A Guide to Cold Weather Photography

by Johnathan Aulabaugh

Cool tones give an image a dreary feel
As the seasons change our opportunities to explore and create photographs do to. I have heard of photographers that give up after the cold sets in but to me that is a key time to be out and photographing. Sure braving the elements is tough but most animals are going through far tougher situations than we are. Adapting to the change can be a key element to your photography. Think of a visit to the Tetons, or Yellowstone. In the dry months it is not hard to find beauty in the landscape and the wildlife. The same can be said of the winter months but with 5-6 ft of snow on the ground not only is your means a lot of changes. Transportation to reach specific areas, how the animals react in the cold temps, exposure compensation, even gear changes.

Cameras and Cold Weather
Battery life is one component that tends to get overlooked the most but in the cold battery life can be cut in half or less. Take 2-3 batteries with your and keep your charged spares close to your body. Find a good lens cover to keep moisture out. I keep a couple of silica gel desiccants in my Pelican case to help with moisture. Also, and this might be one of the most annoying issues to arise is a lens fogging up from dramatic temp changes. Always allow your lens to acclimate to the ambient temps that you will be shooting in. I can tell you from experience that there is nothing worse than trying to take pictures of a herd of Elk and having my lens fog up on the outside and even within the camera. I generally try to keep a rain cover on my camera of some type just to be safe as well.

Bundled up in warm tones

Controlling the Exposure
Exposure compensation and white balance is crucial when  photographing in the winter, sure you can adjust some of that in post processing but the real goal should always be to get as close to perfection as possible in the camera. Just as I under expose by 1 stop for white birds in sunlight, I try to do the same if possible in snow. It is to easy to loose detail and blow out the shot if your not on top of your exposure with every shot. Set a custom white balance as well. You can set a mood with white balance by adding warm or cool tones carefully.

People and Cold Weather
Snowshoes? Maybe, having walked in snow shoes I can tell you it is no easy feat but they will allow you to get into tougher areas and do so quieter than a pair of boots will. With it turning off cold over most of the country be sure to have the proper clothing for the areas you plan to be in and never assume that you have enough to "get you through" when you know that you may need more. In the outdoors 2 is 1 and 1 is none... Never push yourself to exhaustion in extreme weather. Know your limits and know when to say when.

Even with the dangers involved in braving the elements to get the shot, many times the moments experienced during the harsh conditions will net the best images and the most memorable adventures. I want to encourage you to get out and find the things that make the seasons. Bundle up, be safe, and enjoy!!!