Bison Grazing In Winter, Rocky Mountain Arsenal NWR, CO ~ Bison are perfectly suited for the extremes of harsh climates and just go about their business, the business of eating grass.
Self-Portrait While Photographing Bison – The ambient temperature was -10F and the wind chill -31F.
Cold snap! Arctic Express Makes It Too Dangerous To Go Outside! The talking heads really like to get us worked up whenever the weather is something other than “average”. I guess it gets people to tune in for longer than usual. But, don’t wild animals have to be outside all the time? Some of the most powerful images I’ve ever seen have been made by a skilled photographer experienced in, and prepared for, extreme conditions. We get our share of boring 50 degree days along Colorado’s Front Range; so I always try to head out when snow flies and the thermometer plunges to “dangerous levels.” Here’s a few tips to make your next winter outing reasonably comfortable and enjoyable.
You already have enough clothes, just layer them on! It’s pretty simple – synthetic base layer, insulating layer and shell. If it’s really cold like this morning, I’ll pile on three layers and my down parka. Cotton absorbs moisture, so it’s not a good choice for anything active, and especially in the cold. I knew I’d be close to the vehicle most of the time today, so I wore insulated jeans, which worked out ok. A couple of years ago in Crested Butte, temperature -27F, I frost-nipped my nose with a big white patch that peeled a week later. Lesson learned, no exposed sensitive skin in sub-zero temps. My cheap army surplus camo facemask is perfect for days like this. The parka hood traps all the heat that would otherwise escape through the top of my melon, so I’m a happy camper with this setup. Extremities are challenging, and there’s a certain amount of acceptable suffering in cold weather photography. But photographers can’t afford to lose hand function, making hand care a top priority. I started today with medium weight gloves and simply kept my hands in my pockets while waiting for the next shot. That was fine until the bison started moving around and I couldn’t tuck my hands in, so I switched to a heavier weight glove (but not bulky). Hand warmers would’ve been a good call, but simply keeping fingers moving makes working in the cold tolerable. Pac boots are great with medium synthetic socks and insulated hiking boots are the next best choice. They were certainly “next best” today.
Like bison, your gear doesn’t care if it gets cold; and once lenses get cold, keep ’em cold. Just like your eyeglasses, a sudden change to a warm car, or warm breath will fog a lens or LCD and render it useless. Here’s what you need to do: Keep some charged batteries in your pockets and switch them out when one dies. It will come back to life in your warm pocket. If you’re working from your vehicle, put the lens and camera in the bag and zip it up. I keep mine in the back of the 4-Runner away from the heat, and often drive around with the windows open until I’m done shooting. When you get home, just leave the camera bag zipped up and let it warm up for a few hours before monkeying around with your gear. And make sure to recharge those batteries for the next day!
I’ll save tips for active winter photography for another day. Enjoy the season!