Cold Weather Photo Tips

Cold weather photo tips: Iceberg in Greenland
Iceberg within iceberg on the west coast of Greenland.

It’s only September, but the wind chill hits -30 degrees Celcius on the Greenland ice cap for the third day in a row. Lying in the warmth of my sleeping bag, I can see the fog of my breath illuminated by my headlamp. Suddenly, I realize I’ve forgotten my boots outside overnight, and they’re frozen solid, tough as bricks. So, the day kicks off with my footwear sandwiched between dehydrated dinner bags filled with hot water. Thirty minutes of thawing later, and I can get a move on with what I’m actually there to do: shoot a film about photography with French filmmaker Mathieu Le Lay.

The misadventures that day didn’t start with frozen boots. Every two hours throughout the night, Mat and I took turns going to our water supply—a nearby supraglacial lake—where we punched through the surface of the ice with our tripods for fear it would freeze solidly enough to shut down our hydration source for good. It was an important lesson that, at times, what threatens a photo expedition isn’t malfunctioning gear or dead batteries; it’s your own body’s batteries that make all the difference.

Sleep-deprived, with boots finally on, we venture out onto the ice cap, and the wind is howling. As a photographer, you know that it will be one of those days where you’ll be very selective about what you stop for, and when each shot has to be earned. All day, our voices are muffled by the balaclavas and the gale, and hand signals prevail. Our silence isn’t due to a lack of excitement. For hours we explore in quiet bliss, photographing crevasses of an impossible blue, sneaking between teetering seracs, and peering down every millwell we stumble upon.

Cold weather photo tips, Greenland ice cap
Underwater view of an Icy abode on the Greenland ice cap.

The environment forces us to be intentional with our creativity, to manage our energy. That evening, we return to the tent and finally reveal the rest of our faces: smiles all around.

A Case For Cold Weather Photography

I won’t lie, I’m a high-latitude fanatic. I love the remoteness that comes with venturing to the far-flung reaches of the planet, and traveling toward the poles means venturing into cold climates. Some of my most memorable and creative photo experiences occurred amongst the bobbing icebergs and penguins of South Georgia, the endless tundra and dramatic fjords of Baffin Island, and the snaking blue-hued glaciers of Svalbard. I’m addicted to that end-of-the-world feel.

I’m also a winter enthusiast. Where I live in the heart of the Canadian Rockies, I find that, most of the time, the landscape looks better at -20 degrees Celcius than at 0 degrees. It’s magical out there in mid-January, even when it’s so cold out your pants remain standing when you take them off. Under a fresh blanket of snow, everything looks pristine and, wherever there is open water, rare snow and ice features present themselves, creating exceptional conditions for photography.

So, the bad news is Old Man Winter and the subpolar regions mean you have to deal with the cold, and photographers know that cold is no friend to cameras. The good news? These days, there are ways to make cold-weather photography more than bearable—I’d say downright enjoyable. How? Here are some cold weather photo tips I’ve gathered over a few years of shooting the Arctic and Antarctic regions, and the long white stretch here at home.

Cold weather photo tips, Alberta, Canada.
First light at the methane bubbles of Abraham Lake, Alberta, Canada.

Bundle up. With high-performance gear on the market, it’s becoming much easier to be reasonably comfortable out there in the cold. Layer your clothing, buy a box of cheap heat packs and keep a box in the car. Activate the heat packs 10-15 minutes before you need them. And it doesn’t matter how warm your body is, if your feet are cold, you won’t last very long out there. Invest in a good pair of well-insulated boots, as well as warm socks. Don’t worry about what you look like—just stay warm. Avoid sweating at all costs. Trust me, discomfort leads you to rush through your process, and it can show in your images.

Battery power. It’s one of my main concerns out there. I always keep two spare batteries in an inner pocket. If you’re doing time-lapses or long exposures, I’d recommend carrying tape or rubber bands so you can place hand warmers close to your battery compartment. Also, consider investing in a battery grip to keep the power going. Put the depleted battery in a different pocket than the full batteries so you don’t get confused.

