Tips for shooting in extreme weather conditions

Hot or cold, rain or shine, follow these tips to capture stunning shots in any weather or environment.
A photographer wearing winter clothing and carrying a backpack stands on a snow-covered mountainside holding a Canon camera. © Richard Walch

Typically, photography is harder at extreme temperatures. Snow, frost and ice all make for spectacular winter scenes, but most cameras are designed to operate only above 0°C/32°F. Similarly, extremely hot environments can cause cameras to overheat, while sandy locations increase the risk of non-sealed equipment getting damaged.

Many Canon cameras have weather-sealing and can function in surprisingly severe conditions, but you must also consider the human element. Photographing in extreme environments can be as tough on you as it is on your gear.

Obviously then, you'll need to be careful when shooting in extreme temperatures, making sure you check weather forecasts before you set out and packing the appropriate clothing and outdoor photography gear. However, it also pays to have a few practical photography tips at hand to help things go as smoothly as possible. Here are our top tips for shooting in very cold and hot conditions.

Shooting in cold temperatures

1. Keep your hands warm

A photographer wearing a winter jacket, hat and gloves holding a Canon EOS R5.

You need to keep your hands warm while shooting in extreme weather conditions. Consider investing in a pair of thin thermal gloves, which go under your main gloves and help trap warm air.

Shivering hands can cause camera shake and lead to blurry shots. Make sure you pack a thick pair of waterproof gloves and hand warmers to heat your hands back up after you've been out in the cold for a while.

While gloves are important for shooting photography in cold weather, they can make it harder to press camera buttons. A Canon lens with an assignable control ring, such as the RF 200-800mm F6.3-9 IS USM, RF 35mm F1.8 MACRO IS STM or RF 85mm F2 MACRO IS STM, will often be easier to operate while wearing gloves. Canon cameras with a joystick controller, such as the Canon EOS R10, could also be helpful if gloves make it difficult to use the touchscreen to move your AF point.

If you're an avid winter photographer, sports photographer and Canon Ambassador Richard Walch recommends investing in climbing gloves, which enable you to expose your fingertips to shoot, but protect your hands between shots.

2. Protect your gear

A gloved hand holding a Canon camera with a lens hood attached to protect it from the wintry conditions.

In wintry conditions, a lens hood can help prevent water droplets settling on the lens. "A lens hood becomes tremendously important in flying snow," explains Richard. "You can get away with a lot if you use a good lens hood." © Richard Walch

A photographer films herself on a windswept pier with a Canon camera with a microphone and windscreen attached.

When shooting video, wind noise can ruin your audio. To keep audio clean, you can enable the wind reduction modes on your Canon camera or use an external microphone with a windscreen attachment.

Canon EOS R System cameras, such as the EOS R6, EOS R6 Mark II and EOS R7 have weather-sealing, and won't have an issue shooting in the rain, but check before you go out in a downpour. If any droplets do make it onto the lens, wipe them off with a clean microfibre cloth or lens wipe. You can also buy protective filters for your lenses, which are very useful in extreme conditions. It's advisable to avoid changing lenses in heavy rain or snowstorms, as you could risk damaging your equipment.

If you're using your camera outside and you haven't turned the focus ring manually or used the autofocus for a while, your lens focus and zoom rings may 'freeze'. To prevent this, ensure your camera is wrapped up and in a good quality bag when you are not using it, or cover it up if shooting in snowfall. Alternatively, you can turn the focus and zoom ring using the AF motor, or do it manually.

Your batteries will drain faster than normal in cold weather, so either keep your camera and batteries in your bag, to protect them from the conditions, or in an internal pocket where your body heat will keep them warm. Also, remember to pack twice as many batteries as usual.

Bringing your camera in from the cold to a warm environment will cause condensation which can damage your equipment. "When you go for lunch, either you or the backpack will stay outside," advises Richard. "If you go from cold to warm and try to check your images, it's game over. Your camera will fog up, your lens will fog up and you risk damaging your camera. You need to keep your camera in one temperature zone." Place your kitbag somewhere slightly cooler, like a porch, to allow your gear to come up to temperature gradually.

If you have to move directly from one environment to another, you could try wrapping a plastic bag around your gear for a few minutes, so that the temperature change is not as dramatic.

3. Use a tripod and shoot remotely

A photographer in winter clothing crouches behind a Canon EOS R6 mounted on a tripod positioned on rocks alongside a river.

