Extreme Winter Photography Tips

Don't let cold weather ruin your camera or your photos

Young woman in warm clothing in snow taking photo with digital camera
Gary John Norman / Getty Images

Unless you have purchased a digital camera that’s designed specifically for use in extreme cold, that kind of weather can be hard on your camera. Cold temperatures can cause problems—some temporary, others permanent. Here are a few, plus some measures that can help prevent them.

Battery Life

Exposure to extremely low temperatures will drain the battery more quickly—anywhere from two to five times as fast. To decrease the effect of the cold on your battery, remove it from the camera and keep in a pocket close to your body.

The remedy: Place the battery in the camera only when you’re ready to shoot, and carry an extra battery or two so you're ready to go at any time.

Condensation

Although the entire camera might work more slowly and intermittently in extreme cold, one of the biggest problems the camera may suffer is condensation. If any moisture is inside the camera, it could freeze and cause damage, or it could fog over the lens, leaving the camera unusable.

The remedy: Warming the camera should resolve the problem temporarily. Try removing moisture from the camera—or for that matter, preventing the problem in the first place—by sealing it in a plastic bag with a silica gel packet. This is especially important when going from one temperature extreme to another. Any sudden, wide temperature change can cause condensation.

Jamming

Cold weather can jam the internal mirror on a DSLR camera, leaving the shutter unable to work.

The remedy: Get the camera out of the cold to raise its temperature.

LCD Slowdowns

In cold weather, the LCD might not refresh as quickly as it should, and using a point-and-shoot camera that has no viewfinder is all but impossible. Moreover, extended exposure to extremely cold temperatures could damage the LCD permanently.

The remedy: Raise the temperature of the LCD slowly—for example, by letting it sit in a warm room.

Lens Malfunctions

Interchangeable lenses might not respond as well or quickly as they should in extreme cold. The autofocus mechanism, for example, might run loudly and slowly, and manually focusing with the focus ring could be more difficult because the ring is stiff and difficult to rotate.

The remedy: Keep the lens insulated or near your body until you need it.

Warming Up Your Camera

Make it your practice to warm your camera gradually when going from a cold environment to a warm one. For example, you might place the camera in a garage for several minutes before bringing into your home.

Likewise, make sure you keep the camera and all related components dry. If you're going to be working or playing in the snow, for example, keep your camera in a waterproof camera bag or a sealed plastic bag to keep snow away from it. You might not even realize you had snow in your camera bag or on your camera's components until you return home, and, by then, the snow may have melted, possibly causing water damage to your camera. Keep everything dry and protected from snow, slush, and wet conditions.