Photographing in winter is not everyone’s favorite, but winter is a season where you can take the most beautiful photos. From landscapes that change into a snowy winter wonderland to the beautiful soft light that can only make you very happy as a photographer. But the cold and possibly snow are also a major challenge. Both for yourself and for your camera equipment. That’s why I share my best winter photography tips for photographing in the cold in this blog.
Winter photography: 6 tips for photographing in the cold
Although I’m not a fan of the cold at all, winter is secretly one of my favorite seasons to photograph. I like to travel to Scandinavia in the winter and it’s a real treat to walk around there with my camera every day. That beautiful soft light, photographing all kinds of outdoor activities, the dancing northern lights and of course the snowy landscapes. During these winter trips through Scandinavia I photographed in temperatures as low as -25°C. This taught me what is important when photographing in winter. Because during my first winter trip I was a little less prepared than I am today. I had cold feet in no time and my fingers were seriously sore from the cold within a few minutes. Something that happened not only by wearing the wrong clothes, but also by taking photographs in the wrong way. Luckily we were close to our camper van at the time and the heater was on so I could warm up quickly, but otherwise it can be really dangerous. You can become hypothermic and suffer from frostbite.
#1 Dress warmly and use layers
The most important thing when photographing in the cold is that you stay warm. Especially if you are going to photograph in areas where the temperature can drop well below freezing, it’s important to dress warmly. This prevents you from possibly suffering from frostbite or hypothermia, which is a serious risk in extremely cold temperatures. The most effective way when it comes to clothing is to work with layers and use insulating materials. My basic setup usually looks like this:
- Icebreaker thermoshirt en onderbroek (merino wool)
- Icebreaker Hike+ Heavy Crew socks (merino wool)
- Fjällräven lined hiking pants
- The North Face Fleece sweater
- Fjällräven lightweight insulated jacket (wool)
- Patagonia beanie or Barts bomber hat
- Sorel Torino winter boots
If it’s really extremely cold I can add extra layers, for example by putting on an extra sweater and thin pants under the outer layer or by putting on an extra thick down jacket. What I sometimes also do is put my hard shell jacket on over my other jacket. This one is not necessarily very warm (although mine does have a three-layer system), but it’s windproof and waterproof. Raindrops roll off your jacket through the impregnation layer instead of being absorbed. And that is important, because cold in combination with wet clothing is really not a good combination. Fortunately, there is less moisture in snow, but even when it’s snowing or the wind is blowing hard, a hard shell over your insulating jacket can certainly be a welcome addition.
#2 Photography gloves
Warm gloves are also a must when photographing in winter, but I mention these separately because there are also special photography gloves (or also suitable as photography gloves). Depending on the temperature they have to meet, they are a bit thinner so that you can still operate the buttons on your camera, or they are a bit thicker and equipped with touchscreen controls or fingertips that you can fold open. This is great, because otherwise you have to take your hands out of the gloves every time you want to take photos. Your hands will then be cold in no time and they will not simply be warm again as soon as you put your hand back in the glove. This is because your body’s first response to cold will be to protect vital organs such as your heart and lungs by keeping them as warm as possible. This is at the expense of blood flow to the rest of your body and you will feel this first, especially at the ends such as toes and fingers. So you prefer to just leave them in the glove while taking photos. Investing in a pair of warm photography gloves is definitely recommended! My glove set-up usually looks like this:
- The North Face Etip (liner)
- The North Face Apex Etip (dikkere handschoen)
- The Heat Company Shell (Shell)
I personally really like wearing the Etip gloves from The North Face. They have a good fit, are available in different thicknesses and are therefore suitable for different temperatures and the touchscreen control that I sometimes use for my phone works very well. I also bought the shell from The Heat Company. You put this over your liner when it’s really cold outside. The advantage of this shell is that you can open the fingertips, so you don’t have to take off the entire mitten when taking photos. You can also put a hand warmer on top for extra warmth. The shell is an investment, but I bought it after the first winter and have not regretted it for a moment!
#3 Take warm stuff with you
Are you going outside for longer or do you even have plans to take a serious – perhaps multi-day – hike or camping trip where you want to take photos? Make sure you have things with you that you can use to warm yourself up. Consider, for example, a jetboil so that you can make a cup of tea or a hot meal, extra hand warmers and heated insoles for your gloves and perhaps even an electric blanket that you can take with you charged or something to start a fire when you go camping.
#4 Extra batteries
Batteries cannot withstand the cold well and therefore run out much faster than normal. This applies to your camera, but also to your phone, for example. Therefore, take extra batteries (and possibly a power bank) with you and carry them and your phone as close to your body as possible. This way, batteries are least affected by the cold and last longer.
#5 Plan your photo trips
One of the main mistakes I made during my first time shooting in extremely cold temperatures was not properly preparing for the trip and therefore taking different lenses with me to change. Changing lenses not only increases the risk of condensation in your camera and lenses, but you are also more likely to take off your gloves before the operation. And as mentioned earlier, that is a very bad idea if it’s really cold outside. Your hands will be cold in no time and you can’t just get them warm again so easy. Therefore, plan your winter photo trips well and consider which lens you want to use so that you do not have to unnecessarily change lenses outside.
#6 Prevent condensation on camera and lenses
I just mentioned it briefly, but in the last tip I want to go into more detail about the risk of condensation within the camera and lenses. Condensation occurs when moisture in the air comes into contact with a cold surface. The advantage of really cold winters is that there is less moisture in cold air and condensation will therefore be less of a problem than at temperatures around freezing point. However, it’s always good to pay extra attention when taking photos in the winter. Moisture can be really disastrous for your camera gear, especially if moisture gets inside the camera or lens. It can cause malfunctions and mold formation, but it can also seriously affect image quality or even permanently damage your camera or lens. Therefore, try to prevent this by changing lenses as little or preferably not as possible outside, otherwise doing this quickly and sheltered from rain/snow, and by first letting your camera get used to the outside temperature. You can do this by first taking the camera and lenses outside in a camera bag instead of directly on a camera strap around your neck or shoulder. The transition in temperature is then slightly less extreme. This helps prevent condensation on the inside.
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