Cold winter shooting and frosting the ground glass : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

This week I managed to get out in the cold weather and snow and shoot a few times. Considering that it was hovering around 2 Fahrenheit and with the occasional wind blowing I managed to do not too bad. Early during both sessions I managed to control my breathing under the dark cloth and had no problems with condensation/frost on either the lens or ground glass. But as chance would have it I became more engrossed with each shot and soon forgot to control my breathing cycles. As you would expect I eventually ended up breathing on the ground glass. Of course the inevitable happened, an instant layer of frost occurred randomly over different parts of the glass and this eventually brought my session to an end.

I have read different ideas such as using a snorkeling tube to prevent this but do not wish to add additional equipment to my shooting sessions. I already have enough in my hands and pockets trying to keep them at the proper temperature without sucking on a tube whilst not knocking something over or stepping on my precious gear.

How do you clean the ground glass once you have created a layer of frost on it? I have tried using my warm hand and then a gentle wiping but the heat just causes the glass to re-frost the minute I remove my hand. I also am now concerned with this problem should I accidentally breath on a lens and cause frost to occur. Would your idea also work for cleaning the lens?

As I conclude here I thought that it might also be appropriate in this thread to ask about carbon fiber tripods and the cold. I really do not need nor can afford a nice Gitzo but recently my Manfrotto metal tripod is terribly cold to handle once it has been outdoors. Does a carbon fiber tripod seem much warmer to the hands during these cold conditions?

Kind Regards,

-- GreyWolf (, December 31, 2001


Well this is not an answer, but a request to add in another question to our group on this topic. What about keeping hands warm in these conditions? What do people use; any special gloves?

-- Scott Jones (, December 31, 2001.

I can only speak about the coldness of the tripod. I used to use a metal tripod but it gets damn cold here in Minnesota. I went to a used Zone VI wood tripod and found the wood much easier to take as far as handling it without gloves on. The wood just doesn't seem as cold to hands. Alot cheaper than carbon fiber as well.


-- Kevin Kolosky (, December 31, 2001.

Hi Greywolf. Difficult to keep the GG free from frost. A folding hood used in conjunction with a long focussing loupe instead of the dark cloth can help. Best however is the binocular viewer. For the tripod problem in the cold, I have used successfully the kind of self-adhesive cork and rubber mixture tape that is sold in D.I.Y. stores to protect the bike's handle-bar, with some black gaffer tape to secure both ends. It is not too thick but still very insulating. A pair of gloves that my wife got me from the lady's wear, with a removable cover for the fingers are a real blessing! Happy new year!

-- Paul Schilliger (, December 31, 2001.

Try RainX fog-free on the ground glass, but not on the lenses. Another fix is to use silicone lubricant on the ground glass. It makes it easier to wipe the condenstation & frost off the glass & helps keep it from re-freezing quite so fast. For warmer hands you can use Miller mitts, the fingerless gloves or the kind with a full mitten covering that peels back from the fingerless gloves.

-- Dan Smith (, December 31, 2001.

I'd be careful with any kind of silicone around glass, as it's pretty much impossible to remove afterwards - learned that the hard way with a car windshield.

You can get a kind of plumbers foam pipe wrap for the tripod legs, and there are a number of solutions to keeping hands warm - the small packets that you unwrap and shake work very well, last for hours, and are inexpensive. Visit your local ski or outdoor gear shop for more elegant solutions, including battery powered heated gloves, and heated gel gloves.

-- Michael Mahoney (, December 31, 2001.

I don't understand. Why is this a problem?

-- Wilhelm in Sarasota, FL. (, December 31, 2001.

You can 'insulate' the metal tripod by putting neoprene type pipe insulation over the tubes. You can disassemble the tripod and slip the stuff over the main tubes. The cold doesn't transfer as noticeably and it provides cushioning if you carry the tripod on your shoulder.

-- David Flockhart (, December 31, 2001.

I was in a fly fishing shop the other day finding a gift for my father-in-law and saw a pair of polartec fleece gloves with a slit near the end of the finger and the thumb. The slit allows you to poke the end of your first finger and thumb outside the gloves while keeping the rest of your hands warm.


-- Dave Willis (, December 31, 2001.

The foam pipe insulation is a great solution for the tripod. Cheap and light, it also pads the tripod for carrying and protects it from scratches. The disposable paper masks can be help avoid breath on the gg.

Check out the hunting departments for personal cold weather equipment. There are chemical heat packs that can help the hands, and battery powered ones as well.

...and, a good bottle of cheap wine can make the ears "glow" {;^D

Best wishes to all for a peaceful and productive new year... -Dave

-- Dave Richhart (, December 31, 2001.

