Wick Communications

Shooting in the cold

In Photography on January 15, 2010 at 9:39 am

(Mat-Su Frontiersman photographer Robert DeBerry answered my call for tips to cold-weather photography. I know it’s still frigid in parts of the country. Here, Robert — a veteran of shooting outdoors in Alaska — tells us how to deal with the cold and still bring back award-winning images. The key, not surprisingly, is a little forethought. Oh, that’s his image above — of kids looking in their ice-fishing hole. Brrr. – Clay)

Being a cold-weather photographer has its challenges outside of proper exposure from the snow, sharpness of photos due to uncontrollable shaking from the cold or lack of light in the winter. The biggest problems that you face are battery power and gear fogging up when you come from outside to inside.

There are ways to combat both of these problems but you won’t always win so be prepared if you can by planning ahead.

For instance two years ago I went from a fall season football game straight into a state swimming meet. My gear fogged up so bad it was a good 45 minutes before the lenses were usable. By then I had missed the diving round and was not happy. Last year when I knew I would be covering state swimming again I packed two cameras. One crappy point and shoot just in case things went haywire again. Luckily they did not but if they had I could have used the point and shoot to get people up close prepping for their meet or coaches giving advice while my gear warmed up…

Let’s tackle the problem of gear fogging up. When you are shooting outside in cold weather then go inside your glass on the lens will fog. Only time will fix this. You gear has to warm up. Being in Alaska, I have to worry about this a lot so I carry a 50mm lens that I rarely use so when this does happen I can revert to that lens inside. I mostly use an 80-200 lens for sports and a 17-35 for everything else. My 50 mm gets used mostly for portraits and close ups so it is usually in my bag or in the car.

Back to beating the cold. I also buy a lot of hand warmers. If I am shooting outdoors and know I will be going indoors I will crack those hand warmers open and rubber band them around my lens inside my bag so at least when I am not using a certain lens it can be warming up a little while in the bag. I do this during the Iditarod because I find keeping warmers handy not only helps with the lenses but also the batteries.

Also, If I am driving from an outdoor shoot to an indoor shoot, I will crank the heat in the car and open my bag on the floor boards and direct all my heat down to the floor. This will usually solve any fogging problems before I get to the shoot. Outside of carrying extra gear and planning ahead, there is not a lot you can do. If fogging does occur, look for a heater to set your gear on. This can speed things up.

Also If I am shooting outside and need to go inside for a bathroom break or just to warm up, I put my gear in the car. No need to keep going from a cold area to a warm area then back.

Now, batteries. This is a nightmare because once your batteries start to go everything else seems to go with it. Shutter speeds, recycle time for flash etc. There are two ways you can do this.

One is to use a rechargeable battery pack where the battery pack is in you pocket and connected to your camera. You have to have a camera that supports this system. And be willing to spend the money on the pack. I am not, so I use Option 2.

Option 2 and a more realistic way is to carry two or three sets of batteries and PUT THEM IN YOUR POCKETS. Preferably, a pocket close to your body not an outside coat pocket. Then throw a hand warmer in for good measure. When shooting the Iditarod I carry four camera batteries and three sets of flash batteries. I do the same with these as with the lenses. I wrap them with hand warmers. This keeps the warm and ready to be used. I then try to switch batteries every half hour or so just to keep everything warm and functioning.

Bottomline, be prepared. Plan ahead and carry extra gear.

Robert DeBerry

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