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Tipsheet: Shooting in cold weather

Posted by Teresa Hanafin  February 6, 2009 10:39 AM

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Cold Birder
Matt Swift scopes for birds (red-winged blackbirds, no doubt) during the Cape Ann
Winter Birding Weekend last month. Cold and wind made heavy dress the rule.
Photo by Mark Wilson, Globe Staff

We're supposed to get a nice thaw this weekend, but winter is far from over. I asked the Globe Photo Dept. for a tipsheet on taking pictures outside when it's cold, and photographer Mark Wilson (who used to write a terrific photography column for the Globe) was more than happy to share his advice.

By Mark Wilson
Globe Staff

So you're dragging your camera out into the cold. Here's one weather warrior's tips for photographing in the freezer.

1) Go to Florida.

2) If the first tip is not an option, consider dressing for success. An uncomfortably cold photographer doesn't have his mind fully on picture-taking. Staying focused means staying comfortable and that means dressing in layers.

A wicking layer next to the skin, an insulating layer next, and then a windproof layer works well. If you are stationary, your insulating layer should be thicker than if you will be active. A windproof but breathable outer layer is key if you will be active. Well insulated footwear and socks are a must.

For hands, I like thin gloves that can be stuck into pockets or mittens between rounds of shooting. Don't forget a head cover, and face coverage is important in bitter cold with wind.

3) Charge batteries and carry extras. Cold saps battery power output. Keep a spare set warming under your coat so when the cold set drops in performance, you can rotate in the warm set. See to it that your batteries are fresh or fully recharged the night before the shoot.

4) Use handwarmers for your hands, feet, or cameras. They can help you salvage an otherwise unbearable cold. For extreme conditions, you can duct tape a handwarmer to the grip of your camera.

5) Stay hydrated. A dehydrated photographer is more likely to feel cold.

6) Refuel with some high-fat snacks if you are in the cold for long periods of time.

7) Don't bring cold cameras into a warm, humid building. They will fog and become wet with condensation. Carry plastic bags and pop your cameras in them before bringing them in from the cold. They will warm slowly without condensation.

8) Use wind blocks when possible. This might be your vehicle, a building, other people, or a hill. Wind steals heat. Hide from wind.

9) Cover up your camera if it's snowing. Duct tape and clear plastic can be fashioned into many innovative snow covers to keep your lens and camera from icing up.

Enjoy the winter, secure in the knowledge that while you are out shooting, other photographers may have retreated indoors. But you'll be braving the cold, taking advantage of the opportunities for different photos that winter presents.

Have a tipsheet to share, or a suggestion for a topic? Send it to raw@boston.com. You can read all of the tipsheets posted to date here.

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