Thursday, February 7, 2013


Those people intimately familiar with winter, know that your nose will run like crazy out in the cold. It comes with the territory. That's why long sleeves were invented. Its also a great opportunity to capture images that many shooters miss.

Hot water vaporizes on minus -26º F morning near Ely, Minnesota
Its not easy shooting in winter. Trudging through deep snow is tough physical work. A mental mindset also needs to exist. Warding off the pain in your fingers when trying to change settings can tax even the experienced winterized photog. A different set of equipment is necessary to get places. Snowshoes, dog teams, snowmobiles, cross-country skis are all options. But getting to places to where only critter tracks
mark the snow, the velvety cotton landscape comes alive with a different kind of silence. Mainly, there's just less people out there.

Consider the iconic photographic destinations, like our national monuments and national parks. If you visit these places in spring, summer or fall, those classic photographic gems are often jammed with people. Everywhere in your frame is a person, tripod or goofy hat. They are shooting the location, each other, others shooting each other, and so on. Its almost impossible to obtain a clean shot. The super-duper secret to getting that shot? You can lessen the distractions by going in the cold months. And, the bonus? Obtain images and an experience that few others care to tackle. It sets your work apart and presents a new and fresh perspective.

I plan several annual winter outings for shooting. One is a dogsledding adventure photoworkshop I teach at WINTERGREEN DOGSLED LODGE in Ely, Minnesota. We just wrapped up our 21st year and experienced quite the temperature swing. We started at 33º F and ended with minus -36º F. Its the best of two worlds really. We spend our days out in the wilderness mushing and our evenings in a cozy lodge with food prepared by a wonderful French Chef, Bernard Herman.

Wintergreen's French Chef Bernard Herman
Dogsled teams gliding across frozen lakes on the edges
of N.E. Minnesota wilderness
Don't let the temperature swing concern you. Its not normal. But, there are opportunities on both sides of the mercury to photograph. On those warmer, often overcast days, when a weather system is moving in trapping the mild air, the light is more often evenly lit. When high pressure moves in, it shoves out that cozy temperature and replaces it with biting, gin clear air where even the slightest breeze creates a wind chill that cuts you like a razor. And, with that bright light comes extreme contrast. You have to choose your battles. Even in the contrast however, a silhouette can speak volumes. Use what you have. It is what it is.

Harvesting ice blocks from a frozen lake.
Harsh light allows room for experimenting.
Overcast skies provided the perfect light source that brought to life
this frozen rock wall covered in frost crystals and ice formations.
Remember the key to a good winter experience is being prepared for the cold. Not only for your equipment, but you. Dress in layers. Stay away from fabrics like cotton. There's an old saying in winter
locations; "Cotton Kills."  If you get wet, cotton holds the water next to your body yanking the warmth right outta your skin. Synthetic clothing, like fleece wicks the moisture away keeping you insulated and  warm. Wool does the same.

When active, like dogsledding, I wear a pair fleece thin long-johns on top and bottom along with a good windshell. This keeps the heat in and the wind out. If I get chilled, I'll pull on another layer of thicker pile fleece or down, and pull over the wind shell. I can't stress how important the wind shell layers are. The key to comfort in winter is this; if you start to overheat, drop a layer. When you get chilled, put on another layer. Keeping dry is essential. If you are traveling over sea ice or frozen lakes, its a good idea to carry extra clothing just in case you flop into the drink. A good hat, balaclava and neck gator offer protection. If you are in windy conditions, use your ski goggles. They'll make you life like a day at the beach. Lastly, have thick mittens on hand. The kind that have a wind shell on them. Gloves only protect individual fingers and in really cold weather, you get cold fingers fast. When the fingers can work together keeping each other warm, the difference is remarkable. Light fleece gloves for shooting so you can feel the dials. Stay away from those fingerless gloves in winter. They're useless.
After your shot, pull the mittens back on.

Bad light can be great light for some subject matter in winter.
I knew B/W coverage here would set the ice apart from a scene already monochromatic.
Waiting for just the right moment when the ice block caught the backlight was essential to the images success.
For your equipment, if you are out all day in temps around zero degrees or colder, those little hand-warmer packets that keep working for 8-10 hours, are good to toss in your camera bag next to batteries, and your extra batteries. Just keeping the chill off them keeps them in smooth working order. Extra batteries in extreme cold is a must. And, remember when you return back to the vehicle or your lodge, after being out all day in the cold, don't expose your camera or lenses to the warm air. Condensation will carpet them instantly. Wet and digital electronics are not friends. They need to be kept away from each other. Keep your cameras inside the bag, wrap your coat around it and let it slowly come back to room temp to prevent the condensation.

Experimenting with visual options. This entire day felt like a walk back in time.
I used pixlr-o-matic app to help create an image that looks like it came
out of Grandpa's old shoebox.
I predict you'll find that being cold is just a myth. The sights and sounds winter offers are as unique as underwater photography. Not many do it, and those images waiting be captured are there for the taking.

And don't forget that ever handy iPhone. This little video was made using a app called Vintagio. Buckets of fun.

Safe journey's!

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