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This article was written by the New York Institute of Photography, America’s oldest and largest photography school. NYI provides professional-level training via home study for photographers who want to give their images a professional look, and perhaps earn extra income with their camera.
How Should I Handle My Camera in Cold Weather?
©Tammie Rawlings - NYI Student
'Tis the season, and we're getting lots of letters from NYI students and other Northern Hemisphere Web visitors about taking photos in cold weather. There are lots of great photo opportunities out there whether your idea of a good time is ice fishing, snow shoeing or just plain walking in the winter wonderland. You just need to get out there and take the proper steps.
The letters we get reveal that the proper steps to protect your camera are often confused in people's minds. Here's an e-mail we got recently from a photographer in Ontario, Canada, that is typical: "I am happily snapping away, but having a bit of a problem keeping my camera warm and unfrozen in our cold, blustery weather. If I carry it bundled under my coat, should I keep it in a plastic bag (I read about this somewhere) to prevent condensation? Any suggestions?"
Okay. You asked. Here are the facts and the answers to all the basic camera tips regarding cold weather.
The problem with lots of tips about cold weather photography is that they get out of sequence. Here's why. There are really three different scenarios to consider: First, what to do when you take your camera from a warm, cozy home or car into the bitter cold outside. Second, what to do when you're shooting pictures outside in the cold. Third, what to do when you finally bring your freezing camera back into that warm cozy house or car.
Okay. First, what should you do when you bring your warm camera outside? Do you have to worry about moisture condensing from the cold air onto the warm surface of the lens or the film or the electronics? No. Cold air has low moisture content. There's little or no condensation when you go outside into the cold. (As we'll discuss, this becomes a problem when you go back inside.)
So what's the problem? The main problem is loss of battery power!
The chemistry and physics of how batteries generate electrical energy
means that at very low temperatures all batteries lose power. They're
just not as efficient. This is a particularly serious problem with today's
auto-everything cameras that are totally dependent on battery power. So,
when you take your camera and strobe out into the cold, you should anticipate
a loss of battery power. How do you prepare for this?
First, by keeping the camera and strobe (and their batteries) as warm as possible, even outdoors. To do this, when you go outdoors, carry them close to your body, for example, under your coat. Let them share your body warmth except for those brief moments when you are actually taking a picture. (Keeping your camera warm this way will also minimize the possibility of a manual shutter sticking because its lubricant freezes.)
The second way you prepare for the expected loss of battery power in the cold is to bring spare batteries with you when you go outside. And keep these spares close to your body too; for example, in a shirt pocket where they will also benefit from your body heat. Then, if your camera (or flash) batteries start to fail, you can insert warm fresh batteries.
You're outside now. What should you do differently because of the cold?
Your objective is to continue to try to keep the camera and strobe as
warm as possible. For example, let's say you're staked out waiting for
wildlife to appear over yonder hill. Set up your tripod, but if possible
keep your camera under your coat until you're ready to shoot. Here's
where a quick-release head comes in handy. When you see your quarry,
pop the camera onto the tripod quickly and quietly. An ice-cold tripod
will still do its job, but an ice-cold camera is likely to fail.
What other problem bedevils the photographer in the cold (other than
frozen fingers and runny nose)? Static electricity. If you live anywhere
in the North, you know the problem during the winter - if you walk
on a carpet, you may get a shock when you shake hands or touch a doorknob.
Realize that static electricity is a problem only when the humidity
is low. And cold weather means low humidity because cold air cannot
hold much moisture. When you use your camera outdoors in the cold,
therefore, you risk creating a buildup of static electricity when
you advance the film (this is the equivalent of walking on that carpet)
and when the buildup is sufficient a spark may flash inside your camera,
fogging the film. While this is rare, it does happen. We've seen it
and the results ruin the affected photographs. How can you minimize
this possibility in cold weather? Advance your film carefully. With
a manual camera, advance the film slowly. With an autowind camera,
shoot only one frame at a time.
|© 2003 |New
York Institute of Photography