How To Keep Your Flash Warm

The old saying  “Be careful of what you wish for, it might come true” has become the reality of my life this month.

I’ve been moaning and groaning to anyone who would listen about how the mild weather in Eastern Ontario was delaying the start of my latest project The Outdoor Rink. I’ve gone to shoot photos of people shovelling rinks only to find them draining water off the ice. Or I found the rinks closed entirely. The opening of the local community rinks in Ottawa, that usually happens in late December, was delayed by several weeks into January. Volunteers, who spend their winters cleaning and flooding rinks across the city, grappled with the unpredictable temperatures and watched the weather forecasts anxiously.

Finally, in true Canadian fashion, the cold weather hit with a vengeance. We now have bitterly cold days, sun glinting off the ice, wind chills in the double digits – perfect skating weather. I got what I wished for!  But my camera equipment is not so happy.

One night with the temperature hovering around -21 C I went out to shoot some photos at a nearby skating oval to capture images of local speed skater Brielle Durham as she whizzed past me. The weak rink lighting wasn’t helping. So I was using my new flash a Godox TT350. But I found out that the flash doesn’t like the cold. It works but takes several minutes to recharge for the next shot. Brielle had skated by twice before I could use it again and then while I waited for her to skate past a third time the flash unit turned off completely. I changed the batteries ( duh!) but it didn’t make much difference at that temperature. I left after an hour with frostbitten fingers and one blurry shot.

Very discouraging. I thought about just putting the speed skating idea aside and moving on. But then I remembered a camera man I worked with in Alberta when I was a CBC TV reporter in Western Canada in the late 1990’s. He did a lot of live sports photography and like many camera people had to improvise to solve problems in the field.  At one point he used chewing gum to fix a broken microphone cable and save a crucial interview when no other solution would work in a remote, cold location. 

So I came up with an idea to keep the flash unit warm – try the hand warmers that skiers and skaters use to keep their hands and feet from freezing. They are small rectangular envelopes with a chemical that gets hot when you unwrap them and expose them to the air. 

So I headed to the rink supplied with a bag of hand warmers and a roll of Gaffer tape. I opened them up and taped them along the sides of the flash where the battery contacts are located, carefully avoiding the screen and other working parts of the flash.

The warm and happy flash on my camera.

Magic! It works really well. The flash is warm and happy, recharges in seconds and stays on even in -20. The warmth lasts for about 30 minutes. I now have photos I can use. I’ve included some photos of my solution and the photographic results below. Thanks to speed skater Brielle Durham from Orleans for her patience with my many photos!

So now, feeling pretty happy with myself, I am making another wish.

That deep, cold winter will last and Ottawa’s skating rinks will stay open until the beginning of March…

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