1. Fight Condensation With A Plastic Bag
In cold temperatures, condensation is your number one enemy! You should avoid rapid temperature changes with your gear unless you are prepared for it, so that means don’t walk in and out of your home, hotel or ski resort restaurant all the time. Warming a cold camera and lens in this way will immediately cause condensation to form all over it. To prevent this from happening, put your camera and lens into a ziplock bag while you are still outside. This will allows the camera to come up to temperature more slowly, and much of the condensation that does form, will appear on the bag and not the camera! At the end of your cold weather shoot, it’s imperative that all your gear is thoroughly dried out to prevent mildew from forming inside the lens. When I get home, I lay a towel out on the table and remove all the lens caps from my lenses to let them warm up. I also remove the body cap from the camera and place it face down on the towel. Never put the towel directly in front of a heater though! We don’t want to get melted rubber grips or loosened glue in the lenses.
Some condensation on your gear is inevitable though, so you’ll also want to make sure you have at least a couple of lens cleaning clothes in your bag. Not the paper tissue one, they don’t work that well with large amounts of moisture, go for the chammy style one like this.
2. Warm Your Batteries (+ Bring Extras)
The effect of cold temperatures on your battery life can be severe, depending on the brand and type of batteries you are using. My experiences with Canon 1D batteries have been very favourable, and the capacity of those is to much that I’ve tended not to worry about them so much. Smaller batteries for other lower end DSLRs can suffer from significantly increased depletion in colder temperatures though. It’s been said that an 18 °F drop, can lead to a battery life of half what you would normally expect. These cold temperatures don’t have a lasting effect on the batteries, but it can certainly be frustrating if you aren’t prepared for it. Thankfully the solution is simple, just add a little warmth and bring a few spares. Lots of bulky batteries aren’t practical to put inside your jacket so you can simply use oxygen-activated hand warmers and an elastic band to keep them up against your batteries. Boxes of hand warmers aren’t expensive and they can always come in handy for their actual intended use as well!
3. Rain Covers
Whilst it is pretty obvious that a rain cover can also protect your gear from snow, I thought I would take the opportunity to pass on some of my experience with rain covers so that you can make an informed buying decision. I never like to let the weather dictate whether I can shoot or not, because sometimes it’s taken me a lot of time and money to get to a location. I’ve got to try and come back with something, no-matter what mother nature is throwing at me. In cold environments, this often means occasional snow! Even if it’s not falling, it’s often drifting around on lake ice in places like Banff and Iceland. It doesn’t hurt to cover up!
Camera covers come in various shapes and sizes, depending on what kind of lens you are looking to cover. There’s also a very broad pricing spectrum, but I’d urge you to weight the pricing agains the total value of the gear you are trying to protect….. A $9.99 plastic cover doesn’t make a lot of sense to me when you’re protecting $1000+ worth of gear, or anything up to $15,000 for some of my camera/lens combinations! My absolute favourite covers are the ones from Think Tank Photo, the Hydrophobia 70-200 and 300-600 V2 are exceptionally well made and will literally last a lifetime. Most people will be fine with the smaller 70-200 model, and don’t let the name fool you, it’s useable for much shorter lenses than a 70-200mm! Fully seam-sealed zippers and stitching means it provides an impenetrable barrier agains the elements. I’ve also tried the relatively new LensCoat RainCoat 2. I had high hopes for it because I like the open backed design, but the material they chose to make the covers from is very bulky and retains moisture far too well for something that is designed to get wet! I’d steer clear of it…..that’s why I test these things for you guys!! If you are looking for a mid-priced option for a smaller camera setup, check out the Aquatech covers.
4. Desiccant Packs
Desiccant is a solid chemical substance that absorbs water and it’s most commonly found in small packets inside items that you’ve just purchased online. Manufacturers include them in the packaging of anything that could be damaged in transit, or storage, from exposure to moisture. I’m sure that you’ve come across them many times! The smaller packs that you might find in clothing purchases aren’t too much use to us on their own, but you can buy much larger ones from B&H Photo, or similar online photo stores. These larger sizes are a great thing to have in your camera bag in cold and snowy environments. No matter how careful you are, as soon as your bag is open, a small amount of snow will find its way into your bag and melt instantly, creating a damn interior. Desiccant packs in your bag will help to soak up some of this moisture, and they are “rechargeable” by heating them up once you return to your home or hotel. Even if you are in a dry, cold environment, you still run the risk of excessive condensation forming on your gear and the silica desiccants will help to minimize the risks.
5. Keep Your Memory Cards Warm (& Dry)
Whilst higher-end memory cards like the Sandisk Extremes have an operating temperature of -13 to 185 fahrenheit, some of the cheaper cards are not quite as well protected. Unlike the batteries we talked about earlier, there’s no need to use hand warmers on your cards, but you should place your memory card holder in the inside jacket pocket so that it can benefit from some of your body heat. Avoid putting it too close to your core if you are going to be taking part in strenuous activities though, like skiing or snowshoeing. We don’t want to get sweat on the cards! Moisture is even worse for them than cold temperatures! If you are working in snow, consider a waterproof memory card case such as this one from Pelican.
Best Photography Gloves?
If you’re trying to protect your camera then it probably means you need protecting as well. When it comes to cold weather photography, I’m always getting asked what kind of gloves I wear, so I created a post to explain the choices. Find out what kind of gloves I use here: What Are The Best Photography Gloves?