Taking photographs in the cold

Do you take many photographs during the cold of winter? I don’t. I hate cold weather.

Cary Quadrangle
Pentax H3, 55mm f/2 Super Takumar, Kodak Gold 200, 2016

So do some of my old cameras. Last winter when I shot my sexagenarian Pentax H3, I foolishly took it out on a near-zero day. It was out of my warm car for two minutes when I made the first shot, above. The shutter sounded odd, so I wound and shot one more time. That time, the shutter sounded quite sick. It made an exposure, below — a hot mess but I like it anyway. Those colors are so Kodak.

Too cold for the camera
Pentax H3, 55mm f/2 Super Takumar, Kodak Gold 200, 2016

The mirror wouldn’t come back down after this shot. Worried, I tucked the H3 into my coat and then, shortly, back into my warm car. Thankfully, when the H3 warmed back up it worked fine.

If your camera is fussy about cold at all, then keep it warm right up until you need to shoot it. My oversized wool coat is great for this — it’s super warm and can hold even my bulkiest SLR. I make my shot and then let the camera warm back up before I make another.

Most of my wintertime shots are around the house, which gives the camera little time to get cold in the first place. In Gracie’s last year I shot her in the driveway with my Pentax ME, right after I knocked snow off the gutter and onto her head and back.

Snow-covered dog
Pentax ME, 50 mm f/2 SMC Pentax-M, Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400, 2013

It was wintertime when I got around to testing a Kodak 35. I shot about half the roll around the yard in the cold. It did all right.

Front door
Kodak 35, Kodak Plus-X, 2015

I took my 1980s-vintage Canon EOS 630 out for a long walk along the Michigan Road a couple winters ago. I let it hang off my neck the whole time, exposed to the elements, and it performed great.

Barber Shop
Canon EOS 630, Canon EF 35-80mm f/4-5.6, Arista Premium 400, 2015

The camera I’ve shot most outside on cold days is my digital Canon PowerShot S95. I made this photograph on a day when temperatures hovered around -12. A foot of snow had fallen, making the tree branches beautiful. I tried to capture the beauty. I largely failed, but this shot of my next-door neighbor’s house worked out all right.

Snowy day
Canon PowerShot S95, 2014

My S95 performed fine shot after shot in that extreme cold, but I did stow it in my warm coat between shots. But my friend Alice also has an S95, and she finds hers to be fussy in weather below about 40 degrees. Who knows.

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8 responses to “Taking photographs in the cold”

  1. Mike Avatar

    Yet another reason to like cameras that will fit in your pocket. I haven’t experienced many problems due to cold weather having lived much of my life in dry deserts. The only problem I have with cool weather is during my frequent winter visits to the Mediterranean Conservatory at our botanic garden. As soon as I walk in, my glasses and lenses all become opaque. I’m headed there today, but don’t expect a problem as I’ll have my Olympus Stylus Epic tucked in a pocket before I open the greenhouse door.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I switched from glasses to contacts 30 years ago and one of the reasons was I was super tired of my glasses fogging up when I came inside on a cold day.

      I love SLR shooting but it’s not ideal in the wintertime given these cameras’ size. Maybe I should focus on my compact cameras in the winter. My little Olympuses could all stand some exercise!

      Of course, it’s 48 degrees today, and was in the 60s this past weekend. It’s the warmest January I’ve ever experienced.

  2. Joshua Fast Avatar

    I hate the cold! I’ve been carrying around a Nikon EM this winter and it’s plowed through winter in both Indianapolis and Chicago like a champ. We walked around Chicago right before Christmas when it was in the low teens and there wasn’t a single missed shot. It’s quickly becoming a favorite of mine.

    It seems like the only camera i’ve ever had problems with in the cold were pentax’s. Maybe the close tolerances?

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thankfully this winter has been pretty mild overall! It’s probably telling that the camera that sparked this post was a Pentax.

  3. Ron Avatar

    Unless these old cameras have a complete cleaning, lubrication, and adjustment (which hardly any of mine have), a lot of them struggle on a good day to get to the correct shutter speed. Especially the leaf shutters. The cold just makes it more fun.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I haven’t invested in CLA for most of my old cameras. I use films with wide latitudes to make up for any shutter inaccuracies!

  4. Les Avatar

    No, that’s one thing that I usually avoid doing during the Winter here. But, there are exceptions to that rule. If it snows and everything looks so pretty all dressed in White, I just may go “out there”. It may be for just a short time, but I can do it.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      My photography is curtailed in the winter, to be sure.

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