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Extreme Weather and Your Camera: How to Get the Shot and Protect Your Gear

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If all outdoor photographers only shot on mild days, photography as an art would be shockingly boring. The best outdoor photography brings nature to life by capturing its extremes. Unfortunately, cameras and equipment are sensitive to those extremes.

To create stunning outdoor photography, you’ll need to be prepared for the worst that nature can throw at you and your equipment.

Cold Weather and Your Gear

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Below-freezing weather presents a variety of challenges to your equipment. If you can overcome those challenges, there is no other weather that can give your images the remote, quiet feeling of a blisteringly cold, snowy day. Take these steps to protect your gear in wintery weather:

  • Protect Your Batteries: Cold temperatures will drain batteries quickly. Make sure you have a set of fully charged batteries at the ready, and keep them in a pocket where your body heat will warm them. When you remove a spent battery from your camera, warming it back up will often bring it back to life.
  • Avoid Rapid Temperature Changes: Dashing from a warm building to the freezing outdoors to snag a shot is never a good idea. Temperature changes cause your lenses to expand and contract, which can cause moisture or an oil leak in the lens elements. Do what you can to gradually move your equipment to warmer or cooler areas. A well-insulated gear bag will let your equipment warm up or cool down slowly in all but the most extreme environments.
  • Don’t Change Your Lenses Outside: If it’s great shooting weather, it’s probably also snowy. Even if it’s not snowing, the interior of your camera will be a slightly warmer than the outdoor temperature. Opening your camera or removing a lens can let in stray snowflakes or condensation that will damage the image sensor, fog up mirrors and cause other issues.

Shooting in Hot Spots

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There are three things problems that hot-weather photographers will need to deal with: temperature swings, overheating and condensation. As with cold weather photography, protect your gear by letting it adjust to the new temperature slowly. Avoid leaving your equipment in hot cars, as prolonged heat can damage film, image sensors and lenses.

You need breaks to cool down, and so does your camera. Image sensors and batteries will warm up as you use them. In extreme heat, these components can overheat quickly. Not only will it ruin your shoot, but it could cost you hundreds of dollars in repair and replacement fees.
In climates that are both hot and humid, condensation is a big problem. Your lenses may fog, which is annoying, but it’s even worse if that condensation gets inside the lenses or camera body. Avoid swapping lenses in humid areas, and if you plan to shoot often in high heat and humidity, consider equipment that offers some measure of moisture protection.

Factoring for the Wind

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Depending on what you’re shooting, windy days are either great (awesome motion shots) or annoying (flyaway hairs and waving subjects). Many photographers don’t realize that windy days can also be damaging to their equipment. High winds in dry areas can kick all kinds of dust and grit into the air, which wreaks havoc on your gear.

The first thing you’ll want to protect is the front element on your lens, which is easily accomplished by mounting a UV filter. Blowing sand and dust can scratch your lens — and even if it doesn’t, the buildup that you try to clean away later very well could. Most photographers have tons of UV filters, since they seem to come with every lens, cleaning kit and filter package. However, if you don’t have one, a decent UV filter is one of the least expensive gear purchases you can make.

That blowing dust can also find its way into the inner workings of your camera and lenses. If you’ve ever turned the focus ring on a lens, and it had a gritty, grinding feel, that lens was most likely exposed to a dirty environment with no protection. Protect your gear with rain shielding or a plastic bag.

Just like with moist environments, you should never change your lens in a dusty environment. Change your lens:

  • Indoors
  • In your car
  • Under your jacket
  • Inside a plastic bag

Dust inside the camera body can damage the image sensor, mirrors or other mechanisms — even if the dust doesn’t do any damage, a professional camera cleaning service will make a nice profit cleaning up your mistake!

Staying Dry in Rain and Snow

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The beauty of photography in wet weather is that not every photographer is willing to expose their gear to pouring rain and heavy snow. If you brave the elements to get some great shots, you’ll be able to create rare and wonderful images. Since excessive moisture is the biggest threat your gear can face, you’ll need to take extra care to keep everything dry.

First, only take what you need along — leave the extra equipment at home or in your vehicle. Even if you have waterproof gear bags, they could spring a leak and cost you your equipment. Batteries, filters and memory cards are easily stored in plastic zipper bags in your pockets. If you absolutely must carry along an extra lens, consider putting it inside a plastic bag, and keep it in a small gear bag under your raincoat or umbrella.

There are several options to keep your camera dry:

  • Underwater housing
  • Rain covers
  • Plastic freezer bags

If you plan to spend a lot of time taking photos in rain or snow, invest in a good rain cover. These products offer the most protection and versatility. Some rain covers even have sleeves so that you can reach your camera’s controls easily.

If all else fails, you can always make your own rain cover with a zipper bag, lens hood and either gaffer’s tape or a rubber band. It will limit your view of the viewfinder and display, and controls might be more difficult to reach, but it will keep your camera dry in a pinch.

Nature’s fury is tough on your gear, but the results are worth it. With a little ingenuity, you can brave the elements to make amazing images!


About the author: Chris Therkildsen is the Senior Creative Director at Nations Photo Lab, a leading professional photo lab that specializes in a wide range of print options for hobbyists as well as professionals. Learn more by visiting their site.


Image credits: Barefoot in the rain by Sam Javanrouh; Calm water at Skontorp Cove, Paradise Harbor by Colin Mitchell; Sand Dunes, Stovepipe Wells, Death Valley National Park, California by Nagaraju Hanchanahal; “Bristol was shaken by a hurricane today” by Paul Townsend; and Twirl in the Rain by Anshum Mandore.

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