Winter Photography Tips

Re-posted from last winter as the first snow of 2010-11 falls outside my window….

The start of winter brings to mind a few tips for shooting in snow, cold and inclement weather in general. Let me first say though, don’t obsess and worry about your camera in wet conditions and allow it to ruin your enjoyment. Reasonable care is more than adequate. I have never used anything but consumer grade equipment (less weather resistant than “pro”), been out in hurricanes for hours, looked at the wet camera and thought “oh, brother” and have never had a problem after over six years & four D-SLR’s. My biggest problem & concern is personal comfort and keeping the lens face clear of water drops and condensation.

  • Snow scenes require a positive exposure compensation to avoid gray snow – usually an EV of +1 (more or less depending on the percentage of the scene that includes snow). Go out with your camera today and give it a try – with aperture priority, matrix metering, & zero EV your histogram will be too far to the left. Start increasing EV until the histogram is pushed pretty far toward the right. How much EV did it take? Probably about 1-full stop.
  • If the above sounds like Greek, this post should help.
  • Cold weather eats batteries. Carry at least 2 (3-4 is best if it’s well below freezing). Keep the spares near to your body – your body heat will rejuvenate a “cold battery” and so you can swap back & forth from camera to body.
  • Chemical hand-warmers are great. Besides keeping your hands warm, taping one to your camera near the battery compartment will mitigate the previous problem.
  • Wrap tripod legs if metal and not already wrapped. I have mine wrapped with foam pipe insulation – cheap at Lowe’s. It’s a big problem when your  hands touch cold metal.
  • It’s hard to change camera settings with gloves. Consider the type made for trout fishermen that allow you to uncover fingers when needed.
  • Gortex from head to toe >> hat, jacket, pants, boots and in cold weather – layers
  • Your camera needs protection from precipitation, too. The amount depends on whether you use a “pro” body or a “consumer” body (the latter for most of us, I suspect). Consider the following –
    • Using a lens hood in rain/snow helps greatly (keeps the lens face back from the elements)
    • If you’re not going to shoot for several minutes replace the lens cap. Finished shooting for now? Yes, then > check lens for water – replace lens cap – move on to next shot. Repeat.
    • Use a “rain coat” for your camera. Here’s one that’s cheap (2 for $5), effective, and works with a tripod. Unless you have a pro camera, it’s not water proof and even if the lens is dry the water may eventually cause problems – and that’s why a camera rain cover.
    • Check which direction the wind (rain/snow) is blowing and try to avoid shooting INTO the wind. If you do shoot into the wind, and often it’s unavoidable, dry the lens immediately after the shot else you’ll forget.
    • Check your lens before getting ready to shoot.
  • One last cold weather tip – if the temperature is near or below freezing take care when bringing your camera back into warm temps (house or car) as moisture will condense on AND IN the camera/lens and may cause problems (if not immediately, then later). A simple trick is to wrap a plastic bag or two (like a grocery bag) around the camera and tie it tightly so that air doesn’t get in. Leave your camera/lens in the bag until it has time to warm up to ambient temperatures. I often wrap my bagged camera in my jacket for good measure.

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