The Real World - Cold Weather Shooting Tips

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3 years of cold weather shooting (down to -23F) has taught me a thing or two.  Here are a few rock solid tips - some you've probably read a few times, along with a few that will be unique!

Camera and Gear

  • Moving from cold to warm - and vise versa
    • Probably the most common topic addressed, my answer is very simple - pack your gear in a photo bag, and leave it there for a little while. For example, the pack will be warm when leaving your house and will allow the camera gear to gradually cool down in the car or field.  The same concept works when going back into the house - I take my memory cards out of my camera/bag (and anything else I want to get to immediately) and then let the bag sit for a few hours in the warm house.  The camera gear will gradually adjust to room temperature.
  • Keeping your breath in check on a really cold day (this is the really big one)
    • Use a lens hood  - the shorter the lens the more critical this tip is.  Your breath (even straight from your nose on a really really cold day) will roll around and frost up the front of your lens - and there is no easy way to get it off without warming up the lens.  This is a real killer just as the sun starts to crest above the horizon on a fantastic cold weather sunrise shoot (yea, ask me how I know about this!)
    • Use some "Scope Dope" to help keep your LCD clear.  This stuff does a pretty decent job on the LCD and an ok job on the view finder.
    • Use a Hoodman Eye Cup to keep your breath away from your view finder.  Actually turn it vertical like in the image below for the best results, it does a great job of keeping your view finder fog/frost free in all cool to cold weather.

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The Photographer


  • Keep your feet warm, dry - and on the ground where they belong
    • Don't slip!  There are now plenty versions of the YaK Trax seen in the image below.  Get a pair, they work wonders on ice (including ice that is hidden below a layer of snow)  There are even versions now that have actual spikes.

  • Dry feet are happy feet!
    • If you're in wet or snowy conditions, it goes without saying to at least have water-proof boots/shoes.  In light snowy conditions (1" - 3") consider a simple pair of elastic leg gaiters (as seen above) to keep the snow out of the top your boots.
    • In heavier snow (greater than 3 inches and up to 7 inches) try some of the Neos brand products.  The image below shows me using the Neos Trekkers in water but they do the job in snow as well.  Warmer versions are also available - to cover both the "dry" and "warm" requirements.  And yes, you CAN COMBINE the Neos product with Yak Trax.

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  • My hands are the hardest body part to keep really warm.  Before I talk about gear, here is the most important tip I've learned over the years - once your hands (fingers) get cold, you're in trouble.  Get out of the cold and get them plenty warmed up again.  So the best tip is to have your hands fully warmed up before you set foot outside - "gear up" in advance so you move into the cold with maximum advantage.
    • 1st layer of protection - liners with pockets for warmer packs.  The pockets locate the warmer packs on the back of your hand, above your blood vessels, enhancing the warming impact for your fingers.
    • 2nd layer of protection - primary winter gloves, water proof with thinsulate or other warming material.  How heavy this primary pair of gloves are is up to your personal needs.
    • 3rd layer of protection - Mega Size Hand Warmers. Depending on how cold it is, I'll keep 2 or 4 of these in my coat pockets.  Hands go in the pockets when not in use and I'll actually hold these mega warmers in my hands (between my hand and the camera) when I'm doing extending shooting in really cold weather.


  • Keeping your core body temperature up helps you stay warm longer.  So similar to your hands, get toasty (without sweating) before you head outside.  Staying dry is a very critical component of staying warm, and layers are the other key.
    • 1st layer of protection:  Light duty long underwear made of water wicking material (not cotton) to help you stay dry
    • 2nd layer of protection: Medium duty long underwear is added as a layer to increase warmth
    • 3rd layer of protection: Heavy duty long underwear is added (depending on how cold it is)
    • 4th layer of protection:  Outer shell winter coat this is roomy (with your layers on) wind and water proof.  Collar protection and an insulated hood are a must as well


  • Your head is one of the primary places heat escapes your body, so keep protection on and layer it as much as needed.  I'll typically wear a full face mask and my winter coat's insulated hood.  When it's needed, I'll add a neck gaiter or a warm cap.