Know your gear. Bone-chilling temperatures are not ideal for figuring out how to bring up your histogram, changing aperture or operating your tripod. It’s all about efficiency out there, and it really helps if you’re familiar with your gear and can operate it with gloves on. If you have to, practice changing settings with mitts on in the comfort and warmth of your home.

Cold weather photo tips, iceberg under the aurora borealis
An iceberg comes to rest under the aurora borealis. Disko Island, Greenland.

Watch for moisture. When taking a shot, take care not to exhale near the lens. Look away from the camera, or take a step back, before exhaling. Otherwise, condensation will freeze to the surface of your lens instantly. Some companies make dehumidifying lens caps, which can help with that problem. It’s not a bad idea to keep silica packs in your camera bag at all times and change them occasionally.

Bracket your images. Whenever I find myself in a situation where time is of the essence, I bracket. It’s a huge help to not have to mess with auto-exposure compensation when it’s really cold out. That, and often cold means there’s bright snow around that’s hard to expose properly anyway, so you might be very glad you have the extra frames. Try to rely on your histogram as much as possible to get a clear idea of how bright your image really is.

Insulate metal parts. Touch an aluminum tripod with bare hands in cold weather, and you’ll quickly learn you never want to do it again. If you’d like to save your fingerprints, prep the metal parts of gear that you might be handling without gloves. It’s helpful, for example, to cover your tripod legs with some sort of insulation, such as hockey tape or foam.

Keep food and hot drinks handy. Eating a lot will keep you going for much longer. But if the food is hard to access, you might not bother to dig it out. I like to keep something energy-rich in an easily accessible pocket, such as nuts, dried fruit and (my favorite) chocolate. A thermos with something hot and sweet will keep you warm from the inside out and help you to avoid some serious consequences of cold, such as hypothermia.

Cold weather photo tips, Panther Falls, Banff National Park
Nighttime ice climbing at Panther Falls, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

Use two camera bodies. Changing lenses can be a real challenge in cold, wintery conditions. Handling gear in the cold is hard enough, but when you change lenses you also risk exposing your sensor to moisture. If you have a backup body, consider going out with two cameras so you can shoot at different focal lengths without having to switch lenses.

Take advantage of conditions. Some unique features come out only in cold weather—keep an eye out for them! These include methane bubbles in lakes, hoar frost, the interplay of sidelight and dramatic temperature differences (such as fog over open water), icicles, long shadows and the softening effects of an untouched blanket of snow. Sometimes this means venturing out in the coldest temperatures imaginable, but I promise you’ll go home with images you’re proud of.

Seal it. Depending on your gear, you may need to be cautious about drastic temperature differences, such as when you return to heat blasting in your car or go back indoors. Before exposing your gear to that warmth, it’s recommended that you place it in a sealed bag (such as a Ziploc) until it has reached room temperature. This will prevent condensation forming on the camera and lens. Add a silica gel pack to the bag to further cut down on moisture.

Cold weather photo tips, Sunrise at St Andrews Bay, South Georgia
Sunrise at St Andrews Bay, South Georgia.

Give it time. It’s easy to throw in the towel when you’re facing super cold conditions. But take it as an opportunity to refine your system. Fingers got too cold? Make a mental note to bring the heat packs next time. Fiddling with your camera’s menus too much? Get more familiar with your gear. To help motivate you, make micro goals in getting out in the cold on a regular basis.

Embrace discomfort. No matter what you do, photographing in freezing temperatures will never feel like shooting a sunset on a beach in Hawaii. But often the difference between a good photographer and a great one is the willingness to go through some discomfort to get your images. Work toward spending more and more time out there, and, as you walk away with images you like, you’ll be more inclined, maybe even excited, to face the cold again.

The bottom line is some of the best photo ops happen when it’s brutally cold out, and some of the most magical places on Earth never get all that warm. Instead, they give us the opportunity to not only stretch our creative limits but also our personal comfort zones. Set yourself up well, and you’ll find that you—and your photo gear—are able to withstand even the coldest of temperatures. That warm blanket and hot coffee will feel that much better when you get into the editing room.

Paul Zizka is a mountain landscape and adventure photographer based in Banff, Alberta. See more of his work at


Tips For Winter Photography

Essential considerations for safe and successful photo shoots in cold and wet conditions. Read now.

