Winter provides many amazing opportunities to capture great photographs. But the challenges of working in the cold can limit your enjoyment and reduce satisfaction with your photographs.
Anyone who has ever had frozen fingers or toes has experienced the pain and nausea when the blood finally starts to slow into your extremities again. There are a few basic things you can do that will not only dramatically decrease your chances of getting the “screaming barfies” but will allow you to concentrate on capturing the great winter images you desire.
The bare necessities
All things metal, including our cherished cameras, lenses and tripods, become heat sinks in sub-zero temperatures. You cannot avoid handling your equipment so the first thing I want to stress is the use of a pair of thin gloves or glove liners. Avoid holding your cold gear with bare hands or exposing your bare skin to the elements for any period of time. The effects of windchill on exposed skin can be swift and serious. To protect against this I wear gloves made with wind-stopping fabric that are small enough to fit inside a larger pair of over mitts. I keep a small carabiner attached to my clothing or backpack to ensure that my over mitts don’t get lost on the trail, are easily accessible, and remain free of snow. Many brands of thin liner gloves are now made so that you can use a smart phone without taking them off. This is handy if you are using a helpful photography app like The Photographer's Ephemeris or similar.
Get a grip
Warm, waterproof boots and a pair of traction devices like YakTrax (or crampons for serious ice) will keep your feet warm and you upright and injury free. I always purchase an extra pair of thermal insoles for my winter footwear. Inevitably you will find yourself standing for a spell making your long exposures images or time lapse projects. This is when the frozen ground or ice beneath your souls you will zap the heat from your feet very quickly. A small investment in some good socks - I prefer wool - and some thermal insoles will help protect against this.
Adding and removing layers of clothing is the key to staying warm and dry. Avoid working up a sweat as damp clothing will draw heat quickly from your core. A prolonged period of time with a reduced body temperature and no way to warm yourself will not only distract you from your photography but can prove life-threatening. I pack a huge down jacket that I can throw on over everything else to stay warm if I’m stationary for a lengthy period of time.
A balaclava or a buff will help keep the chill (and spindrift) off of your neck and can be pulled over your face when it’s biting cold. Chemical hand and toe warmers can be useful and a thermos of hot tea or chocolate is always a good idea.
Finally, I always carry a small pack of basic equipment which includes a small first aid kit, headlamp, knife, and a method for making fire. Educate yourself, review your systems, invest in the items that will keep you warm and your cameras working in the cold (last week’s blog) and go make some great images.