We landed in Iron Mountain, Michigan on December 26th. As we taxied to the gate, which is basically the one door of the very small airport, the pilot's voice came over the speaker saying, "Local temperature is 10 degrees below zero. High today is expected to be 4 below."
"Be careful what you wish for," I said to myself. I came to the shores of Lake Superior with the hope of shooting some icy scenes; now I was sure I would get just that. Ice can make for some beautiful photos, but also provides challenges for both the photographer and her equipment. Preparation is vitally important.
Staying warm while standing out in these temperatures waiting for the sun to rise or set, is not just a matter of comfort, but of safety. Frostbite is a real concern. Plus, it's impossible to manipulate the controls of your camera if you can't feel your hands. Layering is key. For my upper body, I have a wicking layer of Under Armor, a fleece, and a long down coat with a generous hood. I also have a gator over my face and a good quality hat. If it is windy, I will wear my goggles. Wind chill is a killer. On my lower body, I wear wool leggings under snow pants. On my feet, I wear wool socks and neoprene toe warmers under my snow boots. I also have chemical toe warmers if needed.
I consider my hands most important. I have to keep them functioning so I can manipulate the camera equipment and tripod. I use runner's gloves with exposed fingers and a mitten flap. I wear those under ski mittens with chemical hand warmers inside. I take the right mitten off to manipulate the camera when I need to, then shove them back into the mitten ASAP and cozy up to that chemical pack! Once your hands start to ache with cold, it's like having a brick for a hand and you might as well -- actually you MUST pack it in and get someplace warm.
The cold is murder on batteries. You have to have spares. Don't keep the spares in your bag, because they will die there. Keep them in a pocket close to your body. Same goes for your cell phone. Keep lens cleaning cloths or tissue handy. If you have to change lenses, get your back to the wind, keep the camera body pointed down, use your bag for cover and change lenses as quickly as possible. You need to keep your sensor clean and avoid moisture. That brings me to another important point.
Once you come back inside, if you don't take precautions, your camera will immediately frost over with condensation. Before getting inside, I put my cameras in ziploc bags, so the condensation forms on the bag instead of the camera. Once the camera warms up, you can take it out of the bag without worrying about water damage to your camera's electronics, or condensation getting inside your lens.
So far I've been able to see a beautiful sunset over the ice of Lake Superior, and then in the morning witnessed amazing sea smoke as the sun rose. It's more beautiful here than I imagined. I know most people (other than ski fans) like to head south in the winter, but I chose the road less travelled, and I don't regret this one bit!