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Photographic Portals Assignment Winner Bob Faucher

Photographic Portals Assignment Winner Bob Faucher
Photo By Bob Faucher

Congratulations to Bob Faucher for winning the recent Photographic Portals Assignment with the image, “Broken Arch View.”

“Broken Arch in Arches National Park isn’t really broken,” explains Faucher. “However, it does have a large crack that’s best seen from the backside of the Arch. The approach to Broken Arch from the parking lot at the Sandstone fins to the southwest is across a broad flat plain that becomes a bit undulating as you near the arch. The trail features beautiful wild flowers and is good for all skill levels. It’s primarily used for hiking, walking, nature trips and birding, and is accessible year-round. The best views of the arch are looking south through the arch back towards the trailhead.  To get this view, climb through the arch, which requires scaling a steep, solid scarp face. The sandstone fins of the Fiery Furnace are then seen in the distance, approximately 1.2 miles away. The steep, sharp wall of rock directly behind the arch provides warm reflected light on the arch later in the afternoons, which helps to open shadows. The trail is never busy, even in the summer, so the view will generally be unobstructed.”

Canon EOS 5D, Canon EF 16-35mm @ 16mm, Gitzo tripod, RRS BH-55. Exposure: RAW capture, f/20 @ 1/8 sec, +1.67 EV, ISO 100, Auto exposure, Partial metering, Manual WB.

See more of Bob Faucher’s photography at

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Photo Of The Day By Michael McDermott

Today’s Photo Of The Day is “Giraffe on the Run” by Michael McDermott. Location: Mara Triangle, Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya.
Photo By Michael McDermott

Today’s Photo Of The Day is “Giraffe on the Run” by Michael McDermott. Location: Mara Triangle, Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya.

Photo of the Day is chosen from various OP galleries, including AssignmentsGalleries and the OP Contests. Assignments have weekly winners that are featured on the OP website homepage, FacebookTwitter and Instagram. To get your photos in the running, all you have to do is submit them.

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Deepfakes algorithm nails Donald Trump in most convincing fake yet

A YouTuber this week created a convincing fake video of Donald Trump using the deepfakes algorithm. We’ve written previously about the algorithm, specifically about its use in creating fake pornographic videos featuring the face of your favorite celebrities and the body of a passable porn actress. Now that popular platforms like Reddit, Imgur, and Pornhub are cracking down on the practice, AI enthusiasts are turning their attention to newer, SFW applications. This is good. But also not. Take this example, which features Alec Baldwin on Saturday Night Live doing his famous impersonation of President Trump. YouTuber ‘derpfakes‘ trained the AI…

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Spotify ‘on its way’ to creating first hardware product

A trio of job listings on Spotify’s website are again getting the rumor mill swirling about new hardware. First spotted by MusicAlly, one of the jobs details the company is “on its way to creating its first physical products,” and that it was seeking someone to work in its Stockholm office to handle “manufacturing, supply chain, sales, and marketing.” Products, plural, is perhaps what’s most interesting. While it’s easy to envision an iPod-like device that steals fractional marketshare from competitors like Apple, it’s difficult to wrap your head around what appears to be Spotify’s big picture idea for the hardware…

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Samsung announces a whopping 30TB SSD

Samsung today announced it has begun mass production of the world’s largest solid state drive (SSD). While unassuming in its 2.5 inch form factor, this drive packs a whopping 30.72 terabytes and leverages Samsung’s latest V-NAND technology. Called the PM1643, the drive combines 32 new 1TB NAND flash sticks, each comprised of 16 stacked layers of 512Gb V-NAND chips. Nerd speak aside, these 1TB packages allow for super speedy transfer — about three to four times that of an average SSD — and incredible capacity to boot. Each drive is reportedly capable of storing 5,700 full HD movies. With our…

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Historians battle publishers for the right to resurrect dead MMOs

Fans of abandoned online games are close to bringing back certain “dead” titles — if the US Copyright Office doesn’t side with the studios, who this week began pushing back against their efforts. The US Copyright Office, which oversees the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), renews its provisions every three years. These provisions include the specific rules which criminalize any attempts to circumvent copyright protection, and the exemptions to those rules. During the renewal, it takes public comment and petitions on whether any new exemptions should be made. A new comment, submitted last October by the Museum of Art and…

