How to Stay Safe When Photographing in Extreme Weather

Cinematic Portrayal of a City Destroyed by Hurricane

You have probably heard the old adage “not enough sense to come in out of the rain”. Unfortunately for photographers, rain is often the least of our extreme weather worries. In order to capture that perfect image, we often expose ourselves to weather extremes – heat, cold and unpredictable storms to name a few.

So it is vitally important that we follow steps to protect both ourselves and our gear in those situations. Fortunately there are some common sense guidelines that will help keep you safe even in the most extreme of circumstances.

Frozen thermometer shows minus 30 Celsius degree extreme cold wi

Extreme Cold

Who has not dreamed of capturing penguins in the Antarctic, polar bears in the Arctic, or the dramatic Northern Lights that seem to only appear in the coldest parts of the world? The key to successful shooting in extreme cold is to dress appropriately and protect your gear.

Dress in layers Making sure you are dressed correctly will help protect you in even the most severe cold. Layers make it possible to trap and keep warmth close to the body allowing you to comfortably stay out in the cold longer.

Hats and gloves are a must for shooting in extreme cold. Keep feet warm and dry by layering wicking inner socks with one or more pairs of warm woolen ones inside water resistant boots. Disposable hand and foot warmers are a great addition when the temperatures are especially low.

Camera and hiking equipment in the snow , close view

Protect your camera gear Rain covers for the camera body and hoods for the lenses will keep falling snow, ice and rain from hitting your gear. Some people like to use a clear UV filter, which is easy to wipe dry without worrying about harming the expensive glass, but you need to be aware that this will cut down on your available light and may affect the quality of your shots.

Batteries lose their power quickly in cold environments. Keep extra batteries in your inner pockets next to the warmth of your body to keep them from draining too quickly. “Dead” batteries can sometimes find new life if they are warmed up again, so keep your used ones close to you in case you need that extra power.

And finally, have a plan for when the cold gets too much. Having access to a car or shelter to warm up – if even for a few minutes – can keep you and your gear safe and shooting for hours on end. A thermos of hot chocolate in your camera bag can be a welcome reprise as well.

DEATH VALLEY, CALIFORNIA: A sign in Death Valley National Park warns hikers of extreme heat conditions on the

Extreme Heat

Preparing yourself for extreme heat – such as shooting in the desert or tropical environs – takes a bit of planning as well. Again, attention should be give to both dress and equipment.

Dress for the Heat Opt for lightweight, light colored loose fitting clothing. The goal is to cover as much skin as possible to protect from the suns damaging waves. Wear long pant and long sleeves with UVA/UVB protection if you will be exposed to the direct sunlight for extended periods. Use a well-vented, wide brim hat to protect your face, neck, head and ears from the sun. Add a good pair of sunglasses to complete your protection.

summer accessories with sun glasses, a hat, shells, flip flops, a camera on a bright yellow and pink background. top view

Camera equipment protection Humidity will cause extreme condensation on your lenses and camera bodies when traveling in and out of air conditioning in tropical conditions. Placing your camera in airtight bags and allowing the camera body and lens to adjust to outside temperature before removing from bag will minimize fogging . Use moisture absorbing desiccant packs inside camera bags if you are going to be exposing your equipment to humidity for extended periods.

Keep unused equipment in airtight plastic bags. Try keeping you kit out of harsh sunlight when not shooting, and NEVER leave your gear inside a car or trunk. Temperatures can reach damage causing levels quickly in hot environments.

And probably the most important consideration when working in extreme heat is to stay hydrated – drink lots of liquid but avoid caffeine, alcohol and sugary drinks. Seek out shade as much as possible, and try restricting movement to the bare minimum during the most intense periods of the day. A good sunscreen on any exposed areas will help to further protect from sun damage.

Driving in a Sand Storm

Dust

Sometimes you want to capture the Haboob, and sometimes you just get caught in a freak sandstorm. Regardless of how you got there, knowing what to do when the wind kicks up the sand can save you and your gear.

Protect Yourself If you find yourself in the dust storm, make sure that you cover your nose and mouth with some sort of protection. If possible, breathe through a wet face cloth or coat your nostrils with petroleum jelly and protect lips with lip balm. A bandana over your nose and mouth and goggles over you eyes will provide the best outer protection.

Keep you gear safe Enemy number one for DSLR sensors is dirt and sand. NEVER change lenses in a dusty or sandy environment. If you think your will want to use more than one lens during your shoot have an extra camera body of each one. If you find yourself in situation where you must change lenses, do so completely within an airtight bag to simulate a clean environment.

Fine sand and dirt can infiltrate even the tightest of seals. An airtight container such as an underwater casing can add an additional layer of protection, or you can fashion a casing yourself using zip-type plastic bags in an emergency.

Lightening bolt

Lightening Storms

One of the most dramatic images can be that bolt of lightening lighting up the skies, and it can be one of the most dangerous shots to get. The best way to stay safe in an electrical storm is to stay indoors – remember if you can hear thunder you are vulnerable. If possible, set up your camera on a tripod before the storm and either use a remote control, or simply set up a timer to shoot at intervals while lightening in is the area. If you are away from a permanent shelter and still want to try to get the shot, a hard topped car is the safest place to be while operating the camera as described. And never stand out unprotected on a conducting surface like concrete unless you want to know what a grounding rod feels like.

High Wind

There are two main risks when shooting in high winds. The first is the risk of your equipment – or even yourself – being blown over/away in heavy gusts. Reduce the risks by weighing equipment down – or even fastening it to a secure location, and position yourself behind sturdy barriers if possible to break the effects.

The second and probably most dangerous risk is from flying debris. Objects big and small can become airborne in an instant and immediately become flying projectiles. Positioning yourself behind a protective barrier can help reduce the risk of being struck by one of these objects. A friend or assistant whose sole job is to look out for flying debris can be a welcome addition to the team as well.

As with any situation, safety should be your number one concern when planning your photo shoots. But with a little planning – and a lot of common sense – you can use extreme weather to your benefit and capture the perfect shot.

Photo credits: Indiloo, Karen Foley, Harsányi András, Mkopka, Mk Studio, Dmitry Naumov, Ronniechua.

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March 07, 2020

Rbrucew

Good practical advice. I have some very nice prime lenses but don't use them much because I don't like changing lenses outdoors. I learnt my lesson after changing lenses on the Acropolis on a windy day in 1979; when I tried to blow a dust speck off the SLR mirror that night it left an oil slick! 

February 18, 2020

Williamwise1

"Add a good pair of sunglasses to complete your protection." I've found myself going without sunglasses more often. I don't like to be bothered with taking them off and putting them down in order to lift the camera to my face. But I suppose if there's a lot of travel between shooting, you could need them. Great tips. Thanks for writing! William 

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