It’s Cold Outside: Winter Photography Tips

How to keep you and your gear going to make magical images of the season

Winter photography can be very rewarding. Images of subjects blanketed in snow, skeletal deciduous trees with eerie shapes and form, clouds of exhaled carbon dioxide implying frigid temperatures and locations with no crowds all await the eager image maker. Early-morning and late-evening sun that glistens off newly formed ice crystals shines like diamonds in the snow. No crowds means you have the place all to yourself. Sounds perfect, so grab your gear and get outside. But before you venture off to capture these winter opportunities, there are some precautions and technical considerations to consider. 

Layer Up

My first layer is a pair of fleece or polypropylene long johns. If I begin to sweat, these materials wick the moisture away from my body so I don’t get chilled. Layer two is another fleece garment that has a front zipper so I can control how much body warmth I need to keep in or let out. On very cold days, a fleece vest is added to the mix. My most recent purchase is a battery-powered heated vest. I carry a spare battery in case it stays cold and I need to crank up the heat. The length of the charge is dependent upon the temp setting. The higher the temp, the shorter the charge. The battery pack fits into a special small pocket. On the medium and high settings, I can actually feel the heat. It’s highly recommended if you plan to get into cold weather photography.

My outer most layer has a wind blocking exterior and is water resistant. For my hands, I use a pair of heated glove liners that allow me to use the controls of the camera. They are powered by small battery packs that fit into the cuff of the glove. I recommend you carry an extra set of batteries. On top of these I use a pair of fold-back fingerless mittens into which I place a hand warmer if it gets super cold. My feet are protected with heated fleece socks and good hiking boots. Again, carry an extra set of batteries. Most importantly, I wear a good hat to prevent a loss of heat through my head. My jacket also has a thermal hood for added wind and cold protection.

Camera Gear

Make sure you have a freshly charged battery in addition to a couple of backups. The spare batteries should be kept close to your body to keep them warm. Don’t keep them in an outside pocket as the cold will slowly drain power from the cells. Turn the meter off if you’re not using the camera. This helps conserve precious battery power. Refrain from looking at every image on the LCD as this consumes energy. With regards to your tripod, wrap foam pipe insulation around the top part of the legs to prevent the transfer of cold to your hands. If you know you’ll encounter deep snow and don’t want your tripod to sink, snowshoe-like adapters can be purchased that strap onto the feet. They resemble the basket part of a ski pole and provide a platform for the tripod. I highly recommend them.

Get Creative

Cold weather means snow. Snow often means flat light, but it also provides an opportunity to add interest to the image. Use slow shutter speeds to exaggerate the streaking lines as it falls. This tells a story about the weather and gives the viewer an indication of what you endured. To arrest the descending flakes, use a fast shutter speed along with a higher ISO. Avoid using flash. It will illuminate the flakes directly in front of the lens and appear as undesirable, bright white blobs.

Stay warm and make some great images this season!

To learn more about this subject, join me on a photo safari to Tanzania. Visit www.russburdenphotography.com to get more information.

Photography is what motivates me to move through life in a positive way. Photography is All About The Light and it’s the first thing I seek out before I press the shutter. Optimally, I pursue great subjects in great light, but if there’s an ordinary subject in great light, I still press the shutter. I love to share the photographic knowledge I’ve accumulated and I hope my enthusiasm is contagious so I can motivate others to feel the same way I do about my photography.