Photography in Freezing Conditions


Today’s Question: We are heading from sunny, warm Miami to Anchorage for the week of Christmas and New Year. I have several spare batteries, a half dozen memory cards, and regular camera gear. I have read various articles about camera care in freezing conditions. I was wondering what steps you took. Is it OK to switch lenses? Will moisture get into the sensor? Should I ‘bag’ the camera when returning to the car after we stop for roadside landscapes? Any tips will be appreciated.

Tim’s Quick Answer: The key consideration when photographing in very cold conditions is to try to prevent the camera from getting too cold. In general moisture won’t be a problem other than the moisture you might introduce yourself, such as from snow that has melted on your clothing.

More Detail: When photographing in extreme cold, the top thing I recommend is to try to prevent the camera from getting too cold. Cold weather can greatly reduce the amount of life you’ll get out of your batteries, and also has the potential to damage the LCD display and other delicate components.

Cold weather typically brings low levels of atmospheric humidity, and so condensation is generally not a concern. However, you’ll want to be careful about other sources of moisture that could be harmful to the camera, such as when you get snow on your gloves and that snow melts, potentially causing water to get into the camera.

When the weather is cold enough that I use hand warmers (and foot warmers), I will also use a hand warmer as a camera warmer. For example, a hand warmer can be placed into the section of your camera bag where you keep the camera. When your camera is not in the bag, whenever it is not in use I recommend pulling it into your coat, or otherwise trying to protect it from the elements and keep it as warm as possible.

Changing lenses in the cold generally doesn’t introduce additional risks beyond what you would normally face when changing lenses, such as getting dust on the sensor. However, I would try to either change lenses inside a vehicle or building, or at least minimize the time taken for changing lenses, again to prevent the camera from getting too cold.

Upon returning to the vehicle, I also make sure to dry off the camera if it has gotten wet at all, and so along with my other supplies, in cold weather it is a good idea to carry a towel for this purpose.