When the temperature falls to negative forty degrees fahrenheit it is also negative forty degrees centigrade. Today was a balmy -31 deg F in the wind, and this dangerously cold weather got me thinking about how I prep for shooting under these conditions.
What follows is a list of things to consider when shooting at or below zero degrees F.
- Be prepared for anything. It is difficult to predict how the body, the landscape and your subjects may respond to the extreme cold. Sub-zero temperatures can cause rocky substrates to freeze fracture and buckle, while hungry animals may do unpredictable things to meet their nutritional needs.
- Work slowly. The cold robs the body of heat, and the extremities tend to lose their capacity to feel the things they touch. As the temperature falls, skin tears more easily and becomes subject to nerve-damaging frostbite. By slowing down, you can control your gear with greater precision and protect yourself from exposure.
- Dress in layers to stay warm. As the body cools, the drive to make images will diminish because thermoregulation will become your priority. By dressing in layers and wearing appropriate clothes, you will stay comfortable enough to produce the images that most never have the opportunity to see.
- Carry extra batteries and memory cards on your body. This relates to tip number one. Batteries kept near the body stay warm, and the extra cards reduce the need to dig through a crowded camera bag with bare hands.
- Respect your subject. Sub-zero temperature are a challenge to both the photographer and the photographed. No image is worth the effort if it compromises the survival of your subject.
- Accept the realities of shooting in super cold weather. Expect to miss many images because your fingers stop working, reflexes slow and discomfort sets in. If you can reach the point of acceptance, you will relish the experience value the keepers that you make.
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