Shooting Digital Photos And Video In The Cold

[Paul Ludington] Although some people move west to avoid the severely cold winter (mentioning no-one in particular—JAKE!), we Iowans are bracing ourselves for more freezing rain and days of sub-zero (Fahrenheit) temperatures. The coming storm reminded me that now would be a good time to cover some of the basics of shooting digital photos and video in the cold. Whether you want to take pictures of your kids building a snowman or a movie of a friend performing tricks on a snowboard, you need to follow some basic rules when braving the outdoors in winter.

Let your camera adjust to the cold temperature before using it.
Although going into the cold from warmer temperatures is not as hard on equipment as the other way around, you still need to let your camera become acclimated. As with the lenses on eyeglasses, camera lenses can fog up with condensation when going from warm to cold, leaving you with smears that ruin your perfect photo of a snow-covered tree. No need to worry, however, as you have a couple of good options to prevent this from happening. If you plan ahead, put your camera in a cold garage or other protected area while it is still in its camera bag prior to going outside to shoot. This will allow the camera to slowly adjust to the cold temperature and the bag will prevent condensation from forming. If you need the camera to adjust more quickly to the environment, place it in a sealable plastic bag. The moisture will form on the plastic bag allowing your camera to stay dry. So what do you do if moisture forms on your lens anyway? Your best option is to wait for it to disappear. Wiping it may create smudges or scratch your lens.
Keep your battery warm and bring a spare.
One of the biggest obstacles to using a camera in cold weather is decreased battery performance. Cold hinders the chemical reaction that allows batteries to release energy, causing your previously full battery to appear dead. Fortunately, an easy way to be prepared for this challenge is to bring along spare batteries. While you are shooting with one battery in your camera, keep the spare in an inside pocket of your jacket, next to your body, to keep it warm. When the in-use battery seems to run out of power, swap batteries to go on shooting. Make sure you put the original battery in your jacket to warm it, as you will need to rotate the batteries in and out of use. If you have an audience of friends with you, this is your chance to amaze them with your body’s magical ability to recharge batteries.
Make adjustments for bright snow.
Winter provides many inspiring artistic opportunities with landscapes covered by freshly fallen snow. Unfortunately, most digital still and digital video cameras do not deal well with large, bright areas of white. Many times the cameras auto-adjust to compensate for the white of the snow and end up leaving parts of your image underexposed and your fresh snow grey. Some manufacturers have anticipated this problem and include an option for snow and surf on their cameras. If you are lucky enough to have this feature, select it to allow your camera to make the necessary adjustments for you. For cameras without an automatic snow setting built-in, you can compensate for the bright white by manually tweaking the exposure on your camera. You will want the camera’s exposure values to overexpose the image slightly in order to return the underexposed snow to a natural color. Glare can also be a problem in snowy scenes but can be overcome with the use of polarizing filters. If you don’t have a polarizing filter handy but have a pair of polarizing sunglasses, try shooting through the sunglasses to achieve a glare-free photo.
Wear thin gloves and warm clothing.
Putting on warm clothing before going out into the cold seems pretty obvious but is important nonetheless. You should dress in layered clothing that will allow you to be comfortable for the duration of your shoot. Gloves are extremely important during cold weather shoots, as your hands will be touching metal camera parts. Remember when you were a kid and stuck your tongue on the metal flagpole? Your hands will easily stick to metal on the camera if they aren’t protected. Thin gloves work the best for accessing small buttons while adjusting your camera settings.
Seal your camera before going back inside.
Going back inside from the cold presents a challenge to your camera as well. The warm humid air inside a house will cause condensation to form outside and possibly inside your camera. To prevent this from happening, use the plastic bag trick again by placing your camera in a sealed plastic bag before returning indoors. Your camera may still develop some condensation, so you will need to allow your camera to sit and dry out for a few hours before using it again.