Brainerd, Minn. – The incident was three decades ago, but I remember it like it happened yesterday.
On a dreary winter late afternoon, I was leaning against a frozen bur oak, loaded down in all the cold weather clothing I owned at the time. I don’t recall the temperature, but I know it was below zero.
My plan was to photograph deer that were crossing the meadow to feed in a distant cornfield that had been harvested. My camera and telephoto lens sat atop a tripod in front of me.
I had been standing for an hour or so when a coyote emerged from the woods about 200 yards away. I reached into my backpack, which was lying in snow next to me, and grabbed a predator call. I blew into the call, and the coyote responded instantly and ran in my direction.
I watched the predator through the viewfinder as it moved within photo range. I touched the shutter button, but nothing happened. The cold temperature had drained the power from the small button batteries that ran my camera.
Meanwhile, the coyote posed nicely, and then trotted off.
Fast forward to about three weeks ago. I was attempting to photograph songbirds from a blind. The temperature was 29 below zero, and the sky was cobalt blue as it usually is on severe mornings. My modern camera functioned just fine and I was able to shoot for about an hour and a half. I eventually lost feeling in my fingers so I went home, but not before I had taken some nice images.
Obviously, camera equipment has some a long way since the 1980s. My current cameras are powered by lithium-ion batteries that retain power in the cold. I further guarantee my cameras will work by employing battery packs, an option that allows me to use bigger batteries than those supplied with the camera itself. Just in case, I also carry an extra battery in a pocket close to my body so it stays warm. I have the spare ready to go if the original fails.
I did have an issue viewing the monitor on the back of my camera fogged from my breath. I was unable to view images, or the histogram and other important information. I have since wiped my camera monitor with an anti-fog cloth, which are available at most camera shops. (I have yet to give it a good test on a really cold day.)
I know dishwashing soap works fairly well on eyeglasses. Simply apply a drop, rub it around, and then wipe it off. Do not use any anti-fog system on your lens elements.
Here are some other tips on dealing with the cold while photographing:
• I like to wear the mittens that convert into fingerless gloves for ease of camera operation. I also use chemical warmers for my hands and feet.
• Remember snow can fool your camera’s exposure meter. Take some shots and make the appropriate adjustments.
• Wildlife can be less wary in extreme conditions and thus easier to approach. Plus wildlife tend to gather in sunny locations out of the wind. But don’t pressure your subject. Critters need to conserve energy on cold days.
• Do not bring a cold camera and lenses into a warm environment without taking precautions. Condensation can wreak havoc on electronics. I first remove my memory card from the camera. Then I wrap a large plastic bag tightly around the camera and lens and secure it with rubber bands. Then I roll the covered camera and lens into an old sleeping bag before bringing it indoors.This allows my equipment to warm slowly, preventing condensation. I can look at my images while waiting because I removed my memory card.
• Dress in layers for warmth and to block the wind. That setup also will allow you to shed a layer if you are active while shooting photos. If stationary, wear the warmest clothing you have.
Photographing in the extreme cold can be demanding, but often there are fantastic images to make.
Bob Marchel is an outdoors writer and photographer. He lives near Brainerd. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.