Shooting When it's Cold

Ok... I lied. 
I cannot “embrace the cold;” prolonged periods of sub-zero temperature bring me down. 

I am the antithesis of a Minnesotan. I was not born here, I am not Scandinavian, and I do not take pride in my suffering. I like to complain about the weather, I say what I think, and I detest a passive aggressive attitude. I am a New Yorker, I am a Californian, and I live in a very cold place. 

So, what is a New Yorker - Californian Midwest transplant to do when he is burdened by the frigid conditions? 
Suck it up!

It was -24 degrees F when I left my home Saturday morning. It took 30 minutes to dress, but it was worth the effort. My survivalist buddy, Brian, collected my sorry ass around 7:00 a.m. and we headed south of the “Cities” to photograph ducks and geese. After a short hike through a foot of snow, we made our way to the efflux of the NSP power plant. Warm water flowed from the turbines into the Mississippi River watershed. The discharge produced pools of water surrounded by heaving shelves of ice, a waterfowl paradise for the non-migrants trapped by the heavy hand of winter. 

Photography in these conditions presents unique challenges; even simple tasks, like breathing, require mental energy. In the bitter cold, breathing preoccupies the mind. The cold dry air freezes the moisture at the base of the lungs with each breath. Don’t inhale too much as your cough will be dry, hard and painful. As I approach my camera, I need to take in a deep breath, hold it, and shoot. If I exhale, I fog the viewfinder and ice from my breath crystalizes on the camera body and LCD. It is no trivial task to produce an image when it is 20 below. 

The lubricants in my tripod have frozen in the cold. Although I wasted the energy hauling it into the field, it is nothing more than a brick to me now. These legs that I usually carry and call my burden, are now a real burden. 

The longer I exposed myself to these inane conditions, the more my muscles cramped. Deep chills caused tremors in my body that felt more like quakes than shivers. To alleviate camera shake induced by my spastic muscles, I knelt into the deep snow. While it may sound counterintuitive, the snow began to insulate my body from the biting breeze that threatened my exposed skin. 

To make art under these conditions requires a deliberate focus to the task. Rather than hurrying through the moment, I allowed the cold freeze time. I abhorred the cold that encased my hands, but I exposed them to the elements nonetheless. My paper thin skin gripped the camera and lens in an attempt to achieve critical focus. It is at this moment that I force myself to inhale the bitter cold, trap the breath, and squeeze the shutter.

When shooting in these conditions, layer up, keep hydrated, be patient, and expect to hurt.

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