Jim Salge Photography Blog

Images of New England captured in dramatic light and atmosphere

Tips for Winter Photography (Part 2)

Part II – Insulating Yourself

Now that your camera is as weather proof as possible, you need to focus your attention on your comfort while shooting.

It starts with advise from your mother when growing up. Dressing in layers is the best way to keep yourself comfortable. Unfortunately the layering idea gets a bad rap from movies like ‘A Christmas Story’ (I can’t put my arms down!!!). Modern fabrics really have come a long way since the 50’s, and a trip to a high end outdoors store will increase your comfort exponentially over what’s in your closet.

Lets start with the core and head. Typically, the core isn’t what limits my enjoyment shooting, it’s hands and feet, but the core is where you lose the majority of your heat, and energy. When I head out, I have a minimum of three layers over every part of my body. I wear polypro longjohns, fleece or wool insulating layers, and either soft shell or gore-tex outer shells. These fabrics provide a windbreak as well! On really cold days I’ll add a layer of down. On my head, I’ll often layer as well, starting with a neck gaiter, a balaclava, a poly or windproof fleece hat, and a fur hat. Ski goggles complete the ensemble on windy days!

Feet are next on the order of importance for me. My shoe closet is a bit overkill, but I like options in winter. I have mountaineering boots, ice fishing boots, insulated hiking boots, and overboots. Each has their role depending on activity, but a basic pair of thinsulate winter boots gets you in the field. Double up on wool socks, and don’t tie them too tight! A carefully placed chemical heat pack on top of the foot, between your ankle and toes goes a long way. The real secret though is insulating your feet from the ground! On real cold days I roll an ensolite foam pad to stand on…it goes a long way. Lastly, don’t be stationary. A few jumping jacks every few minutes keeps the blood flowing to the feet!

Traction and float are the last essentials on the feet, and snowshoes and microspikes alternate in importance in a typical freeze/thaw cycle!

Finally, your hands…the bane of a winter nature photographer. You need to balance warmth and dexterity, which is tough to attain. Layers are again key. I usually use a windproof lightweight fleece liner, and outer glove, and an overmitt. Some camera operation can be done with the outer glove on, and some requires stripping down to the fleece liner. It behooves you to never expose your bare hand to the elements, and practicing shooting with the fleece liner before heading out in the field may seem like a silly exorcize, but you’ll appreciate it on a day where the windchills are approaching fifty below. Additionally, I ALWAYS have a chemical heat pack in my palm!

Still though, hands can get cold. So I take a few extra steps…

Any metal objects, including tripods and some camera bodies, conduct heat away from your hands at an alarming rate. Covering these with insulation, like pipe insulation on the tripod, and neoprene on the camera grip is really helpful.

The last key is acclimatization. I find that in late fall, I have a tendency to want to grab the down jacket on the first real cold mornings. Force yourself to go outside and be cold when you are not shooting. Clear off the car in the morning in a t-shirt. Walk the dog without a hat and gloves. Cold is relative. Remember how nice 50F feels in winter, and how brutal it feels in summer!

With all of this layering and acclimatization, I tend to be comfortable down to ten to twenty below. Which sounds absurd to many, but I also rarely have a problem finding others to come shooting with me on the cold days. Why…because when the air is crisp, a special quality to the atmosphere seems to translate on film. And even more special lighting situations can arise in the air. Some of my favorite moments in the field have come out of the most frigid of weather. 

Cold. Don’t be scared of it, try it…you might enjoy it.

2 Responses to “Tips for Winter Photography (Part 2)”

  1. [...] Part II will cover how to keep yourself comfortable when shooting! « Tips for Winter Photography (Part 2) [...]

  2. [...] Part II will cover how to keep yourself comfortable when shooting! « Tips for Winter Photography (Part 2) Dreams in Carter Notch » [...]

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