WHILE COLD winter days offer some spectacular photo possibilities, they can also present some problems. The trick is to prepare your equipment in advance, and think of your camera as a good friend who needs to be kept fairly warm and decidedly dry.
Most cameras sold today come with built-in light meter or automatic exposure, focus and advancement capabilities. These cameras are powered by batteries, which need your close attention before you venture out into the cold.
Batteries begin to falter at about 15 degrees above zero Fahrenheit. To avoid some unpleasant surprises, such as incorrect metering or a "dead" camera, there are some things you can do now to get ready.
Put fresh, new batteries in your camera. Old batteries will falter more quickly when the temperature drops.
When replacing the batteries, remove any dust or dirt in the battery compartment. And clean the battery contacts with a pencil eraser to ensure a strong contact.
And if you're going to be out for a long day of shooting, say standing along Pennsylvania Avenue for hours waiting for the Inaugural parade to pass, slip some extra batteries into a shirt pocket where they'll stay warm and handy if your other batteries decide it's just too cold and die.
Another alternative to keep your camera powered through a long, cold day is to use a cold-weather pack such as Nikon makes. Remove your camera batteries and screw in the connection on the three-foot cord, which is in turn connected to the pack powered by two AA batteries. The pack sits in your coat pocket, where it's protected from the cold. It sells for about $35 at area camera stores.
Wear your camera inside your coat or windbreaker until you are ready to make a picture. The idea is to keep the temperature of the camera and those batteries above the dangerous 15-degree mark. But you don't want to keep the camera overly warm, because condensation, which comes with rapid temperature change, can also create a problem. If you wear an insulated vest or jacket under a light coat, place the camera outside the insulated garment but inside the coat.
Cold weather also affects film, which becomes very brittle and will shatter if handled too roughly.
Carefully and slowly load and unload your film by hand. This is not the time to use your motor drive to advance and rewind your film. The rapid movement of the film through the camera could either tear the film or cause static electricity to streak it and ruin your pictures.
Don Nelson, the metropolitan Washington representative for Nikon cameras, suggests a way to guard against static electricity damage.
"In very cold weather, I mix a couple of drops of Palmolive dishwashing liquid into a quart of water," says Nelson. "I dip a cast- aside stocking or pantyhose into the solutio and carefully wipe out the inside of the camera body, being sure to include the film guide rails and the pressure plate. I use the hose as a cloth because I want to use a fabric which will not absorb all the moisture. The point is to leave a little lubricant behind to cut down on the static electricity."
Sudden changes in temperature will fog your camera in the same way eye glasses fog up when you come into a heated room from the outdoor cold.
To protect your camera and lenses from fogging, let them warm up slowly. Place the equipment in a plastic bag, such as a garbage bag, and secure the top. Or if your camera bag closes tightly, keep it closed tightly when you enter the house.
Allow an hour for the equipment to warm up before removing it from the bag.
Here's a quick checklist to help you overcome the problems of cold weather picture-making:
* Install fresh batteries.
* Clean the camera.
* Leave your motor drive at home.
* Minimize temperature change.