With winter weather, it’s easy to stay inside warm and not shoot for a few months. However, the city looks so different during the winter, with snow, frozen lakes and rivers, that it’s worth getting out and exploring. Let’s talk about what you need to go out in the cold and how you can get some great images.
Dress the part
The first thing you need to take care of is yourself. In cold temperatures, you won’t last long if you’re not well equipped, and you might even injure yourself. If you want to be able to shoot for a while, you’ll need to be covered. First, you need layers for your legs and upper body. Ideally, the outside layers should have some level of wind protection. It’s not as easy to have layers for your legs, but without protection, your thighs will freeze quickly.
Then you need to take care of all your extremities: a hat for your head, a cover for your face, gloves for your hands and boots for your shoes. For photographers, the trickiest part is the gloves, as we need to stay warm while being able to control the camera. If it’s really cold, then your best option is probably to have two layers: light gloves with which you can control your camera and open mitten to cover them when you don’t need precision. A good example is the gloves by the Heat Company.
Having hand warmers in your pockets is also a good way to keep your hands warm if your gloves are not warm enough. Some mittens even have a compartment where you can fit a hand warmer.
Take care of your gear
Frigid conditions can be tough on your gear. For example, when I shot Niagara Falls in winter, the mist from the falls would end up covering my camera and myself, and then would freeze very quickly. Cold, in general, isn’t forgiving with electronics, so you need to take some precautions.
First, be aware that cold conditions tend to reduce battery life, sometimes drastically. It’s always good to have a couple of spare batteries in case the one in your camera dies. Keep the spare in your jacket, so they’ll stay warm. Once a battery dies, keep it in your jacket and you will be able to use it again after it warms up.
Another thing to watch is condensation on and inside your lens when you bring your camera inside. The cold glass will fog up when it gets into a warm environment. It’s not great if you want to keep shooting, and you could even end up with water inside your lens. A way to prevent this is to put your camera & lens inside a ziplock bag before coming back inside a building or a car. Wait until the camera has warmed up before taking it out of the bag. Putting it back into your backpack can also help.
Embrace the weather
Winter weather can be rough, but it’s also an opportunity to capture unusual images of the city. Think snowy cityscapes, frozen rivers and lakes, dramatic storms, snowflakes, and more…
The snow transforms the city and helps creating minimalist compositions. Frozen lakes and rivers provide great foregrounds. Stormy skies and bare trees add mood to your images. There are so many ways to use cold weather to get great images.
If things look too gray or boring, try to use black and white. It often helps with snowy scenes and it creates high-contrast, impactful images.
We hope this will encourage you to get out this winter, despite the cold weather. Please share your images in our Facebook Group and on Instagram tag them with #wintercityunfolded, as our theme is Winter Cityscapes this January. We can’t wait to see what you get!