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Seven tips for cold weather photography

Canadian Geographic Photographer-in-Residence Michelle Valberg is no stranger to shooting in extreme temperatures. Here, she shares advice for taking great photos in the cold.

  • Jan 25, 2017
  • 545 words
  • 3 minutes
Horses in the snow Expand Image

We are Canadians — proud and true. Cold temperatures and rapidly changing conditions throughout the winter are the norm for most of us. I’ve spent a lot of time photographing in severe climates, enduring -50 C temperatures, wind, sleet and snow. It can make shooting rough at times, but being well-prepared can make a world of difference and ensure you don’t miss out on opportunities to capture beautiful winter scenes. Here are a few tips that I use during shoots on a cold Canadian winter day.

Cover up. Let’s face it, it’s hard to be creative when you are uncomfortable. Over-dressing in layers that you can easily shed is your best defense against the cold. I typically anticipate the worst and dress accordingly. Canada Goose is my best friend for coats and pants, and I bring foot warmers and hand warmers to put into warm boots and gloves. Your photographic arsenal should include a good working glove. I use the Heat 3 Smart Glove, which is waterproof, has space for heat packs and has conductive fingers and thumbs for touchscreen operation.

Make sure your equipment is toasty too. Protect your lens and camera body with covers or coats. While somewhat cumbersome, they safeguard against moisture getting into your camera or lens and ruining the mechanisms.

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I waited for hours in Bear Cave Mountain, Yukon to photograph grizzly bears covered in ice. Being protected against the elements, and having my equipment covered, was very important. (Photo: Julie Tubman)

Batteries, batteries and more batteries. Bring many and carry them close to your body to keep them warm. I also put larger memory cards in both camera slots so I don’t have to change cards as often, and store full ones in a waterproof hard case for storage.

Don’t sweat it. Make sure to properly transition your equipment from cold outdoor temperatures to warm interior temperatures. When you come inside, remove your memory cards, place your cameras in closed plastic bags and, if you can, leave them in the coldest place inside for as long as possible to avoid condensation.

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Wild turkeys forage in a clearing during a snowfall in Ottawa. (Photo: Michelle Valberg)

Keep it clean. I carry cleaning wipes in all my jacket pockets. Eyes tear and noses run (I also bring loads of Kleenex too), and the camera will fog and if it is raining or snowing, so you will need to be prepared for cleaning your lens and eyepiece.

Set it up. Make sure your camera settings are appropriate for the conditions you are shooting in. I like to use a higher ISO and a faster shutter speed in cold climates to avoid camera shake. When you are prepared, your head is clear and your creativity heightens.

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When the snow flies I search out interesting places to photograph in my own city, like the Experimental Farm in Ottawa. (Photo: Michelle Valberg)

Finally, embrace the cold. Instead of hunkering down in a snowstorm, use the weather to your advantage. Go out and find wildlife or a landscape and photograph it in a way you haven’t before (just make sure to stay safe).


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