SHOOTING VIDEO OR PHOTO IN THE COLD PRESENTS INTERESTING CHALLENGES, BUT ALSO AN OPPORTUNITY TO MAKE BEAUTIFUL VISUALS.
Even in the winter chill remembering to create high quality and lasting images that have a story is important. Don’t get a brain freeze, use these tips and be prepared to shoot incredible visuals in cold weather. It’s well worth the effort.
I have been traveling the past two weeks through the Canadian Rockies with my good friend Nick Kelly (photos in the post are his) , shooting for Rosenbauer, the global leader in in firefighting technology. We decided to drive rather than fly and adventure between scheduled shoots. We figured the ice and snow would mean some incredible winter footage in the great Canadian Rockies (ok we really just wanted to try out his incredible new snow tires).
Traveling in the north has presented some shooting challenges with temps hovering at a very uncomfortable -18 degrees. I don’t know about you, but I consider that to be extreme cold. Shooting in zub-zero temps is a different animal but well worth it for incredible shots you will never achieve otherwise. I pulled up a screen shot of the weather this week, looks balmy compared to the – 18 and -20’s while we were there.
Here are my top 5 tips for preparing yourself and your gear to get great shots and stay safe. Afterall you may want to keep those fingers for another shoot day.
1. GLOVES ARE USELESS.
Holding a camera and operating all the menus, buttons and moving parts with gloves is essentially impossible. Gloves also restrict blood flow and drawing what heat there is out of your hands. I recommend over sized transitional mittens paired over thin liner gloves. Remember to get touch capacitive liner gloves or you will be kicking yourself trying to operate touch menus or your camera phone (you know you will be posting to instagram). I got some great outdoor research gloves at REI.
2. WOOL. WOOL. WOOL.
If you’re working in the cold you’ll experience a troubling paradox. Work produces heat, but cold weather gear insulates. Remember, moisture is the enemy. There is a difference when dressing to sit in the cold vs. exerting yourself with a shoot in the winter elements. A short walk can leave you sweating. If that moisture stays close to your body it will drop your core body temperature significantly. This will leave you in a potentially dangerous situation, or at the very least shivering and no one wants shaky video. Wool draws moisture away from your skin. It’s more of a temperature regulator than simply a warming fabric. Wool is naturally water resistant. Another fun fact- wool won’t hold a flame. If you get to close to a fire you can burn wool, but it won’t stay on fire.
3. NO SUDDEN CHANGES
Taking your camera from the extreme cold to a warm area can cause condensation, a bad situation for sensitive electronics. Putting a cold camera inside your coat will almost certainly lead to problems. Not to fear! The issue isn’t the temperature change. It’s the humidity in the warm area. Like summer condensation on a cold glass. Ever see condensation on a kuzie? Nope. Essentially if you keep the air off of the gear until it warms up there won’t be any issues. I carry large clear food bags in a roll and seal electronics in them before going back where it is warm. You can also Rain-X your lenses if you are making quick transitions and dealing with fogged lenses. Don’t get too hung up about condensation on professional cameras. That’s what the weather sealing is for, but it never hurts to take some precautions.
4. YOU CAN’T “HAND WARMER” BATTERIES
(Vague science lesson warning) – All batteries function as part of a chemical reaction. There are atoms moving around inside the batteries so when the temperature gets too cold that process stops. This means your batteries can, without warning and erratically lose power. Plan to keep extras inside your coat close to your body for warmth. Change them regularly. Another option is to use use a remote power source. I rigged up a cord from the camera to the battery inside my coat. In case you are wondering, sticking hand warmers to the batteries will not work. Trust me. I tried.
5. SAFETY FIRST
If you are shooting in remote areas, especially around water, leave your vehicle unlocked. This week I was shooting a partially frozen steam in British Columbia. It was clear that if I went in the water I wouldn’t drown, the water wasn’t that deep or fast. But I would be wet in -18 degree air. 150 yards from our vehicle, that means an eternity and danger. That kind of cold is hard to grasp. I’m a big guy. I would probably make it to the car, but I may not be able to get the keys out. Let alone start the car. You may think, well that’s a highly unlikely scenario and you are right it is. However why risk it? On two occasions I have had my hands get so cold I couldn’t use them. I don’t recommend it. First – It’s stupid, that’s too close to damaging them, and in this profession fingers are pretty important. Second- even if you don’t harm them with frost bite the searing pain as feeling returns is totally unpleasant.
6. HAVE A BUDDY
I traveled with Nick Kelly the Manager of Design and Video at Faithlife, because he is a friend, a talented creative, just got great snow tires and because it’s just smart to have someone with you for safety. It’s more fun too! If you are headed into extreme cold weather situations always try to have someone with you and at the very least tell someone where you are, checking in with them at set intervals.
Have any of your own tips for shooting in the cold? Share below.