So far, I have been able to handle temps down to about -20F without too much trouble. I have never had problems icing up the GG (maybe I don't breath hard enough?), so I can't help with that. The carbon fiber Gitzo legs are definitely more finger freindly, but the metal parts still hurt. I have tried a number of gloves: for moderately cold weather, I like fleece gloves that have rubber traction surfaces on all fingers and palm. For colder temps, I have big overmitts or gloves that I can manage tripod set-up with, before stripping down to the fleece gloves. I have noticed that my ball-head loses grip when it gets really cold.

-- Bob Krantz (, December 31, 2001.

If you can keep the camera in the trunk or in the back of the truck so that it remains near the outside temperature you will reduce the fogging problem. Bob

-- Bob Moulton (, December 31, 2001.

I just had another thought Grey Wolf... whatever you do, make sure that you DON'T stick your tongue on the cold tripod...even if someone triple-dog-dares you!!! ;0D

-- Dave Richhart (, December 31, 2001.

Hold your breath while under the focusing cloth, this will teach you how to work fast. For a quick breath, duck from under the cloth.

I wear liner gloves, fairly thin, during the entire procedure of shooting in very cold weather.

Practice practice.

Good luck and best for 2002.

-- Hans Berkhout (, December 31, 2001.

I - shoot various cameras up here in the Canadian Far North down to - 40c/f (at which point I give in before the cameras do). I'll post some cold weather tips once New Years has been celebrated - but....

The foam pipe insualtion works great for tripods.... also carbon fibre has been known to "dry out" up here and shatter!

As for the ground glass - yep, holding your breath, using some kind of focus hood, or - the snorkel trick!! (but you get really funny looks!! (Oh and the BTZS focussing cloths are garbage in these temps - the iter-linings cracks in the the cold + they stiffen solid...

tim a

-- Tim Atherton (, December 31, 2001.

As for gloves.... A huge pair of Artcic Wolf fur mitts on strings so I can just drop and dangle them, with finer gloves inside. You get used to doing intricate things with no gloves on, even at -40. Sometimes it's the only way.

-- Tim Atherton (, December 31, 2001.

I have three tripods (gitzo 1228 carbon, 340 and 410 aluminum). I find I use the aluminum ones most of the time due to increased mass. Last week, I shot in 3 F at Bryce Canyon. I keep the legs wrapped with pipe insulation (a few bucks at Home Depot). It also makes it nicer to carry, as you can sling the padded legs over your shoulder when you're walking. The carbon tripod is cold in cold weather. I don't like using a tripod bag in cold weather if I can avoid it, as fumbling with the zipper/buckles uses precious time.

One more thing. On one photo shoot in cold weather, the battery in my Pentax digital spotmeter weakend. Afterwards, I replaced the stock alkaline battery with a lithium. Worked perfectly at 3F.

-- James Chow (, December 31, 2001.


As for keeping frost off the ground glass, I use a 90 degree reflex viewing hood, which works flawlessly. Keeping hands warm is another matter. A pair of gloves, with a heat packet between the glove and palm of your hand works very well. I forget the actual name of the heat packets, but they're activated by contact with air and last several hours. Outdoor shops, ski shops, etc. sell them and they're inexpensive.


-- Pete Caluori (, January 01, 2002.

GreyWolf: I know where the likes of you hunt for prey: there in the Frozen North. 1) The snorkel makes much sense and is lighter and smaller than Paul's binocular viewer. Failing that, how a little 'antifreeze' in the form of a shot of Rum before the session? For that to work, the concentration in the blood would probably hurt you and your picture taking. Make sure you have a designated driver too. 2) Carbon tripods. The glass transition temperature for the epoxy resin matrix used in carbon fiber tripods is a well guarded, not divulged trade secret as far as I know. And for good reason: Most epoxies become extremely brittle at not too cold temperatures. I would dread dropping one of those $1000 things on a sharp stone in cold weather. 3) Cold hands: The plumbing tubing foam is great and light, and the best way I know to make your tripod friendly to your hands in cold weather. Many sizes are available. The foam is cheap and easily replaced. 4) Cleaning ground glass after frost: a bit of isopropanol will dissolve the icy film which can be wiped off with a dry cloth to prevent re-condensation of moisture and more icing. I have not tried it. If you carry 'the other antifreeze' that will do too but it may leave a residue on the GG. 5) If all else fails, park your LF at home and take your Hasselblad. That is what I do in the Frozen North where I too live. New Years greetings to all!

-- Julio Fernandez (, January 01, 2002.

Greywolf, Try a bandana over your nose and mouth like the bandits uesed to wear. This will keep you breath from frosting the glass and also keep your nose warm. Gloves on strings is the best tip I've used. Good luck and keep warm. Doug

-- Doug Th (, January 01, 2002.

Dave: it is not possible to not take up a triple-dog-dare. I know from muth ethperienth.

-- Steve Seitz (, January 04, 2002.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