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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Cold Weather Photography

Trumpeter Swan at -5°F
 When I woke up this morning the thermometer read -20°F. In some areas this week it has hit -41°F. It's been a cold week here in Minnesota, but its never stopped my photography. Well... Almost never.

A several years ago when I got started in photography it was winter in Minnesota. I had just found the duck pond and I was eagerly shooting away. The temperature was in the teens and I was not dressed for the weather. As I began to realize that I would have to retreat to my vehicle to warm up, I noticed another photographer shooting away, seemly undeterred by the cold. I realized that if I was going to do this for real, I would need to be better prepared.

Dressing for the Weather
I drove straight to a local hunting and fishing outfitters and got myself some cold weather gear. Since then I have been routinely shooting in as cold as -18° F. If you live in the north land you are aware of dressing in layers. I routinely wear a pair of Under Armour cold gear pants and shirt as well as fleece long underwear. I wear sweatpants over that and then my snow pants and jacket. A face mask and knit hat as well as various gloves for various weather conditions.

Cameras Operating in the Cold. 
Red-bellied Woodpecker at -10°F

I've heard many people ask about whether or not a camera will continue to function in the cold. I checked out the owners manual for my Nikon D7000 and was surprised to see that the operating temperatures are from 32+°F to 104°F(0°C - 40°C). So does this mean you can't shoot in weather colder than 32°F? In my experience you CAN shoot in colder weather. Now for the disclaimer, this is from my personal experience, your results may differ. Last week I photographed for several hours in temperatures between -10°F to +10°F and did not have any issues.
All of this being said, the manufacturer's recommendations are for a reason. I don't think I would intentionally leave my camera in the extreme cold for hours on end. The fact that there are moving parts that are lubricated means that there are parts that could freeze. As expensive as cameras are, it's something to keep in mind.

Batteries can be another story. Typically batteries and cold weather do not mix. Conventional alkaline batteries lose battery power extremely fast in cold weather. This could impact your flashes and other accessories. The good news is the new lithium ion batteries perform very well in cold weather. I use a MB-D11 battery grip with my D7000. This allows two batteries to be used at once. One battery is very good and two batteries just make it all the better. In my experience the even the lithium ion batteries will lose a little charge in the extreme cold, but not to the extent that it has ever shortened my day of shooting. If your going to be spending very extended periods of time in the cold. It is a good idea to pack multiple batteries and keep the batteries your not using in warm pockets.

My Take Away
Cold weather photography is not difficult if you plan accordingly. Dressing for the weather is the most important.Generally speaking, operating your DSLR camera in cold weather (in some cases very cold weather) has not proven to be a challenge for my cameras or lenses. The biggest challenge is keeping your fingers and toes warm!