Think about all of your equipment and be sure it’s ready for the cold. For outer garments, consider what looks good in a photograph in case you want to show a person in the shot. Winter photography is multitasking at its best.
Over the past two decades, I’ve accumulated three years’ worth of time in an unheated tent in the Arctic, including about six months at temperatures from -40° F to -65° F. Cold is no stranger. I’ve fared pretty well—I still have 10 fingers and 10 toes, and I’ve only suffered one mild case of frostbite, when I squeezed a peanut butter sandwich too tightly while eating it. The reduced circulation caused some frostbite in my index finger, but it soon healed. My gear has fared well in the cold, too.
There’s no magic bullet to successful cold-weather photography. It’s about the right equipment and attention to detail. If you’re just going out for a winter walk or day hike, you can keep your camera warm in your jacket or switch batteries to keep them warm. But if you’re living in the cold for weeks at a time, your equipment has to endure the conditions. Not every piece of gear can.
Energizer Lithium Batteries
Batteries. The secret of portable power in winter is lithium batteries, but not just any lithium batteries. Most rechargeable lithium-ion batteries die in the cold. Fortunately, non-rechargeable Energizer lithium AAs work even when the mercury freezes. They power all my accessories: Nikon Speedlight SB-800 flashes, the PocketWizards I use for self-timed expedition imagery, even my Petzl DUO LED 14 headlamp and the supplementary power pack for my iPod.
In a pinch, they also can run cameras like the Nikon D300S and D700, using the optional winder. In general, I avoid electronics that can’t run off AAs.
The standard lithium-ion battery for my D300S and D700, the EN-EL3e, doesn’t work when cold, but the Nikon EN-EL4a pro battery handles even arctic temperatures. (Canon makes a similar all-season battery, the LP-E4, for the Canon EOS-1DS Mark III.) I bring enough EN-EL4as so I don’t have to worry about recharging—nine or 10 of them for a two-month expedition. If I drain them through heavier-than-usual shooting, I dip into my ample stock of lithium AAs.
Why not, you may ask, recharge a single EN-EL4a directly off a car charger that plugs into a solar panel? The 11.1-volt EN-EL4a has too much voltage for a 12-volt car-charger system. That’s why they don’t make car chargers for the EN-EL4a.
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