It’s cold outside, the blowing wind makes it feel even chillier, there’s eight inches of snow on the ground and more is predicted over the next few days. “Cool,” should be your response as you grab your tripod mounted camera and head out the door. You can create many great cold weather images if you prepare yourself and equipment. Dress in layers with a wind block on the outside to make the cold tolerable. This is important because if you’re not comfortable, your images will reflect this. But part of the prep work should also be directed toward your equipment, specifically your tripod.
Winterizing your tripod is not difficult and it will keep you out in the field for longer periods of time. First and foremost, you need to make it comfortable to handle. If you have a metal tripod, it’s essential you create a climate barrier. This can be done a number of ways. Many photographers fasten pipe insulation around the leg areas where it’s handled. Pipe insulation can be found in any hardware store and it’s cheap. Not only does it prevent your hands from freezing when you carry the tripod, it makes a wonderful cushion when you rest it on your shoulder.
If you check the internet, you’ll find companies that make fancy pads that come in different camo patterns and are custom fit to specific tripods. Should your wallet allow you to go that route, they are aesthetically nicer. An option is to wrap the insulation with camo tape found in many sporting goods stores. Yet another is to tape bicycle handle bar tape over the legs as it has a soft layer of padding but it doesn’t provide as much insulation as true foam pipe insulators.
When you set your tripod up in soft snow, stability issues and problems with sinking legs arise. Some photographers force the legs into the snow but this presents two different issues. One is the depth at which the tripod sinks results in lost height. This necessitates the photographer sits or kneels down in the snow which expedites discomfort from the cold. The other issue is the legs of the tripod are now surrounded by the frozen snow which transfers the cold. A great solution comes in the form of tripod “snowshoes.” They strap to the foot and form a large surface area which makes it difficult for the legs to sink. The set I have is made by Manfrotto and they’re called All Weather Tripod Shoes. If you photograph a lot on ice, replace the rubber feet with metal spikes. The tripod will be more stable. The spikes prevent the legs from sliding across the ice.
A fairly simple trick to help stabilize your tripod in the snow is to stamp down the areas where each leg is placed as it compresses the snow and makes a more stable platform. Not only does it serve the purpose of stability, the energy used to do this helps warm you up. Another trick is to tape a hand warmer to the tripod where it’s normally carried. Make sure all the handles and levers are in good working order as the cold makes working them more difficult. If there are any sand or dirt particles hanging them up in room temperature heat, they’re sure to mess you up when you’re out in the cold. If you need to tune the tripod up, be sure to get cold weather grease recommended by the manufacturer.