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The Stanford gaydar AI is hogwash

Last year a couple of Stanford researchers created an algorithm to determine whether Caucasians are gay or not with better accuracy than humans. The algorithm, trained with human bias, is better at determining whether or not other humans will think a face is gay. Unfortunately the researchers don’t present their work that way. The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology recently published the final version of the white paper that details the work, essentially giving it full credence as a peer-reviewed piece of science. That makes sense; there’s nothing wrong with the paper and all the science (that can actually…

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DNA data storage system rises past 400 megabytes — find out how to store yours

UW-Microsoft researchers
University of Washington researcher Lee Organick (foreground) and Microsoft researcher Yuan-Jyue Chen (background) work in the Molecular Information Systems Lab. (UW Photo / Dennis Wise)

Scientists from the University of Washington and Microsoft are improving their system for preserving digital data in strands of synthetic DNA — and they’re giving you the chance to participate.

The UW-Microsoft team laid out the method in a research paper published this week in Nature Biotechnology.

For the experiment described in the paper, text files as well audio, images and a high-definition music video featuring the band OK Go were first digitally encoded, and then converted into chemical coding — that is, adenine, thymine, cytosine and guanine, which make up the ATCG alphabet for DNA base pairs.

The system used molecular markers, or primers, to enable random-access reads from a database containing more than 200 megabytes’ worth of DNA-encoded data. Computer scientists developed algorithms that enhanced the system’s tolerance for coding errors.

“Our work reduces the effort, both in sequencing capacity and in processing, to completely recover information stored in DNA,” explained Microsoft senior researcher Sergey Yekhanin, who was instrumental in creating the codec and algorithms used to achieve the team’s reported results.

It turns out that the 200-megabyte mark is already 19-month-old news.

“Since this paper was submitted for publication, we have reached over 400 megabytes, and we are still growing and learning more about large-scale DNA data storage,” computer scientist Luis Ceze said in the online newsletter for UW’s Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science and Engineering.

Researchers on the UW-Microsoft team say they should be able to scale up the method to store terabytes’ worth of data in pools of DNA.

Do you want to preserve your photos in a digital DNA archive created by UW’s Molecular Information Systems Laboratory? Check out the #MemoriesInDNA webpage to find out how.

In addition to Ceze and Yekhanin, the authors of the paper published in Nature Biotechnology, “Random Access in Large-Scale DNA Data Storage,” include Lee Organick, Siena Dumas Ang, Yuan-Jyue Chen, Randolph Lopez, Konstantin Makarychev, Miklos Racz, Govinda Kamath, Parikshit Gopalan, Bichlien Nguyen, Christopher Takahashi, Sharon Newman, Hsing-Yeh Parker, Cyrus Rashtchian, Kendall Stewart, Gagan Gupta, Robert Carlson, John Mulligan, Douglas Carmean, Georg Seelig and Karin Strauss.

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Billionaire Robert Bigelow sets up new company to operate future space stations

B330-based space station
An artist’s conception shows three Bigelow Aerospace B330 modules linked together to create a space station being serviced by SpaceX Dragon spacecraft. Such a configuration would provide as much pressurized volume as the International Space Station. (Bigelow Aerospace Illustration)

Nevada-based Bigelow Aerospace has had space modules in orbit for more than a decade, but now billionaire founder Robert Bigelow is starting a new push to operate commercial space stations.

To that end, he has set up a separate company called Bigelow Space Operations, or BSO, with the aim of having Bigelow’s expandable B330 modules sent into orbit. Two of the 330-cubic-meter (12,000-cubic-foot) habitats are due to be ready for launch by as early as 2021.

The timing for deployment will depend on the outcome of Bigelow’s negotiations with potential launch providers, and the findings of a market study to be conducted by BSO this year.

“We intend to spend millions of dollars this year in drilling down, hopefully, to a conclusion one way or the other as to what the global market is going to look like, and we expect to finish this investigation by the end of this year,” Bigelow told reporters today during a teleconference.

