When I was a kid, I loved snow. I had a blast building snowmen and pummeling my parents with snowballs. Then I got a little older and had to learn to drive in the stuff. Suddenly, snow wasn’t my friend anymore – until last winter. We had very little snow last winter, but after seeing all the great frosty shots posted on Nature Photographer’s Network, I thought I might be missing out on something. So, when we finally did get some of the white stuff, I bundled up, headed out, and rediscovered a little love for winter and snow.

This year, we’ve had around 6 inches more snow than is typical in an entire winter season, and I’ve made an effort to get out and enjoy it, camera in hand. Here are a few tips that you might find helpful should you decide to resurrect your inner Frosty:

Inner layers need to keep you warm, but not too warm.  You really need to think how to dress for the cold, especially if you plan to be out for any length of time. Layers are the way to go, but if you put on too many layers, you’ll overheat and get sweaty, which isn’t good because you’ll end up chilled and in danger of hypothermia. My cold-weather dress has consisted of thermals (top and bottom), a flannel shirt or sweatshirt, and waterproof ski pants. Yes, ski pants. They are waterproof, they have elastic around the ankles to keep snow out, and they’re insulated. When I kneel down to compose a shot, they cushion the ground a bit and keep me dry. Which brings me to my next point.

Outer layers need to keep you dry.  If you’re dry, it’s likely you’ll feel warmer.  My outside layer consists of my waterproof Goretex hiking boots, winter coat with detachable hood (which unfortunately isn’t waterproof), a scarf, a fleece headband with ear flaps, and top it off with a light pair of liner gloves over which I wear mittens.  When I get ready to shoot, I yank off the mittens and the thin liner gloves keep my fingers from totally freezing while allowing me flexibility to operate the camera controls.  If your coat doesn’t have a hood, definitely wear a stocking cap or something on your head because that is where you lose the most body heat.

This configuration of layers hasn’t been tested below 10 degrees, and might need adjustments if you are going to be outside for a very long time. Also, adjustments would need to be made if you plan to do some heavy-duty hiking in between shoots. While hiking, your body heats up but then when you stop to shoot, it cools off. Experiment and find what works best for you and your particular situation.

Buy covers for your tripod legs.  There’s nothing worse than grabbing an icy cold metal tripod when it’s freezing outside!  Some tripod manufacturers actually make padded coverings for tripod legs, but I’ve got a cheapo alternative. Buy some foam pipe insulation (it comes in long round tubes) at the hardware store.  The inside diameter should be big enough to fit around your tripod legs but small enough not to fall off.  Cut it to length, cut a slit down the length, place it over the tripod legs, and secure with duct tape. This also provides some cushion if you haul your tripod slung over your shoulder.  I have yet to do this, but plan to before I go shooting in the cold again.  I keep having visions of that little boy in “Christmas Story” who gets his tongue stuck to the flagpole – I sure don’t want that to happen to my hands while handling my tripod 😉

Bring extra batteries.  The cold totally sucks the life out of batteries, so bring extras and keep them as close to your body as possible. If you are carrying a GPS, bring extra batteries for it as well.

Bring tissues!   Inevitably, when I’m outside in the winter, my nose starts running and dripping.  Don’t be a guy and wipe it on your sleeve! Besides being totally gross, eventually all that moisture will make your arm wet, and you’ll get cold. Bring some tissues and use for those nasal drips.

Bring a lens cloth and protection for your camera.  If you’re shooting while it’s snowing, you definitely need to bring a lens cloth to wipe moisture off your lenses while shooting. There’s nothing more annoying than to discover that great shot you took is practically useless because of the big water drop right in the middle!  If the white stuff is coming down really hard, you’ll need to cover your camera.  Again, there are expensive camera covers available. I find that a small plastic grocery bag works well.

Use your creativity.  Winter presents us with some spectacular photographic opportunities that just aren’t possible any other time of year.  See and think creatively!  Go beyond the pretty tree covered in snow, and look for intimate shots or abstracts of details.  Icicles, snow drifts, sparkling snowflakes and textures in the ice are all wonderful subjects to shoot.  Also, since in the gloom of winter, there may not be a lot of color to be found, think about converting your shots to black & white and focusing on the tones and gradations of shadows and light.

I’ve had a lot of fun this year playing in the snow.  I hope you get out and take advantage of the cold weather, too!

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