“Winter Ponderosa Pine, White Ranch Park, Jefferson County, CO” I chose to work in the shade along the north facing forest edge because the pines were encrusted – they hadn’t been exposed to any snow or wind since the last storm.
Part 2 of 3 discussing winter photography strategy:
The car thermometer read -5 when Abby the labby and I emerged from the car an hour and a half before sunset. I knew it would drop to -10 or so, but it didn’t feel so bad without the dreaded wind. That’s really the only time to photograph winter landscapes anyway; wind just knocks all the snow off the trees and increases misery. There are three types of winter photography and lots of gradients in between: Working stationary from a vehicle or blind and wearing the kitchen sink, stop and go active photography, and athletic winter photography. Last night was stop and go.
When photographing the landscape, I usually walk around to get a sense of what looks photogenic before diving in and making images. I’ll assess the light, how it may develop and generally get a sense of how things flow. What’s the story here? is a question that I ask myself. It’s important to be comfortable while connecting with the land to focus on creative options rather than think about cold fingers and toes. But unlike kitchen sink stationary photography, stop and go requires a more thoughtful and technical approach to gearing up. If you get sweaty while hiking to a promising spot, the suffering that follows will ruin your outing.
We walked about a half mile to start and maybe two miles total, but kept moving to improve compositions and keep Abby happy. Dogs are fine in the cold as long as they keep moving – I had to remove packed snow from her foot pads and she gets antsy when we stop, but otherwise Abby was fine. I wore insulated hiking boots for toes, a face mask for nose, and had a few pair of gloves to make sure I didn’t lose finger function. For most of the two hours we were out, I had a heavy ski-type glove on my left hand to carry the tripod and a mid-weight liner glove on the right. I’d just tuck the right hand in the coat pocket when moving. The idea with stop and go is to never remove or add clothes, and stay comfortable whether hiking uphill or stopping to photograph. Feet stay warm while moving, so a regular pair of hi-tech hiking socks were fine. Light long-johns (never cotton) and soft shell pants with some breathability were perfect for legs. I wanted to keep my core toasty, so I really layered up with Patagonia – a mid-weight capilene R.5 base layer, a R1.5 insulating layer with a micro-puff vest on top, and a R4 fleece coat over the whole business. The idea is to dress in synthetic (preferably made from recycled materials) layers that breathe and whick away moisture while allowing for athletic movement. You never know when a ridge will beckon you to bust a move and hike straight uphill.
For stop and go outings, I keep my gear pretty simple – One camera body with extra batteries, a couple of filters, an ultra-wide zoom, a standard zoom, and an 80-200mm zoom in a medium-sized camera bag that’s comfortable while hiking. I carry my Gitzo carbon fiber tripod the whole time, and frequently use just one lens (Nikon 16-85mm VR zoom). Lots of versatility and less fumbling with gear make these outings more joyful. Be careful to avoid kicking snow into your camera bag when you set it down; but don’t worry if you get snow on your gear – it’s just like dust on cold equipment – wipe it off. Just like the kitchen sink outing, tuck everything away in the camera bag and zip it up tight when your done, then let the bag warm gradually before taking anything out.
Enjoy the season! Next up, I’ll discuss the athletic winter outing in part 3.
“Winter Dusk and Denver Lights, White Ranch Park, Jefferson County, CO”
“Abby and Me at White Ranch” ~ For some reason she didn’t understand why I was lunging at her. 🙂