Winter has settled in around Colorado, and on my recent trip to shoot in the mountains the temps were around -20. Next week I’m off to Yellowstone where it can easily hit -30. But winter is one of my favorite times to shoot. The pristine winter landscape beckons for exploration, and photographing skiers in a super pipe is bound to get the adrenaline pumping. Cold is a part of this experience, but not something that should stop you from getting out. If you are prepared for the cold temps, shooting in sub zero temps is not all that bad. I’ve sat in snowdrifts at -25 waiting on Iditarod racers to come by, and been toasty warm. Here are a few tips.
1. Wear a hat and consider a balaclava. Your head looses more heat than you can imagine, which in turn makes the rest of your body cold. I bring a few hats on any cold shoot, and always a balaclava for really cold shooting. Covering your neck and head is the first step to staying warm.
2. Use pack boots. Sorel makes fantastic pack boots that will keep your feet warm. I use Sorel Caribous for temps around zero, and for really cold I use Sorel Glaciers (keeps my feet toasty at 30-40 below). If you shoot in the snow, then you probably already own a pair of these boots.
3. Try fold-up mittens. For extreme cold I wear a medium weight synthetic glove under a heavy pair of mittens. The mittens allow me to undo and fold up the finger section, exposing my inner glove for working the camera. When I’m not shooting, I fold the mitten section back down to keep my hands warm.
4. Try hand/boot warmers. Chemical heat packs like Grabbers do a nice job warming up your boots and hands. I put a few in my pockets to keep them warm for my hands or extra batteries.
5. Batteries. I use lithium batteries for cold weather, they do much better than alkaline. Always have extra batterie with you in a warm place. I keep some in my car, or inside my coat to keep them warm.
6. Eat a lot. Yep, this is your excuse to power down a serious load of pasta and bring lots of trail food for the day. When I used to guide on Denali, we regularly climbed in subzero temps, and the way to stay warm was constant calorie intake. Your body starts to burn calories as you move, and you want plenty of food to burn. And if you get cold, you jump around and swing your arms and feet. As long as you have food/calories to burn, activity should warm you back up.
7. Be careful warming up your camera gear. If I have been out all day in subzero temps, my camera gear will literally feel like a brick of ice. My pack will crackle it is so cold. To rewarm my gear and avoid condensation building up in the camera and lens, I put my camera inside my cold pack, zip it closed and bring it inside. The pack and camera will slowly rewarm (2 hours or more depending on how cold you were) without moisture buildup. Go eat dinner, your gear should be warmed up when you return.