With some proper care and handling you can bring your camera outside to shoot even in the harshest conditions. From frozen landscapes to frozen waterfalls, there are numerous winter scenes that are just waiting to be photographed with your creative eye. Winter also provides an uncluttered canvas of unique possibilities due to its inherent harshness and lack of crowds. Far less people go outside in the winter making it easier to position for that ultimate landscape image of fresh snow.
Whether it’s the combination of frozen ice alongside the motion of moving water, glowing reflections of light on blowing and hard crystallized snow during the golden hour or unblemished grand landscapes after a fresh snowfall, for me there is a magic that happens in the winter and I feel compelled to photograph it!
I am fortunate to live at the edge of a wilderness area in Colorado at an elevation of 10,600ft. I greatly enjoy getting outside in the wintertime pursuing both mountaineering and photographic interest. Winters here are bitter and hard on not only human beings, but also on electronics or equipment of any type. Unfortunately, I have learned the hard way destroying several cameras during my early adventures, to take precautions to protect my equipment. Needless to say, due to experience and learned handling techniques, my camera equipment lasts a lot longer these days.
It isn't really the cold that negatively impacts your camera equipment, it is the abrupt change in conditions your equipment experiences when you leave the warmth that impacts it the most. For this reason I have camera bags that both clasp and zip. The zip closes the camera equipment in the case buffering it from the abrupt changes in conditions. This way, I can transport the equipment to the car or trunk and to the location, giving it plenty of time for the temperature to gradually adjust to the shooting temperature. Upon arriving on location I many times allow additional time for the temperature to equalize in the bag. When I pull the camera out for use, no fogging.
I have found that putting your equipment bag on the ground for equipment changes in the winter can be problematic. Snow tends to blow or fall in to open areas and a nice layer adheres to your bag upon liftoff. Because of this, I have evolved into using packs, bags and lens cases that remain attached to me as I work from them. This also minimizes exposure to the extreme conditions eliminating bending over and removing of gloves. Additionally, I connect gloves and hats to my body with leashes to avoid losing them in high wind.
Speaking of high wind, I use tripods a lot for maximum sharpness and depth of field, it’s important to manage your equipment on a tripod in high wind vigilantly! There is nothing like the experience of watching a tripod and equipment head for the ground after the wind blows it over a cliff in front of you and there is nothing you can do but watch. It’s an excruciating feeling… guess how I learned that one? It taught me to always bring a stuffed sack to hang weight from the center column of the tripod high wind or not. Even with this addition, I’ll add a leash to the camera or manage it closely if I experience or anticipate extreme conditions.
Getting great images in the wintertime is easier if you are comfortable. For this reason, I have acquired mountaineering clothing that keeps me comfortable even in the harshest conditions. I highly recommend buying a fleece glove, outer mitt combination for winter photography uses. You can pull your hand out of the mitt while still in the fleece liners to make adjustments and change lenses. Then reinsert hand in mitt as needed. Also, a boot and sock combination that will keep your feet dry and warm during long periods of standing around. Finally, a thermos full of warm liquid and a snack accompany me everywhere. In extreme cold, it can be an attitude changer!
Many camera stores sell camera coats to protect your equipment in wet weather. Get one of these if you live in or will be traveling to an area that is known for wetness and humidity. In Colorado, it is dry even when it’s cold and snowing, so I bring a simple cloth with me to wipe moisture off equipment if it accumulates. I always use a hood on my lenses to prevent snow or rain from landing on the front element and resulting in a blur or dark blur spot on the image. I check my front element regularly and keep it clear and clean.
Is it snowing outside? it is here. Anybody can pick up a camera and go shoot a pretty flower in the summer time. It takes inspiration, preparation and tenacity to photograph in the winter! So next snow day, get your camera equipment along with these tips, dress up warm and go make some incredible winter images outside! You’ll be thrilled the first time you see incredible winter images on your monitor, while at the same time, warm and toasty inside. It’s a very rewarding experience that keeps me going back for more! Enjoy your photographic passion!