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 Camera Care in Freezing Cold Weather | Digital Photography Hints
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Camera Care in Freezing Cold Weather

Posted by Matt on November 25th, 2007 filed in Camera Care, Digital Photography Hints & Tips, Outdoor Photography

For those of us in the northern hemisphere, winter is rapidly approaching and with it great opportunities for outdoor, snow filled photographs, or dramatic, contrasting skies. Beautiful. Taking photos in freezing conditions requires some care and preparation, to ensure that your camera works well and isn’t damaged, and you stay warm.

Ice Hotel, Kiruna by Matt Hobbs
Ice Hotel, Kiruna – by Matt Hobbs

Before Going Out in the Cold

Many people worry that taking your camera out into the cold is immediately a bad thing, in fact it’s bringing a cold camera back into the warm that is most risky as we’ll explain later. What you need to do before you go outside to take snowy, ice photos is get prepared to keep yourself and your camera warm, and to ensure your camera works continuously to take photos. Here are some pointers:


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  1. Take a spare battery out with you: Batteries don’t like cold weather! You’ll find when using your camera outside that the battery life disappears in a fraction of the time it normally would. So take a spare battery out with you, making sure both batteries are fully charged. Then when you’re shooting keep the spare battery warm in a pocket close to your body (but not near metal objects!) – if your camera gets cold and it looks like the battery has run out of charge, just swap the warm battery in and put the poor, cold battery in your pocket to warm up. You’ll find very quickly that the cold battery finds some more charge. The reason for this is that batteries rely on a chemical reaction to generate electricity, and being cold stops that reaction from happening.
  2. Take a camera bag and thick, plastic bags: When you come back inside you need to stop condensation forming on your, now cold, camera. A camera bag and plastic bags will help with this, and the bag will help keep your camera warm while you’re walking around not using it.
  3. Warm clothes and hot drinks for you: While you’re taking care of your camera, don’t forget to keep yourself warm. There’s nothing worse than waiting for that perfect light and getting progressively colder – it won’t help your judgement and you may give up before you get the shot you want. A warm hat, without a brim, is best – as the brim can interfere with looking through the viewfinder. Also consider getting fingerless gloves, with quick covering mittens to let you make adjustments as needed.

Ice on St Lawrence River by Matt Hobbs
Ice on St Lawrence River – by Matt Hobbs

Shooting Outside in the Cold

So now you’re outside – and it’s cold. Freezing in fact! Now the important thing is to keep both yourself and your camera as warm as possible, without changing its temperature too rapidly. So follow these hints and tips to maximise your photographing enjoyment:

  1. Keep your camera inside your clothes until needed: By keeping your camera inside your jacket you help keep it warm, but not too warm. Then when you’ve decided on the shot to take, bring out your camera and shoot away. The battery should be nice, warm and working. Then when you’ve finished shooting, put your camera back under your jacket. This may not be best if you’re walking around taking candid outdoor shots of people, so in that case try and keep your hands warm in your pockets at least with your camera round your neck.
  2. Don’t breathe on your camera lens: You may normally breathe onto your lens to try and clean it, but avoid this trick in freezing weather as it will smear much more than usual and may freeze solid. Ice on your lens or camera is just water waiting to un-freeze when you get back inside. So on the same note be careful if it’s snowing heavily. Just use a dry, link free cloth to wipe off moisture as it turns up. You may even want to consider getting a waterproofing plastic case for your SLR when you take it outside.

Iced Branch by Matt Hobbs
Iced Branch – by Matt Hobbs

Bringing a Cold Camera Inside Safely

Now you’ve taken your shots and they’re beautiful, high contrast on a snowy backdrop. Time has come to get back inside to a warm cup of hot chocolate. This is the time to be most careful as you can easily damage your camera from moisture. Follow these hints to try and minimize the changes of damage:

  1. Wrap the camera in a thick plastic bag outside your home: The biggest risk is that when you go inside your warm home, the higher levels of moisture in the air will condense onto your now freezing camera body – not only on the outside, but also inside the lens, body and anywhere else air can get in. This condensation can cause extreme damage. Sealing your camera in a thick plastic bag, maybe even inside your camera bag, means that you have closed it in with the less moist air from outside and now it has a chance to warm up safely. Try and keep the bag as air tight as possible.
  2. Warm the camera slowly: Your home may have rooms at different temperatures, all warmer than outside. Bring your camera in and leave it in a cooler, un-heated room for a while until it has reached room temperature. Now move it, still sealed in its plastic bag, into the warmer part of the house. This process may take a while, especially with bigger SLR cameras with metal bodies.

Now you should be ready to take beautiful outdoor pictures with less risk to your camera. Happy snow snapping!


3 Responses to “Camera Care in Freezing Cold Weather”

  1. Camera Battery Life: Extending During Use | Digital Photography Hints & Tips Says:

    [...] Keep your batteries warm: Batteries work best at normal room temperature, so shooting outside in the cold will not only tire you rapidly, but will also reduce the chemical energy available in your camera and hence its usable life. If you have multiple batteries keep swapping them round and keep one in your trouser pocket near your body warmth (making sure to keep contacts covered and away from keys/change!). Otherwise try and keep your camera inside your coat while not taking photos. See Using your Camera in Cold Weather. [...]

  2. Stephen Says:

    What about using handwarmers or using rice heated up in a microwave for 10 seconds and putting it ina shirt pocket or in a camera bag. please e-mail the answer to me.

    Thank you.

  3. Matt Says:

    Handwarmers are a great idea for keeping you and your hands warm as you go round taking photos. For your camera you have to be careful to not mix moisture and rapid changes in temperature, so if the handwarmer has dry heat it should be OK.

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