The sunscreen is frozen in the tube. The toothpaste, too. Your hands freeze within seconds without gloves. The thermometer reads –35ºF. It’s cold—really cold. But can you still photograph? You bet. Here are a few tips.
➔Keep your batteries warm. Cold temps rapidly drain a battery’s strength. Carry a back-up battery—or several—in an inside pocket. At night, keep batteries in your sleeping bag.
➔Keep your camera cold. While your batteries may hate the cold, your camera doesn’t. Condensation will form on a warmed camera body, viewfinder, and lens and will freeze when the camera is moved outside. At night, keep your camera inside your tent but outside your bag.
➔Keep your camera accessible. You’ll want to protect it, but also want fast access. Consider a front-facing, top-loading case on a waist belt with long zipper pulls you can grab with gloves. Even with gloves on, even on the move, you can pull the camera out quickly, make the shot, and drop it back in the case.
➔Protect your hands. Wear a lightweight liner glove all the time. On really cold days, wear this liner under a glove or expedition mitt. When you want to make a photograph, let the mitt dangle by its lanyard, take the shot, drop the camera back into the bag, and replace the mitt. Consider chemical hand warmers, too.
➔Keep it simple. Fumbling with lenses in the cold hinders creativity. Carry a single, all-purpose zoom lens. You’ll give up some speed and sharpness, but the simplicity and flexibility will be worth the trade-off.
➔Carry a back-up. Extreme conditions are, well, extreme. Carry a simple 12-mega-pixel point-and-shoot as a backup to your DSLR. When the weather really gets snotty, this may become your go-to camera.
➔Yes, bring a tripod. You’ll rarely use it when you’re on the go, but around camp, in the fading light, and for that magnificent alpenglow, it’s essential for that tack-sharp print that will hang on your wall. Lever locks on the legs work best in the cold.
The legendary adventure photographer Galen Rowell often said the best outdoor photographs were made “at the edges” of things: the edge of night and day, the edge of land and sea, the edge of a clearing storm. Photography when it’s really cold puts you out on that edge. With a little preparation, you’ll bring home some great shots.