Friday, January 23, 2009

Cold Weather Photography

Cold weather in Fairbanks, Alaska.

I'm asked frequently about photographing in the cold weather, so I posted an article on my web site. Here is a brief excerpt of that, which I plan to update in the future. Read the full cold weather photography article.

There is a rare beauty in Alaska’s winter, both in the quality of light and color, and its silence and simplicity. But it can be extreme in cold temperatures, particularly in the interior and arctic regions. To experience and document this season, you need to reconcile your working photography system with cold weather. One needs a method that keeps them warm enough to function, as well as enjoy the experience. While I like being in the cold, I do not like being cold. There is a big difference here. Like most things in life, we feel most comfortable and confident once we have personally tested ourselves in a given situation or set of conditions. This applies for working in the cold as well.

Two ways to stay warm:

There are two basic ways we stay warm. One is to generate heat within through exertion and then retain that heat with clothing, or we can absorb the heat from another source like a wood stove, chemical hand warmers, or drinking hot fluids. Sometimes, putting on more insulation or clothing just does not help, and some sort of additional heat is needed. A combination of both work best for me. I should first state that by comparison with my other hominid friends and colleagues, I seem very susceptible to cold hands and feet. Over the years it seems as if I’ve tried just about everything in the attempt at staying warm. I have found no magic solution. However, my constantly tweaked system seems to work o.k., if implemented well. I’ll discuss here how I dress and deal with photography in cold weather. By the way, this is about the human body, not the camera gear. I’ve found so far, that the weak link is me, not my cameras and gear (save that of having extra batteries).

General Clothing:

When photographing in Alaska’s super cold sub zero temperatures; I’m very seldom expending great degrees of exertion. Generally, I’m standing around waiting for the aurora borealis, or waiting for the proper light to fall upon a landscape. In these conditions, I break ranks with the conventional wisdom of clothing layering. Layering IS very critical when your body temperature varies considerably due to heat generation through exercise and you need to adjust with clothing by adding or removing layers. As for the deep cold, when you are not exerting yourself, what you want is loft and insulation. This is best achieved with down, like a hefty down parka, although some synthetics work well also. I start with a base layer of wool (merino wool—soft on the skin, or capelline). Definitely not cotton! Then over that goes a mid weight shirt of similar fabric, one that has a collar reach to cover the neck, then a down sweater, then my hooded down parka. This does the trick pretty well, and my body core stays warm even at very cold temps. I use similar base layers for the legs with an outer layer being appropriate for the conditions. Generally that is a pair of insulated bib overalls. Avoid anything “tight” fitting... Read the rest of this article >>

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