Welcome to (The Occasional) Photo Tip of the Day! Please also visit my main site jeffwignall.com. Text and photographs Copyright 2016 Jeff Wignall.

“The best way out is always through.”

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Top 10 Cold Weather Shooting (and Survival) Tips

This past Sunday it went down to -25F in several parts of Connecticut and those temps are no joke—not only can they cause your camera to give up the ghost—they can put your life at risk. But you can only shoot so many photos of the big blizzard from your living room window, eventually you have to open the door and venture forth. Cold can wear on your batteries and your camera and it can be downright dangerous—very dangerous and I know about that firsthand. There’s no need to risk life and lens, however, and there are lots of clever ways to keep both you and your equipment warm. Here are my top 10 ways to stay warm and keep your camera operating when you’re out there shooting in this winter’s extremely cold weather. Please forward this posting to any friends in cold areas--and you have my permission to print it and hand it out. This has been the worst winter I can remember for years and I don't think there is enough being said about staying safe. Most of what's here is for your camera--but there are tips for keeping you (and a few stray cats) alive, too.

1.  Stop using the LCD. Reviewing and composing on the LCD just eats up battery power, so try to use the peephole viewfinder (if you have one) and limit your use of the LCD to briefly reviewing important shots and occasionally checking the histogram. And don't idly zoom the lens in and out on a zoom camera--zooming uses up a lot of battery power.

2.  Check your battery levels before you leave home. Heading into the field with a half-charged battery is kind of self defeating.

3.  If you’ll be using lots of fill-flash, bring an accessory unit. They typically run on AA batteries and Lithiums last much longer in cold weather. Also, you can stash the flash in an inside pocket and keep the batteries and the flash warmer. 

4.  Shut the camera off! If you’re not using it, shut if off and put the battery in your pocket.

5. Lithium Batteries: Speaking of batteries, the consensus among both makers and users is that non-rechargeable Lithium batteries handle cold best. Energizer claims theirs last up to 8x longer, have a 15-year storage life and operate down to -40F (and up to +140F). If it’s colder than -40 (or hotter than 140F) where you are, don’t go out. Energizer Ultimate Lithium Batteries, AA, 4-Count

6.  Limit your video shooting. Again, continuous video recording drains batteries very fast, so unless it’s important, wait for a warmer day.

7.  Wear a wool scarf. A wool scarf will not only keep your neck warm, but if you wrap it around your face, it will prevent another winter annoyance: condensation on cold viewfinder peepholes or LCD screens. The scarf constrains your hot air (so to speak). Mom told you you’d need this—and she was right! Check out www.llbean.com (like you needed an excuse).

8.   Tell people where you’re going and when you’ll be back--and keep your cell phone charged. Seems like silly and obvious advice, I know, but in the past several weeks in Connecticut there have been several reports of people being found dead—frozen to death—within sight of their homes. Tragic. In Connecticut--not Alaska or North Dakota. Frozen to death. Years ago I got stranded on a sandbar (the tide came in behind me and I was too busy shooting the sunset to notice) and I nearly didn’t make it back to shore. I’ll tell you that story in one of my next postings. It was even scarier than it sounds. And it wasn't the first time I got stranded in winter in a bad situation--both times it was entirely my fault. 
     If you go out to your car at night to get something, bring your house key. If the door locks behind you and you have forgotten the key, you're in deep trouble. You might have five minutes or less to save your own life. Ever try to wake a neighbor at 1 a.m on a cold January night? Carry your cell phone in your yard and driveway--always. (I fell one night taking the garbage out and had I been hurt, that might have been the last night I took garbage out.) If you live in a remote rural area, consider buying a satellite GPS unit--I'll blog about one of those tomorrow.  Not cheap, but $500 might save your life and they go well beyond cell range. DeLorme Earthmate PN-60W Portable GPS Navigator with SPOT Satellite Communicator

9.  Carry hand warmers. Those little chemical hand warmers you see at the check-out register really do work! Says my friend Alaskan photographer Ron Niebrugge: “I keep an extra battery in my pocket with a warmer and then rotate as needed. "  And for extreme cold he suggests securing one to the base of your camera with a rubber band.  Buy extras and give them to the guy that delivers your paper or leave some in your mailbox for the mailperson. Mail them to your kids or grandchildren at college. Hand them out to homeless people (don't just think about doing that, do it--God will reward you). On bitterly cold nights, put a few under a towel for the stray cat that lives in your garage or barn. Hand warmers are cheap--buy a case or two--they have a very long shelf life. HeatMax Hot Hands 2 Handwarmer (40 pairs)

10.  Bring a thermos of coffee of tea. There’s nothing like a creature comfort when you’re out photographing winter creatures—or just shooting the sunset. Many years ago my parents bought me a couple of beautiful stainless steel thermos bottles at Christmas and they still look brand new. I have one tall one for tea and a wide-mouth one for soup. Thermos Nissan 34-Ounce Stainless-Steel Bottle with Folding Handle


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Jeff Wignall said...

Yes, feel free to reproduce it!



Jill Wellington said...

Jeff, these are IMPORTANT tips! Twice this winter, I've gotten my van stuck..once in mud and another time in snow. It is a helpless feeling to be stuck and potentially deadly in the winter! I really enjoy reading your blog.