It’s cold out! 3 tips to keep your camera on the level!

Recent shot of my shadow capturing snow shots!
Recent shot of my shadow capturing snow shots!

The other morning, I believe it was one of the coldest mornings of 2015 thus far despite the sun shining bright, I surmised there might be some wonderful ice formations happening along our steadily-trickling backyard stream. So I grabbed my camera, hat, scarf, coat, and boots. Unfortunately, I like manual mode and my camera has too many bells and whistles on it to be fumbling around with it behind the only thick winter gloves I could find, so I forwent hand protection for this round.

So I headed across the slick, icy tundra (aka about 400 feet of my back yard) in search of some great texture shots! What I found was amazing, however, I had to tread lightly, as the ice would not support my weight. And, while my boots were waterproof, the formations were not crack-proof. So I snapped away, my hands bare against the piercingly cold breeze. Between shots, I placed my hands in my coat pockets and wrapped my coat flaps around the camera itself.

In the end, as I predicted, I got only a few of the shots I might have otherwise gotten. The frosty cold (somewhere in the teens or lower 20s I believe), coupled with the light breeze, had my fingers burning and my eyes watering. This is the drawback to shooting nature’s creations. You are always at the mercy of the elements be it the sun’s position, the wind’s mischief, the rain’s persistence, or the cold’s bitter bite.

But the experience did remind me of a few tricks and tips I have taken for granted for some time. Some of which you might not be aware! So, as the bases of many of today’s devices (everything from smartphones to DSLR cameras) are basically offshoots of the same basic ingredients and concepts, I figure this might be a great time to give three great tips to keep them running smoothly in these bitter winter months.

1) Keep the device warm! As I noted above, between shots I slipped my hands and camera into my coat to keep them close to my body thereby keeping both warm. This is a quick technique to assure proper function of the camera through temperature regulation of the batteries.

This is a technique most photographers know and many others might not. You see, batteries lose efficiency in low temperatures. Some believe they lose power while those with more expertise say they simply lose the ability to discharge properly. In either case, the batteries are not going to function as well in cold temperatures and, therefore the camera will lose functionality as its innards become colder. And there might not be anything more frustrating than having a fully-charged smartphone suddenly go dead mid-selfie.

Luckily there is a way to stave off this problem! Basically, when it is not in use, it is best to keep it close to your body, under a coat, in a camera bag, etc. Straight up, hanging it around your neck or dangling out of your hand against the cold air is only going to degrade and shorten your experience.

2) Be wary of sudden temperature changes: Even before the days of electronic devices, a constant in the physics of our world is that cold, dry air, mixed with warm, humid air creates precipitation. On the small scale, this can come in the form of condensation. And this is one of the worst enemies for any electronic device and even adds more problems for those dependent on glass lenses.

If you have been out in the cold for a while with your phone or camera, or you have left one or the other in a cold car over night (which I would never, ever do), the ideal would be to bring their temperatures back up slowly.  An unheated porch area or on a cool windowsill can act as an intermediary area, however, as it is seldom you find a home with an effective, controlled warming chamber between their outdoors and indoors, the safe bet would be let the device sit in the off position for a while before turning it on. This allows the condensation to form and evaporate before running electricity across those circuit boards. This will secondly prevent foggy images, as the glass surfaces will likely develop (no pun intended) a thin layer of condensation on them at the same time.

As a preventative measure, you can wrap the camera in a plastic bag before bringing it indoors to help keep the warm, humid air from reaching it in the first place.

Also, as a note when still outdoors, be sure not to let your device become too cold or “cold soaked” then tuck it into your humid, potentially-sweaty coat interior. This could lead to condensation in the field!

3) Be mindful of the cold’s physical effects on your gear: Physically, your camera and phone are made of plastics, glass and other materials that, like everything else, can become compromised when exposed to low temperatures. Plastics and glass in particular (like that found in phones and cameras) can become brittle where they would normally be flexible. This is just a tip to keep in mind the camera’s case or the phone’s frame might not be as durable as it would be under optimum temperatures.

Overall: All in all, don’t panic if something were to happen due to colder temperatures. If the LCD screen begins to change color or become slow to respond or lenses get a little condensation on or in them, they will likely go back to normal once warmed. And not every light coat of moisture is a death nell for circuit boards. If that were the case, Kentucky photographers would be in trouble. Like the cold weather, sometimes it simply wreaks a little havoc and then clears. But preventing these things in the first place will take all cause for concern out of the equation.

For more tips, including nitty-gritty tips the common smartphone will likely not face (unless you have one of those old film-loaded smartphones), you may do a Google search, or check out these great links! (How to use your camera in cold weather), (Winter photography tips: Protect your gear in extreme cold), (How to protect your phone in cold weather).

In the end, keep calm. Spring is on the way!

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