7 Things to Consider When Shooting in the Cold
Winter is one of the most magical seasons of the year—and arguably the best to stay inside for. But beyond the coziness of drinking hot chocolate while reading a book on your sofa, it’s also a great time to grab your camera and brave the outdoors.
Photography in the winter has several benefits. Fresh air is never a bad thing, and you’ll probably have large parts of where you live to yourself. And, of course, we can’t look past the beautiful shots you can capture.
Before you step outside, however, you might want to sit down for a moment and read this article. Cold weather photography requires extra preparation, and we’re going to break down the most important things to consider below.
1. Daylight Hours and Lighting
Depending on how you view it, daylight hours in the winter can be a blessing or a curse. The first benefit is that you don’t need to wake up early to catch the sunrise. On top of that, the lighting is softer during these months—especially if you live at a northerly latitude.
On the flip side, the lack of daylight hours means that you’ve got a limited window for getting the shots you want. In many parts of Europe, the sun will stay up for seven (or fewer) hours in December. And if you live in or visit the far north of Norway, Sweden, or Finland, it won’t rise at all for a few months.
Bearing in mind the daylight hours and lighting conditions, you’ll need to plan a little more carefully to make the most of your winter photography. You can also push yourself by trying a new style of photography, such as shooting cityscapes at night.
2. Protecting Your Camera and Lenses
Modern cameras are pretty robust, and many without weather sealing can work fine in temperatures down to 0ºC (32ºF). You might not encounter issues using them when the thermometer drops below that, but you’re pushing your luck if you do so.
Weather-sealing your camera and lenses can add an extra layer of security. Many camera bodies designed this way should work normally in conditions as low as -20ºC (-4ºF), which will cover you in almost every situation.
Using weather-sealed cameras and lenses can also prevent unwanted objects and particles from getting into and ruining your equipment. When shopping around, remember that weather-sealing isn’t equal across all brands; doing a little extra research will ensure you make the right decision.
3. Protect Your Fingers
Don’t let the potential of getting beautiful pictures distract you from the dangers associated with winter photography. If you don’t dress appropriately, you risk getting frostbite—especially if it’s windy.
Wearing one pair of gloves might not be enough to keep your hands warm. Depending on how cold it is, you should cover up your hands in the same way you would do to the rest of your body: with layers.
Coupling a warm pair of base layer gloves with a thicker outer layer is a great way to keep your hands toasty. We recommend buying a pair of photography gloves that let you snap your shots without needing to expose your hands; Vallerret has an extensive range to choose from.
4. Dress Appropriately
In addition to keeping your hands warm, you also need to protect the rest of your body in cold weather. A good woolly hat is non-negotiable if the temperature drops anywhere below 4ºC, and it’s also essential that you have a suitable scarf for the conditions you’re shooting in.
As for the rest of your body, layering up is crucial—though the exact amount you need to wear will depend on how cold it is. If it’s slightly below freezing, you should be good to go with warm base layers, a jumper or turtleneck, and some thick socks and shoes.
If you’re taking photos in temperatures of -15ºC and below, you’ll want to strongly consider wearing a snowsuit.
5. The Right Camera Settings
It’s a common misconception that cameras see the exact same thing that our eyes do. And when you’re out doing winter photography, you’ll need to think a bit more carefully about the settings on your camera.
In some instances, your camera might see snow as blue if you shoot at 0 or lower on the exposure meter. To make it whiter, it’s worth shooting one or two stops above—though you might also be able to change this in your post-processing software.
You might also live somewhere that has gray skies during the winter months, even if it’s technically during daylight hours. When that happens, you’ll need to increase the exposure on your camera and let more light in to compensate.
6. Camera Battery Life
Unless you’re on a lengthy photoshoot, your camera battery should be good enough to get you through the day in normal circumstances. But when the weather’s cold, it’s important to remember that your battery will drain a lot faster.
If you plan to regularly go out and take photos in these conditions, you must have one or two extra batteries so that you aren’t disrupted. Packing your charger is also a good idea.
7. Camera Shake
Camera shake is one of the most common issues that winter photographers face. Shooting in lower light often means needing to alter shutter speeds, which might result in blurrier images.
If you get cold and begin shivering, your motion will also impact the outcome of your photos. Strong winds can also make it more challenging to hold your camera straight.
Fortunately, you’ve got a couple of choices to reduce camera shake. The first is to stick your camera on a tripod. You’ll need to carefully consider the material you buy, though, as some deal with cold weather better than others.
If it’s not too cold or dark, you can also turn on your camera’s stabilization mode—beware that some models don’t have this.
Winter Photography Is Fun; Make Sure You’re Prepared
Taking photos in the winter poses a range of challenges, and you must be aware of these to stop them from ruining your fun. Cold temperatures can impact how your camera works, and shorter days mean you need to plan your photoshoots more carefully.
Of course, it’s also essential that you protect yourself. Dress appropriately and never put yourself at risk for the sake of a good picture.
This guide has given you the basics to take better pictures in cold weather. Now, where’s that camera?
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