end up with dots, instead of nice soft streaks.
The biggest challenge during winter is predicting the weather and protecting the gear, and that is what was this article focused on. However, in the second part of this article, we will tackle the challenge of shooting in certain scenarios in winter, some tips and tricks for better shots and so forth. Remember, winter can be harsh on your gear – you can get it damaged quite faster than you expected, therefore it is imperative that you’re extremely careful with it. Stay safe, and stay tuned for the second part.