Equipment Tips for Winter Photography
Heading out to photograph winter with your digital SLR? Canadians are good at
having layers of clothing to keep themselves warm – Protect your camera from
the cold with these 10 essential DSLR tips…
Digital SLRs don’t need regular maintenance. A professional camera that takes thousands of
shots a week might benefit from annual servicing, but generally speaking, you can expect
to use your camera until it drops. The usual cause of failure is not a mechanical fault but a
dead battery – and this becomes a real concern in the winter months. Cold temperatures
can sap a battery’s power fast, particularly if you’re placing demands on the camera’s
autofocus, LCD screen and other energy-hungry features. To ensure it’s not your camera
that gives up when the temperature plummets…
Take a spare battery
If you can afford one, it’s always a good idea to invest in an additional battery – unless
you’re one of these organised people who always remember to charge batteries the night
before. Keep the spare battery in an internal coat pocket, so your body warmth keeps it in
Push your camera to the limit
Use the camera until the battery expires, charge it fully, let it run flat again and so on –
‘half-charging’ can reduce the battery’s maximum capacity over time.
Reduce your camera’s power consumption
The sensor and processor use a good part of it – there’s not much you can do about that –
but so does that big, bright LCD on the back. Keep your pixel-peeping to a minimum or,
better still, switch off the camera’s quick-review feature and only look at photos you’re not
sure of. By the same token, don’t use Live View either, unless you want to see the battery
drain even further.
Take larger memory cards
Always take more memory than you think you’ll need. The last thing you want to do when
you’re out in freezing conditions has to check images on the LCD and delete selected
ones to free up more shooting space.
Use the LCD’s power-off feature
You can shorten the automatic power-off time, but this can be counter-productive – you
end up missing shots because the camera’s gone to sleep. Some cameras use the main LCD
for status information – make sure this powers off automatically after a few seconds (this
isn’t the same as the camera powering off).
Switch off the lens’s stabilisation
VR and image-stabilisation systems use power, and in bright light, you shouldn’t really need
them – take a tripod with you if you’re not confident that your frozen hands will be steady
enough. Focusing uses power too, especially if you’ve got the camera set to continuous
autofocus. Use manual focusing or single-shot AF.
Keep your tripod warm
As well as allowing you to switch off the stabilisation feature of your lens or camera, it will
allow you to use small apertures (for maximum depth of field in photos) and slow shutter
speeds (to record falling snow and rain as streaks). But touching an aluminium tripod with
bare hands in winter? Ooch – no thanks. Best get some tripod leg pads in. Some tripods have
them fitted, but commercial pads are also available.
Get the shot in one take
You don’t want to have to head out again the next day because the shots you’ve taken aren’t
sharp enough. If there’s a strong wind, extend the tripod as little as possible and further
stabilise the camera by pressing down on it. On soft ground, stability can be increased by
hanging your camera bag under the tripod with a bungee cord.
Wear the right clothes
Dress according to the expected conditions. The cold saps your energy, so it’s important to
keep warm to stay focused. A hat, gloves and a flask of warm drink can make all the
difference when you’re waiting for the best light. We’d recommend a pair of shooting mitts
(the kind that double up as both mittens and fingerless gloves, so you have no trouble with
fiddly camera buttons) and a pair of ski pants so you can get those unique, low-to-the-ground
shots of snow and ice.
Don’t let a downpour dampen your spirits
One of the most important factors of shooting in severe weather conditions is keeping your
digital camera dry. Obviously, you’re not going to keep it completely spotless but the use of
a rain cover, which you can either buy or make yourself, is wise. A lens hood is also a great
accessory to have too. Don’t think they’re only used to cut out the glare from the sun – they
can also keep light rain and snow off the front of the lens.