By Raynor Czerwinski
Photographing out in the cold and snowy landscape can seem a bit daunting at first, but with a few simple guidelines, it can be a comfortable, exciting, and magical experience.
1. Personal Comfort: Down Gear and Hot Chocolate
The most important factor is keeping yourself warm and comfortable. The temps can easily drop below zero in the winter up here but with some good warm gear it can be an enjoyable experience. Apart from all the basic warm weather gear, I find the following items to be indispensable: down coat, neck gaiter, ski goggles, headlamp, fingerless gloves, hand warmers, hot coffee or chocolate, spare dry upper base layer (you can easily work up a sweat climbing a hill), and of course, food and water.
One final consideration here…you remember that scene in “A Christmas Story” when Flick sticks his tongue to the flag pole and the firefighters had to come and help him out? A similar thing can happen with metal tripods…admittedly, a bit of an embellishment, but seriously though, a metal tripod in the cold can be painful to work with. Wrapping foam pipe warmers around the upper tripod legs makes them much nicer to work with. Even better, use a carbon fiber tripod.
2. Photo Gear Care: Temperature, Acclimation and Ziplocks
Keeping your precious camera gear safe and functional in such a harsh environment is easier than it sounds. The snow up here at 9000 feet tends to be dry, so if your camera is “cooled down” before you head outside, the snow tends to “bounce off” the camera and lens. Before you go out to shoot, put your camera backpack outside in the cold for an hour or so (remove all batteries first) so it can “acclimate” to the environment. Bring some spare batteries and keep the spares in your coat pockets to keep them warm. Right after you are finished shooting, remove your used flash cards, put them in a ziplock, and keep them in a coat pocket to warm up slowly…you want to look at your work as soon as possible right?
As for the rest of your camera gear, make sure you brush off all snow (a small Rocket Air Blaster is very helpful to remove snow from your gear). Leave your camera and lenses in your camera bag overnight or for at least 4 or 5 hours so the gear can slowly come up to indoor temps (to be extra careful, put your entire backpack in a garbage bag while it slowly acclimates to indoor temps). For small point and shoot cameras, keep the camera in its bag and store it in a large ziplock. Condensation is a killer to lenses, cameras, and electronics. The key to avoiding that is to bring your gear up to temp slowly.
3.Winter Light: Weather, Awareness, and Moon Phase
Winter light can be utterly stunning due to the fact the sun is so far south. Night skies in the winter can be star filled and breath taking. Photographing the Milky Way is quite easy during a new moon and clear skies. A wide angle lens, tripod, high ISO and some patience are all that is needed. It is also important to be aware of the moon phase as it dramatically affects the landscape. During a full moon and clear skies, the snow covered landscape is incredibly bright. This can create some interesting photographic possibilities. One can also see interesting atmospheric optics quite clearly up here in the winter such as sun dogs, glories, light pillars, halos, and the earth shadow.
Above all, it is paramount that you are up to date on the current weather forecast, your safety and what you can ultimately photograph depends on it.
Raynor is offering photographic workshops throughout the winter, a few of which involve a wonderful ski tour to Gothic town site to stay in the luxurious Maroon hut.
About the Blogger: Raynor Czerwinski has been a student of composition most of his life, though the medium has changed – from pounding a rock guitar and writing songs as part of Seattle’s grunge scene to seeking a fleeting beam of light on a mountain top through his viewfinder. Check out his website for galleries and a full list of workshops.