Bigelow said BSO would report “whether the news is terrible, or is it mediocre, or is it great,” and decide on that basis whether to start building more B330s.

Several of those modules could be combined to create orbital outposts bigger than the International Space Station (which has 32,333 cubic feet of internal pressurized space).

Bigelow Aerospace also has plans for a gigantic space station called Olympus, with more than twice as much volume as the International Space Station. Olympus stations could be ready for launch eight to 10 years from now, but they’d have to be built at a new manufacturing facility in Florida, Alabama or some other location suitable for transportation to the launch pad, Bigelow said.

All of Bigelow’s space modules — including two uncrewed Genesis test spacecraft that were launched on Russian rockets in 2006 and 2007, and the 560-cubic-foot BEAM module that’s currently attached to the space station — rely on an expand-in-space technology that NASA developed in the 1990s.

The technology involves launching a folded-up, soft-walled spacecraft and then inflating it to its full volume in space. Because of the materials used in the wall fabric, such modules can be made more impervious to micrometeoroid impacts and space radiation than metal-hulled habitats, Bigelow said.

Bigelow noted that his drive to create commercial space stations has had its ups and downs. He said he had commitments of various sorts for space deals with representatives from eight countries back in 2007.

“And then all hell broke loose,” due to the Great Recession and the twists and turns of space policy, Bigelow said.

Today, he’s facing what he calls a “different playing field.” The interest in space operations has rebounded, thanks to improvements in the economy and reductions in the cost of access to space, pioneered by SpaceX.

But Bigelow said he and other potential space station operators are facing competition from two main sources. One is China, which Bigelow said has been talking with some of his former partners about joining in on a space station project beginning in the 2022-2023 time frame.

“They are being systematically courted by China,” Bigelow said.

The other is NASA, which is already starting to shift its focus toward the yet-to-be-built Lunar Orbital Platform Gateway while leaving the fate of the International Space Station after 2025 uncertain.

“This is a political problem … and one that I call upon the Trump administration to get involved in,” Bigelow said. He said he had an “uneasy feeling” that there was no clearly defined plan for moving from the space station to future platforms for research, manufacturing and other activities in low Earth orbit.

Bigelow said he’s focusing on “helping foreign countries to establish their human space programs, and be able to facilitate on whatever their needs were.” Corporate applications would also be considered, but despite Bigelow’s long experience as a hotel magnate, he isn’t that interested in operating space hotels.

“We don’t look at tourism as a particularly deep market,” he said.

Even though Bigelow sees NASA as a competitor, it’s a potential customer as well.

NASA’s 2019 budget proposal calls for spending $150 million to facilitate the transition to commercial operations in low Earth orbit. If that comes to pass, BSO would be interested — as would other companies, such as Axiom Space and NanoRacks.

In league with United Launch Alliance, Bigelow also has offered the B330 as an option for space station expansion or for a supply depot in lunar orbit.

ULA isn’t the only potential partner. Other launch providers — including SpaceX and Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture — could be in play, said Blair Bigelow,  who is vice president of corporate strategy for Bigelow Aerospace (and Robert Bigelow’s daughter).

Robert Bigelow said firm launch contracts wouldn’t be drawn up “if we don’t see a viable business case” to support BSO’s mission. He spoke dismissively about the idea of having a space station “whimsically deployed on a wing and a prayer.”

“We would pause after developing two of our 330s,” he said. “They would be sitting on the ground, waiting for deployment — if in fact they business simply weren’t there, if NASA were not interested, and the foreign countries were already spoken for in terms of where they’re going, and the corporate world was not interested as well.”

Nevertheless, Bigelow made clear that he was putting real resources into Bigelow Space Operations. He said BSO began hiring staff members in January.

“We will be hiring, this year … between three and four dozen people,” he said. “Overall, when the company is in full operation, with station operations, I expect the population of our staff to number between 400 and 500.”

In a separate announcement, the company said it was already partnering with the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space, or CASIS, which manages applications on the International Space Station in its role as a national research laboratory.

CASIS may well play a similar role for managing commercial space station operations, BSO said in its statement.

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