Cold weather photography


TPF Noob!
Dec 23, 2005
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Houghton, MI
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Does anyone have any experience with cold weather photography? I'm possibly spending a year at Murdoc Station, Antarctica and bringing my camera will be a given. I shoot a pentak k1000.
Take something FULLY manual which can operate with no batteries. Nikon and Pentax are both great for cold weather work. Then you can use a small pocket light meter which you can keep warm at all times. (It's the cold which lowers battery output - they're not actually flat, but they might as well be!)

In -30C and below, film is prone to shattering, so try and load in moderate cold, rather than normal 20C room temperatures. Avoid high-power motor drives and auto-rewind.

Assuming Antarctica is covered in snow... you'll probably want a pretty fast film, 100 ISO or thereabouts is probably good - this depends on the time of year and light intensity (obviously).

I can't re-iterate enough that you need a camera which will fire with no battery power. The watch type batteries which are used to power the light meter are exceptionally prone to low-temperature non-operation and they're not possible to change in protective cold-weather gear. AA batteries can at least be kept in your inner layers.

I'm sure there's more people here who can help - we've got some Canadians who are regularly out in scary low temperatures.

The March issue of Black & White Photography magazine has an article about Joan Myers, a landscape photographer who recently spent 4 months at McMurdo on the Antarctic Writers and Artists Programme, funded by the National Science Foundation.

She usually shoots large format, certainly no less than 6x7, but mostly used digital on her trip. She did make two comments about film though. First, wind on very slowly or you may get static electricity marks (it may be cold, but it is very dry too). Second, she had a roll of 120 where the backing paper separated, but you won't have that issue shooting 35mm.

She kept her Nikon D100 inside her parka except when actually making an exposure, and says she had no problems with batteries. Even with something mechanical like the K1000 I think I would do the same - lubricants can get very thick at low temperatures which could affect shutter speeds even if it doesn't cause a complete failure. But what do I know - it didn't get below -7 here this winter, which is positively tropical compared to McMurdo.

You can see some of Myers' Antarctic pictures at

It's the film that gets crispy in the cold more than the actual freezing up of the camera. Leaf shutters have less problems over curtain focal planes which grt crispy in the cold unless they are fully made of fabric, not rubberized. Also have your camera serviced before going and be sure to tell the tech your planning to use the camera in sub zero conditions so they use the correct lubes or even leave the shutter run dry.

I saw that article in B&W magazine where she actually prefered the digital over her mechanical cameras, very interesting. Just make sure to keep it warm till you are ready to shoot, same for a film camera.
I've shot snowcross at -25 and never had an issue with my 20D's batteries. I never put the camera inside my jacket, as I don't want to have issues with condensation from the temperature changes.

I shot in the neighbourhood of 500-600 shots that day on the two batteries.

Just make sure you take the proper steps, when bringing the camera in from the cold.

nice snow-X pics. I shot a couple rolls of the local vintage snow-x this winter. I had my camera out this winter when the temp was -20 and wind chill down around -50. I left it outside my clothing and had problems with the meter, the sunny 16 pulled me through though. I did notice the film was stiffer. Anyway, they are looking for snowmobile mechanics for the antarctic bases and some how one of the recruiters got my name and is actively recruiting me, they called last night asking if I was intrested in having them fly me to denver to meet with one of thier senior recruiters. I had to tell them it was exam week and to call me next weekend.:er:

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