I came up with the topic for this blog whilst standing on a bleak looking Dartmoor before a freezing January sunrise. Although I was pretty well prepared for sub zero temperatures and howling winds (meaning the it felt more like minus ten degrees) I had forgotten to put two pairs of socks on. So, after half an hour of standing waiting for a sunrise that didn't happen (too much cloud) my feet we so cold I had to give up and head home. So, with plenty of winter still to go, I thought I would share with you some of the practical tips I've learned over the years when out on winter photo shoots.
Look after your kit!
Camera equipment is expensive, so it's important to look after it. Winter shoots provide additional potential problems that it's worth being aware of, to make sure you get the photos you want and you and your kit both come back safely!....
Taking camera gear from a warm house out into the cold shouldn't cause big problems with condensation, but the same is not true when you bring your cold camera kit back indoors! It's often best to remove the battery and SD card (to avoid damage) and allow your camera and lenses to warm up slowly inside your (insulated) camera bag a cool room, otherwise you might get significant condensation inside.
In icy / snowy weather there is a much greater chance of slipping and falling, so it's even more important to have a good quality padded camera case to prevent damage to your kit if you fall. I use the Lowepro pro tactic 350 which has plenty of room for all my kit, and is well padded to protect my kit should it hit the ground!).
Take extra batteries and make sure they're charged
It's a simple fact that batteries don't hold their charge as well when the weather is cold. So, to make sure you don't run out of charge when shooting in cold conditions, make sure your battery is fully charged before you leave home AND take at least one spare with you.
Good gloves are essential!
When out taking photos you'll need to be using your hands a lot to change camera settings, and in cold (and especially cold and windy) weather this means that your fingers will get cold - fast! Apart from being unpleasant, it also makes it harder to actually operate your camera controls, so good gloves are essential!
Over the years I've tried normal gloves (annoying having to keep taking them on and off), fingerless gloves (fingers still get cold!) but eventually landed on fisherman's gloves which are definitely the best option! These gloves are standard gloves where the forefinger and thumb of one hand have ends that flip back, allowing you to operate your controls. I have these skiing / photography gloves from Amazon.
Wear lots and lots of layers!
you're walking in cold weather, it often doesn't feel too cold as you warm up as you walk. Unfortunately in photography the opposite is true, as you spend lots of time standing around in the cold, what didn't feel too bad when you left the house can feel like being in a freezer after half an hour standing still! So, my advice for dressing for a cold winter shoot would be:
Wear lots of layers! I usually start with a warm base layer, followed by a mid layer then a fleece. If it's particularly cold, on top of that I will wear a light down jacket.
Wear more than one pair of trousers! I normally wear walking trousers for shoots, but when it's cold I opt for thermal leggings underneath, as legs can get cold quickly when standing around.
Make sure you wear two pairs of socks (unlike me on my Dartmoor trip this week!)
Always wear a windproof layer on top (such as a waterproof jacket) as strong winds can cool you very quickly.
Consider heated layers! You can get jackets and even underwear which have heating circuits which are warmed by rechargeable batteries - perfect for keeping you snug when standing around! I've got a heated gilet like the one below - it's brilliant!
Pack a shovel!
Living in Devon, we don't get snow very often, so it's hard to justify a 4x4. However, in the winter months I always have a shovel in the boot just in case. Being a photographer means I am often out on the roads when most sensible people stay at home, and a shovel has got me out of trouble plenty of time when I've got stuck on a snowy road. Digging down to the hard surface under the wheels can be just enough to get you moving again (however, see the section on staying safe below!)
Keeping yourself safe
At the end of the day, no photo is worth more than your safety, so here are a few thoughts on keeping safe if you go out in particularly cold or snowy weather (especially if you're driving)...
Listen to local news, to gauge what the roads are like before venturing out. If it sounds to treacherous, simply stay at home.
Keep to major roads, as these are prioritised in terms of snow and ice clearance. I have a list of local places that I can access by parking very near main roads, so that I don't have to risk minor roads which are always more hazardous.
Consider a defensive driving course which can help you to understand how to drive safely in treacherous conditions.
Make sure your phone is charged and you have warm clothing, food, water and a shovel in the car in case you get stuck.
Let someone know where you're going, especially if you're going somewhere remote (e.g. Dartmoor).
Want to jump-start your learning?
Don't forget that if you want some direct help with your photography, I offer a range of 1-2-1 photography courses for Devon based folks. If you're not nearby then I also offer residential weekends for beginners or intermediate photographers.