I’ve done my fair share of shooting in the cold here in Australia however nothing could prepare me for the -32 degree shooting conditions I recently faced in Swedish Lapland. It was seriously cold!
It was sensational photography with the air crisp and dry, the snow a dry powder not unlike the fake snow you buy at Xmas for the tree. Snow stuck to the trees like it had been sprayed on and waterfalls froze along roadside cliffs.
But these magical conditions presented their own set of challenges - handling cameras with three sets of gloves, auto focus not working, LED screens failing and noses sticking to camera bodies.
Here’s my tips for how best to prepare for shooting in -20 plus degrees cold.
- YOU HAVE TO STAY WARM - pretty much nothing you buy in Australia will be suitable for this type of cold. When I say that, I mean that most gloves, shoes and outer clothing won’t cut it. See below.
- SHOES - The shoes we have looked more like moon boots than snow boots, but that were amazing. Think gum boot but 10 times bigger! Plastic moulding on the outside with a thick fur lining on the inside. My feet rarely got cold. Coupled with two sets of socks - one thinner pair then a thick merino outer pair. A fur-lined boot is a must with an unbreakable outer shell. The Sorels that everyone swears by wont work- they’re too thin on the sides around the calves.
- GLOVES - I started with a pair of wind stoppers with Mountain Design mittens over the top and that wasn’t enough. I ended up buying merino liners, then a wool mitten followed by an over mitten. This was barely enough. My thumbs got cold. You can buy heated gloves and whilst this sounds ridiculous, when you can’t operate your camera because your hands are so cold, there’s not much point being there in the first place!
- HEADWEAR - I didn’t suffer too badly with brain freezes, largely due to my woollen Faroese beanie. Having something to cover your ears and cheeks is ideal. A balaclava is a must - exposing your skin as little as possible is the aim of the game. My nose got hammered when the wind got up, to the point that it turned white - dangerous stuff. Having a merino balaclava will hopefully keep you warm as well as wicking away any moisture from breathing through it.
- CLOTHING - Buy the best thermals you can get (I had Icebreaker 260s), then a polar fleece, then a 700 down North Face puffer jacket, then our special outer suits. Whilst heavy, the suits were amazing. They kept out the wind and I never got cold when wearing one. I did feel like an oversized oompha lumpa however.
Despite all of this, photographing in the cold can be one of the most memorable experiences a photographer can have. Just make sure you live to tell the tale!
My wife Mary - she was toasty warm, really!