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Staying warm is not only the safe and smart way to shoot in the winter, it's also the path to great images.  When you're warm and comfortable, you can place all your energy on the task at hand - getting some great shots!!

Stay in focus,


Keeping Your Feet Dry

[caption id="attachment_69" align="alignnone" width="480" caption="Protection from the muck!"][/caption] I found a Great Blue Heron Rookery recently with about thirty nests - along with a great location to get some morning shots. There was just one problem, the "right" spot was about twenty feet into ankle deep water and muck! It was finally time to try out my new Neos Trekker Overshoes!

From this first outing (including a couple hours in the water) I can conclude these things are pretty good! The nice benefit of these overshoes is that you can wear your normal foot-gear (an important point when this is coupled with a several mile hike) and they are very easy to put on. They unwrap to a wide mouth, making it easy to get your boot laden foot in. A quick snap of the buckle, twist wrap the uppers and Velcro in place - You're all set.

They're a snug fit (which is good) and if you're wearing over hiking boots be sure to go up a size for a good fit. Two hours in the water and no leaks. I've heard complaints from some that these leak - I've found no evidence of that, the seams are sealed up pretty well. Since these are water tight, my calves did sweat pretty good and make my jeans damp - maybe that's what they're running into - not much you can do about that though!

If anything changes, I'll post it here, but so far these guys get two thumbs up from me! Looking for a good place to get them? Checkout Outdoorphotogear.com. Great people to deal with, lots of stuff focused at nature photographers, in stock with quick shipping and great customer service.

Cold Weather Photography - Lessons Learned

[caption id="attachment_20" align="alignnone" width="200" caption="iPhone shot of my morning setup."][/caption] If you properly prepare yourself, it's amazing how comfortable you can be in cold weather.  (Please note, this is coming from a transplanted New Orleans boy who now lives in northern Illinois - so yes, staying warm and comfortable is definitely possible if I can do it!!)

On a typical late fall morning this year, it was common to have day break temperatures in the low to middle twenties, warming up to around thirty-five by afternoon - perfect weather for photographing the migrating Sandhill Cranes making their way down south.  I'll be posting some specific product reviews and detailed tips on what worked (as well as what didn't) but in a nutshell, here's a list of some of the basics:

  • Warm and dry feet are Number One: Ensure your boots are waterproof, even if you don't plan on being in water.  Wear hocking or hunting socks that are appropriate for the temperature.  (and keep a dry pair in your backpack just in case)
  • Two pair of gloves work best: Keeping my fingers warm seems to be the hardest for me, and the needs of camera controls make this even more challenging.  I wear a pair of this UnderArmor glove liners as my first line of defense, they're thin and allow for great tactile control.  If needed, my second pair of gloves go on.  These are AquaTech Sensory Gloves that allow your thumb and index fingers to poke out when needed - really does the trick!
  • Keep your butt high and dry: You're not going to stand all day, and the ground will be (at best) cold and (at worst) wet which is a recipe for an uncomfortable photo hike.  Bring along your own seating.  I prefer a packable walking stool as they are very comfortable for long stays but any local sportsman's store will also have a large selection of hunter's cushions designed to provide a little padding and some insulation.
  • Pay attention to where you drop your gear:  Depending on where you are, the ground may look dry but moisture can be lurking just below the surface.  If you can't hang your pack, try laying it down on a bowed over bed of reeds, a bush or a stump.  Don't just toss it next to you on the ground and expect it to be dry when you throw it on your back two hours later!

Well, those are some of the basics on my first real month of outdoor cold weather photography. Over the next several weeks I'll be expanding on what I've learned with some deeper dives into gear, techniques and even some below zero weather tips - so stay warm for now!