Cold Weather Photography Challenges

By Sara Goodnick

When it’s Really Really Cold Outside Expect Camera and Physical Problems

Troubleshooting Ahead of the Session Will Make it a Successful Comfortable Experience

I recently participated in a special event-the Hashknife Pony Express pre-ride practice in early February at 5,000’ elevation in northern Arizona. We had been forewarned that it might be as cold as 20°F at dawn when we would be shooting and to come prepared.

I thought I was prepared since I had been collecting gear for an upcoming Alaska Aurora expedition, but I learned a that morning when testing out my new gear. A cold front came through and we were shooting at 15°F for two hours.

What worked:

Heavy duty Sorel Boots

Electric socks (until one of the battery packs fell out)

800 down-fill thigh length jacket with hood (but the hood kept falling over my eyes)

Balaclava to protect face and nose

What didn’t work:

The zoom on my 80-400mm lens (it froze at 130mm)

My camera battery (died after one hour), but I had a spare in my pocket

CF card developed some odd stripes on the images, so it basically failed

Wearing only a base layer, jeans and rain pants as bottoms (should have had snow pants or 2 base layers)

My gloves and mittens just weren’t warm enough for this situation

Should have packed my pockets with several chemical hand warmers

Frozen ground-needed to kneel down for some shots


Use a camera parka on my camera and lens to keep it warmer

Keep several extra fully charged batteries in my pockets

Have extra memory cards and change them out now and then

More base layers, snow pants

Three level system for hands: liners with touchscreen ability, insulated gloves for photographers with touchscreen ability, set of over-mittens to cover gloves when not shootin

Extra chemical hand, foot and pocket warmers, plus some to share with friends

Foam gardener’s pad for kneeling

Thermos of something hot to drink!


Sara Goodnick is an Instructor with Arizona Highways PhotoScapes.

Sara Goodnick, M. Photog., CPP
 AZPPA Photographer of the Year: 2011, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17