Setting up your camera on a tripod and shooting remotely with the Canon Camera Connect app will reduce the risk of camera shake if you're shivering from the cold. You can check your framing and adjust exposure using the app's Live View, then shoot and transfer images straight to your smartphone.

Capturing a steady shot won't be easy if you are shaking from the cold. A lightweight and portable tripod will help stabilise your camera so you can shoot with confidence. Just remember not to touch the tripod with your bare hands if you're in sub-zero conditions, as you may 'burn' your skin. Stamp on any snow-covered ground to create an even, compact surface before setting up.

You can also use the Canon Camera Connect app on your smartphone to release the shutter remotely and wirelessly, which means you won't need to touch the camera at all. You can adjust focus via the app and also use it to geotag your images, so you'll never forget where you were when you captured that stand-out shot.

Shooting in hot or sandy conditions

1. Protect yourself from the sun

A woman sits in the shade of a shelter as she points her Canon camera, mounted on a tripod, out the window.

Take shelter when you can. Being out in the sun for too long could not only lead to dehydration, but also cause your gear to overheat. Depending on where you're heading, remember to carry plenty of water.

Avoid direct sunlight and stay in the shade whenever possible. If you have to be out in the sun, wear sunscreen with an appropriate UV protection factor, and a hat that shades your face. Where possible, keep your gear in the shade, particularly your batteries. If you're heading to an extreme environment, let someone know where and when you're going, and when you plan to return, so they can raise the alarm if necessary.

2. Choose the right gear

A photographer in a sunhat holds a Canon camera with a white-coated Canon RF 200-800mm F6.3-9 IS USM lens attached.

Black gear will absorb more light and overheat more quickly than kit with a white coating, such as the Canon RF 200-800mm F6.3-9 IS USM lens (pictured).

A woman crouches on a sandy beach to put a Canon camera in her kitbag.

Investing in a good quality kitbag will help you to transport your gear safely and protect it when you're not using it.

Staying out of direct sunlight will also prevent your gear overheating, especially when shooting video. Cameras can't function when they get too hot, so you won't be able to continue when yours overheats, and might miss shots while you wait for it to cool down.

If you're shooting in sandy environments, such as the beach or a desert, you need to protect your gear from grains of sand. The solution is to invest in a camera with weather sealing, such as the Canon EOS R7, which is moisture - and dust - resistant. The EOS R7 also benefits from shutter protection, which helps to prevent dust from entering the sensor. Lenses are also vulnerable. Pair your weather-sealed camera with a similarly protected lens such as the Canon RF 200-800mm F6.3-9 IS USM, which features rubber seals that will prevent sand damaging internal optics.

Even if it isn't scorching hot, your gear could still be affected by humidity, which can lead to moisture infiltrating and damaging your equipment. Again, moisture-resistant weather-sealed gear will prevent this, but there are other steps you can take. Use a waterproof kitbag, and place some silica gel sachets inside to collect any moisture that gets in. Make sure you keep your kitbag in a dry environment – perhaps a room with a dehumidifier if possible.

If you are dealing with extreme heat, you could store an ice pack in your kitbag to help keep things cool. Ensure this is wrapped appropriately, though, to stop moisture damaging your gear as the ice pack thaws.

The colour of your gear plays a part too. Some Canon lenses, such as the RF 200-800mm F6.3-9 IS USM, have a white coating to keep the inside of the lens cool in hot temperatures. The Canon EOS R50 is also available in white, which should help it stay cooler for longer than a black camera in sunlight. Additionally, L-series RF lenses such as the Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM have a heat shield coating which prevents the lens barrel from overheating under the intense sun.

3. Lighting and overexposure

A figure standing at the entrance to a cave holding a camera, silhouetted against a bright, sunny sky.

Canon mirrorless cameras can shoot RAW image files. If you're shooting in challenging light, such as bright sunlight, a RAW file will capture more data and a wider dynamic range, making it easier to fix the exposure in processing.

Bright sunlight can easily lead to overexposed shots. Be careful when shooting that you don't blow out highlights – when this happens, data is lost and unrecoverable, meaning you won't be able to fix the overexposure in post-production.

Use your camera's histogram or zebra pattern feature to monitor highlight peaking on the screen or via the EVF, underexposing your shot if necessary. As long as you don't blow out highlights, you should be able to recover a shot that's slightly too bright by reducing highlights and whites in editing software, such as Canon's Digital Photo Professional.

For more tips and techniques on photographing in challenging conditions, take a look at our article on shooting in extreme landscapes*.

Written by Peter Wolinski

* Available in selected languages only.

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