Winter is an especially photogenic time of year. The quality of light, long shadows, and starkness of the season lend themselves to dramatic image-making. What better time to be out and embracing nature? For me, Winter is the season to be shooting, but conditions can be cold, windy, and wet. With the proper gear, some preparation, and a willingness to embrace the elements, you will come away with extraordinary shots–it is inevitable. Be adventurous! I love backcountry skiing and that affords me unlimited photographic opportunity.
PRECEPT #1: Keep yourself warm and dry.
The single most important aspect of winter photography is your comfort. If you’re miserable, you won’t be hanging out waiting for the clouds to part and reveal that sunlit peak. Layer up. Dress in multiple layers, starting with a capilene or polypropylene base layer top and bottom. I prefer two pairs of socks–a light liner sock and a mid- to heavyweight wool sock. Two socks reduce the occurrence of blisters and keep the feet toasty when worn in conjunction with an insulated Gore-Tex boot. In my case, I am wearing a (Scarpa T2) plastic telemark ski boot. Next, I recommend an insulated wind or snow pant, depending on the situation. If conditions are particularly cold or windy, I might add a wool pant between my base layer and my ski pants. I am usually able to stay adequately warm with a fleece pullover and breathable, waterproof ski jacket. I may add a sweater if things get extreme or I anticipate periods of inactivity. Headware is a must. 80% of a person’s heat loss is through the top of the head. Include a pair of Goretex gloves, as well as a light fleece liner glove. Keep a balaclava in your pack to keep face and neck warm.
Please note: absolutely no cotton! This is a recipe for disaster. Cotton soaks up moisture, including sweat, and offers no insulating value.
Remember your sunglasses and sunscreen.
Because the environment is cold, and often windy and wet, I minimize my photographic gear to the very basics. A camera body and extra batteries, a 24mm superwide-angle lens, a 35-105 zoom, and a polarizing filter for both lenses. Occasionally I include a small, lightweight tripod if I know the shooting situation warrants it– i.e., I’m camping and want to shoot a sunset or sunrise. Be prepared. Be sure all batteries are freshly charged. Keep spares in an inside jacket pocket so they stay warm. Two spare batteries provide additional insurance. Bring a couple of extra 8 or 16 GB memory cards (empty and formatted). Starting out with an empty card in the camera assures a minimum of fiddling around in the wind, rain, and snow.
PRECEPT #2: Keep your camera dry.
Next to staying warm and dry yourself, protecting your camera is paramount. DSLRs are a maze of electronic circuits and connections which are especially vulnerable to moisture. Some high-end pro cameras, like the Canon 1Ds Mark III, claim to be ‘weather-resistant.’ Regardless, you don’t want to test anyone’s claims. Water’s just a bad idea! A small, heavy-duty plastic bag can provide waterproof protection both in transport and while not shooting. Because they are small and lightweight, pack a couple of extras.
While the new digital cameras are much more reliant on electronics, this reduces the number of moving parts. The result is a camera that is more dependable in extremely cold conditions. What usually fails in cold weather is the camera’s battery, so keep all spare batteries warm. Carry a soft lens cloth for drying the lens element and viewfinder. Keep your camera clean. Check to see that lens mounts are clean and free of dust, as well as any contact points. Be sure that all optics are clean prior to leaving home. This includes filters, lens elements (front and back), viewfinder, and LCD screen. A clean lens element and viewfinder are less likely to fog up.
PRECEPT #3: Get out and shoot.
The more time one spends with camera in hand, the more likely one is going to capture that all-too-rare jaw-dropping shot. If you live in snow country, as I do, Winter can last up to six months of the year. I can’t afford to sit around waiting for the Spring thaw. As always, the time is now–so get out and shoot!
Best wishes for a healthy and enjoyable Winter season. Please contact me with any questions, comments, or suggestions.
Until next time, happy image-making…