Photograph by Cotton Couson and Sisse Brimberg

Photograph by Cotton Couson and Sisse Brimberg

Tips for Shooting in Cold Weather

Husband-and-wife team Cotton Coulson and Sisse Brimberg have been taking photos for National Geographic magazine for more than three decades. Here they share tips for photographing in cold weather.

We are packing up our equipment to return to Antarctica and visit South Georgia for the first time—a good time to share some of our favorite tips for shooting in cold weather.

The Antarctic Peninsula is the northernmost part of the continent of Antarctica. This area is teeming with wildlife and has many different forms of ice. It also presents some of the most extreme photo-shooting conditions on the planet. You have a chance to photograph leopard seals, humpback whales, and penguins of all sorts. Antarctic weather has a tendency to change frequently, so you need to be prepared for all conditions when setting foot on shore. One minute the sun is out, and the next you might be sailing into strong blizzard conditions. Above all: It’s important to stay warm and be comfortable when working in this cold and remote region.

Tips for Shooting in the Cold

  • When shooting in below-freezing weather, it is critical to have a fully charged set of batteries, since the cold temperatures can quickly drain them. Should your battery discharge too early, you can extend its life by placing it in a warm pocket, close to your body, to warm it up. Remember to always bring along two batteries: one for the camera and another to be kept charging in your cabin or room.
  • When shooting in cold weather, or extreme conditions such as snow and sleet, it's important not to change your lenses outdoors. You never want to get moisture or condensation inside the camera body.
  • Be careful bringing your camera inside a warm house or cabin from the cold outdoors. Put your cameras and lenses into a plastic bag and seal them up before you bring them indoors. Once inside, place them in the coldest area you can find so they slowly warm up to the new temperature.
  • We always travel and shoot with rain covers (after all, snow is wet) to prevent the bodies and lenses from getting damp. Even the pro cameras, which are sturdier, need protection. Some systems even have an O ring on the lens to keep moisture from getting into the camera body.
  • We always try to bring along liners and fingerless gloves when we shoot in cold weather. Set up a system that works for you, one that allows you to shoot with your fingers and stay warm in between shots. You want to be sure you always have access to your camera controls and dials.
  • It's always wise to have a good chamois lens cleaner with you. Who knows when you might want to clean your filter or front element that has become moist from going in and out of cold temperatures.
  • Know where your CF (CompactFlash) and SD (Secure Digital) cards are stored. We suggest buying a weatherproof container to store them in. The last thing you want to do is lose or drop your valuable photos in the snow. It also protects the wilderness from photo debris.