Too Cold to Shoot?

Hudson River State Hospital, Poughkeepsie NY (Photo by Andy Milford)
Hudson River State Hospital, Poughkeepsie NY

When the temperature drops, so can one’s enthusiasm for shooting. After all, who wants to pile on the clothes, pile into the car, drive through wretched conditions on icy roads to explore some god-forsaken backwoods paper mill? Um… me? And very likely you. For those of us who love discovering and exploring abandoned places, weather is no deterrent, and in fact, it can add to the adventure. Still, after driving through ice and snow to get to a choice location, the last thing you want to discover is a dead camera battery, or worse, condensation on your camera’s lens – two known hazards of low temperatures. Fortunately, these and other hazards can be avoided.

One thing to remember when you’re planning a winter outing is that your digital camera was designed to operate best in moderate temperatures. Like your cat curling up in a beam of sunlight, your digital camera wants to be kept comfortable at all times. To that end, the best thing you can do is protect your camera from extreme hot or cold. We strongly recommend you transport your camera body and lenses in a thickly padded bag. It’s also best to transition your camera from moderate to extreme temperatures slowly. Digital cameras (like cats) are fussy things that do not like sudden drops in temperature.

The most fragile part of your camera in extreme weather, and the one most likely to give you a hard time, is the battery. A drop in temperature of even 10 degrees can reduce your battery life by half. Keep your camera warm and you could avoid this, but savvy winter photographers know to pack an extra battery, just in case (remember to keep that one warm, too!). Put the dead battery in a warm place and after a while it could sputter back to life, just in time to catch that gorgeous sunset through the slatted roof of an abandoned barn (the money shot!). And here’s one more tip to get you to that sunset with ample juice: conserve power. Turn off all unnecessary features while you’re shooting.

Now that your battery power is where it needs to be, you need to turn your attention to a more problematic aspect of winter shooting – condensation forming on your lens. While a dead battery is a nuisance, condensation on your lens can cause serious, if not permanent, damage. Condensation (or moisture inside the camera) is a result of moving your camera too quickly from one temperature condition to another (think walking around the grounds of an old house, and then entering the house). Condensation can cause electrical problems and leave nasty marks on your lens. Best to avoid, at all costs. So… just like the advice above for protecting battery power, be aware of when your camera is experiencing changes in temperature. If you are feeling cold, it is feeling cold. If you are warming up, it is warming up. Again, give your camera time to adjust to changes in temperature.


The most important piece of equipment to care for in cold weather is you. Bring snacks like energy bars, dress warmly, listen to your body, seek shelter as needed, and enjoy the many opportunities for winter shooting in the Hudson Valley.