Emergency Photography Skill: Thaw a Frozen Camera

Matthew Saville recently spent a night shooting in the American Southwest. Saville, a seasoned astro landscape photography, has spent many a night camping out while shooting the night sky, but he’s used to the dry cold of places like Death Valley. He wasn’t ready for the humidity in the Southwest and definitely didn’t expect to wake up to three very frozen cameras. Luckily, he took the right steps to save the cameras and lenses:

If you’re into night timelapse or astro landscape photography, you’re going to have to leave your camera outside overnight sometimes. Of course, there are things you should do to protect your camera from the elements, mainly covering it properly, but in the off chance you’re caught off guard by freezing cold, humid weather and you wake up to frost-covered equipment, there are a few steps you can take to save your frozen camera.

In the situation shown in the video, Saville’s equipment included the following cameras and lenses:

frost on cameras

Steps to Save a Frozen Camera

Step 1: Remove the battery.

Step 2: Try to warm the gear gradually. It’s important to avoid rapid warming so the ice doesn’t melt faster than you can wipe it away because the water can get inside the equipment and cause irreparable damage. So, keep the camera outside in the shade, out of the sunlight, while you’re cleaning it.

Step 3: Use a cleaning brush to gently brush away snow and ice. If you don’t have a cleaning brush, use your gloves or mittens—as long as they’re soft. Brush away as much frost as possible, but be careful—when poking around ports or buttons, tip the camera upside down to avoid pushing ice or snow inside the camera.

save frozen camera

Step 4: As the frost melts, make sure to wipe away the moisture. Use a cloth or paper towel to constantly dab water off the camera.

Step 5: Take extra time and care with the lens—don’t rush the front element. You don’t want to risk scratching the lens, so aim it down and let it defrost on its own, but be ready with a cloth to wipe away the melted ice as you go.

ice on camera lense

Step 6: Keep waiting. Even after you’ve dried off your camera thoroughly, wait a few more hours before re-inserting the battery and turning it back on. Keep your newly cleaned gear in a warm place to be sure it’s completely dry—inside and out. This is especially important if your camera isn’t weather sealed. You can also try putting your camera in a ziplock bag filled with a desiccant (water absorbing solid), like rice, for a few hours.

defrost frozen camera

Again, you can prevent your camera from freezing in the first place, but if you do find yourself in a situation like this, be sure to take the time to clean the snow and ice off your gear and dry it out properly.

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