Photographers often brave extreme weather and environmental conditions to get the perfect shot. You’ve probably seen a high-res photograph of a snow-capped mountain top or a blazing-hot desert landscape and thought: How on Earth did they get that?
The answer is almost always that the photographer went in prepared with the right gear (like a resilient camera case) and the right knowledge. Photography professionals have a reliable set of best practices for working under extreme conditions that allow them to get the images they want while keeping themselves and their gear as safe as possible.
Here, we’ll talk about the general key tips you should know for shooting in extreme conditions of any kind. Then, we’ll discuss some tips for both cold weather and hot weather photography.
General Rules of Photography in Extreme Conditions
These are the basic rules that photographers should follow any time they think they might be shooting in extreme conditions:
1. If you’re going anywhere that’s more than a few minutes’ drive from the nearest town, establish a safety contact with who you can check in and/or bring a buddy with you for safer shooting.
2. Research the specific location you’ll be shooting in and learn about what you can expect, including the environmental hazards that your environment might present. Whether it’s dust, rain, snow, salt water or something else, you need to know in advance how you’re going to protect your equipment and yourself.
3. If your camera risks getting wet, consider one of the many excellent waterproof cameras on the market. These cameras offer excellent image and video quality in a tough package that will stand up to various difficult environments. Some of them even work completely underwater!
Photography in Cold Weather
Winter scenes can offer some of the most breathtaking images that the natural world has to offer. The trade-off is that getting those shots can mean enduring snow, wind and other hazards of the cold. Follow these rules to keep the cold off your back:
1. Cold weather will drain your battery faster, so bring at least one spare. Keep spare batteries close to your body (such as in an inner jacket pocket) whenever possible. In fact, don’t even put your main battery in your camera until it’s time to use it.
2. Make sure you’re using a camera case or camera backpack that’s insulated and waterproof. Remember that you might need space for accessories like lenses as well.
3. In sub-freezing temperatures, be careful when touching metal parts of your camera or other gear, as your skin can freeze to them. (This is particularly easy to do when using the viewfinder.)
4. Invest in a good tripod. Low-light winter conditions will often require long exposures, especially if you’re trying to photograph famous winter phenomena such as the northern lights.
5. Get a good pair of high-dexterity gloves that will allow you to operate your camera controls while keeping your gloves on. Gloves with removable fingertips are a great choice. To get even more out of your gloves, place some heat packets in the palms so that your hands will always stay toasty.
6. Remember that a cold camera can attract condensation when taken into a warm area. When you head inside after you’re done shooting, place your camera and all of your equipment into a sealable plastic bag like a freezer bag with zip closure, and leave it there for a few hours. This will prevent moisture from condensing inside your camera as its cold frame begins to warm up.
7. Be familiar with the signs of frostbite and hypothermia, and have a plan for getting to a warm place if you notice any of them.
Photography in Hot Weather
Hot weather poses its own set of challenges. Heat can damage the components of a camera just as easily as the cold can, and it can also be just as dangerous to your health if you’re unprepared. Here are the tips that photography professionals use to stay cool when working in the heat:
1. Stand in the shade as often as you can. It helps keep the heat off your camera, and you’ll be more comfortable as well.
2. Be careful to ensure that moisture doesn’t make its way into your camera. Carry a lens cloth with you to clean off your lens if it fogs up, and wear a headband to help prevent sweat from dripping off your hair.
3. If you can’t stand in the shade, cover your camera with a protective covering (and have one ready to go even if you think you’ll be able to find shade). In a pinch, any kind of dark-colored cloth material will do.
4. Don’t leave your camera inside a vehicle on a hot day. The heat that builds up inside the vehicle can damage your camera’s sensitive components.
5. Drink plenty of water when you’re working in the heat. Having to use the bathroom more often is a small price to pay for keeping your body properly hydrated.
6. Avoid the temperature shock of bringing your camera out of its camera case into blazing heat. Instead, leave it in the case for a few minutes (sitting in the shade if possible) while the temperature of your equipment starts to even out with the ambient temperature.
7. Wear comfortable clothes appropriate for your environment, and know the signs of heat exhaustion. Keeping a wet sports towel on your neck is a great way to help regulate your body temperature in extreme heat.
Keeping yourself and your camera safe in extreme conditions is key for getting those awesome shots you’ve been dreaming of. By taking the right precautions against the weather and environment, you’ll make yourself more able to concentrate on what’s really important: Capturing what brought you out there in the first place.