Tips for Shooting in the Extreme Cold

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Winter has finally taken over, and it’s very cold out there. Ice flows with nowhere to go, and there’s not enough coffee to warm you. Some of us would see this as an opportunity to stay inside with a book–not that that’s a bad thing. Others feel the call of photography. The call to go out and freeze their buts off to get those unique shots that only the cold can bring. Cold can be a stimulant, a challenge to your photography. It’s no use though if you’re out there, hands and camera trembling, and your face feels like wood, dry and cracked.

Here are some tips to deal with the extreme cold.

Why Shoot in the Cold?

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It’s about the adventure of it, even in your own backyard. The freezing cold leads to some interesting situations: streets can be cleared out or have very little people or traffic on them. Taking your photography into the cold gives you the opportunity to see and shoot something different.

Get Your Gear Ready for the Cold

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When it’s cold outside, you can’t just take your gear from a warm a comfortable place to a freezing one. There is the possibility that fog can descend on your lens or sensor. Basically, you need to let your camera sit in the cold for a few moments before you use it. The other thing is to choose your gear wisely. Be a minimalist and choose one lens that will do everything you want. Changing a lens in the freezing cold may not be the best idea.

Having a small easy-access bag is key, as you may need to put the camera away at times. Overall, it’s good to be prepared. If you are working with a tripod, make sure you never touch it with your bare hands if it’s been out in the extreme cold for a while. The temperature of the tripod can be so cold that it can damage your skin. Tripod leg wraps are recommended, as they will help protect your hands and provide extra padding.

Batteries Act Weird in the Cold

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Not all technology reacts well to the cold. While you are freezing up, batteries seem to freeze down. They magically lose power faster in the cold. It’s not that they’re actually losing power, it’s that they are so cold that the energy can’t flow. The key to fixing this dilemma is simple: carry extra batteries. And don’t keep the batteries in your bag. Rather, keep them in a pocket close to your body, as this will keep them warm. As soon as a battery seems to run out of power, replace it with a warm one and put the cold one back in your pocket to warm it up again. You will get extra shooting time this way.

Dress in Warm Clothes

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It seems like common sense, but this has to be said. When you’re a photographer outdoors, no matter what you do, you have to dress like you’re going to be out in the cold for a long time. Wear layers, multiple socks, warm boots, and insulated gloves. There will be times when you are standing still, trying to compose the perfect shot, and the wind will rip through, decimating your spirit. No matter how strong you are or if you are built like a moose, the cold can be a brutal pain. In certain conditions, it only takes a few minutes to develop frostbite on exposed body parts. Insulated gloves and winter face masks should be essential for photography in freezing conditions.

Know Where Your Warm Oasis Is

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When you’re shooting in the extreme cold, identify a safe place to warm up. If you have a car, this can be your place of refuge. It’s mobile and can hold your gear. Otherwise, locate a coffee shop near your shooting location before you head out (provided you’re shooting anywhere near one.)

 Try Not to be Alone

If you can, have a friend with you. Having a person to either photo walk with you or just be there as company is a good way to be safe in the cold. If you do go out alone, make sure your phone is charged and that you have a wired earpiece. They work better in the cold and it is one less battery to worry about. Staying in contact with your friends and family will help you out if you get in trouble.

 Think First, Shoot Later

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Pre-visualize your shots if you can, since having a cold camera at your eye can be uncomfortable. Also, staying still for too long can make you even colder. Keep moving as much as you can. Keep your shots simple and clean. There is no need to be too fancy. Just let things happen. In the freezing cold, subjects may be few and far in between. If you happen to be working in town on a busy workday, stay out of people’s way. Let them get to where they need to go.

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Gevon Servo

Gevon Servo aka @GServo is an eclectic, NJ/NY Photographer. He’s a Nikon shooter, by choice nevertheless, will always test any piece of photography equipment. He believes that like ‘Photography’, ‘Coffee’,’Beer’ and ‘Comics Books’ and other things ‘Geek’ “You must try everything once to discover what you want to try again.