Don’t Underestimate the Importance of Comfort
Go above and beyond in your efforts to keep yourself warm and dry. You might be thinking, “I’m only going to be out for an hour, it’s not that cold, a winter coat will suffice.” But trust me: if you’re uncomfortable you won’t be able to concentrate, and you’ll be hurrying to get back in as soon as you get outside. Beyond that, never forget that the danger of frostbite is very real, and it’s essential that you keep your fingers and toes warm in particular.
Consider wearing thin gloves that allow you the dexterity to adjust camera controls, with mittens over them to stay warm when you’re not working with the camera. If you’ll be traipsing through snow, be sure to wear appropriate footwear—preferably well-insulated waterproof boots with gaiters for added protection to keep snow from overtopping your boots. (The Outdoor Research High Gaiters pictured here are ideal for deep snow.) And don’t just wear a coat; dress in layers and choose fabrics that wick moisture away to help keep you warm and dry while offering the option to shed layers as temperatures climb. And, of course, moms everywhere have always told us we lose most of our heat through our heads, so be sure to wear a warm hat that covers your ears.
Do Keep Your Camera Dry And Your Batteries Warm
Nothing will sink a midwinter shoot faster than a dead battery. And since batteries don’t perform as well at low temperatures, the best bet is to keep those batteries warm. Don’t leave them in the car overnight, of course, and consider not keeping them in your camera bag either. The camera bag gets cold as you carry it, but your body stays warm. So, consider keeping spare batteries inside your coat and close to your body, in an inner pocket for instance, where they’ll benefit from the natural warmth you produce.
For the camera, a great place to start is with the use of a waterproof camera bag—and be sure to keep it zipped tightly as much as possible. But, eventually, you’re going to have to take your camera out to use it, so consider wrapping it in a plastic cover to keep snow and ice from coming into contact with it. The old-school approach was simply to use a trash bag to protect an SLR, but in this era of very expensive, very sensitive digital cameras, take the extra step of investing in a dedicated waterproof camera cover. There are lots of great options available like the OP/Tech USA rain sleeves, which are perfect from keeping rain and dust off of cameras. An added layer of protection, though, comes from a rain cover with a bit of protection from the cold too. Ruggard makes the DSLR Parka to help keep hands and camera warm while working and to provide protection from snow and moisture.
Do Use Hand Warmers, But Be Careful
Many of us have seen the Hot Hands brand of chemical hand warmers. They’re the perfect accessories for midwinter photography. But did you know the company also makes larger body warmers and foot warmers designed to slip into your boots? Once removed from their clear wrappers, these small packets are activated by air to produce heat via a chemical reaction. They’re not only the perfect thing to help keep your hands, feet and torso warm in the coldest of temperatures, but they can also come in very helpful for warming batteries too.
Be warned: You definitely don’t want to bring the two in contact for risk of overheating the battery. But if you’re working in seriously sub-zero temperatures, keeping your batteries close to your body may not be enough. With the batteries in one pocket, adjacent pockets containing chemical hand warmers may just tip the scales in your favor, adding a bit more heat to you and your gear.
Don’t Warm Your Gear Too Fast
Speaking of warming up your camera equipment, you’ve got to take precautions when it comes time to bring your cold gear back indoors. If you’ve been working outside any time at all, your cameras are going to acclimate to the ambient temperature—turning ice cold. Then, when you take them back indoors, obviously they’re going to warm up. But here’s the catch: The humidity indoors, low as it may be during winter months, is going to produce condensation on a very cold camera or lens. So don’t open your bag for a few hours after coming inside, giving the gear inside time to warm up slowly.
Better still, consider bringing the gear in slowly—like from the frigid outdoors into the slightly less frigid garage before eventually bringing them into the house. If you’re especially concerned or will be bringing it into a high-humidity environment, you can also place individual elements, such as lenses and bodies, into small sealable plastic bags before coming inside. Or place the entire camera bag inside a sealed garbage bag. In either case, any condensation will accumulate on the outside of the cheap plastic bag rather than on your pricey camera gear. Placing silica desiccant packets inside camera cases is also a great way to prevent humidity from causing a problem with your expensive electronics. One company even makes a set of dehumidifying caps for camera bodies and lenses. The BRNO dri+Caps incorporate replaceable silica packets to absorb any moisture that might get inside the body or lens.