Essential Equipment for Photography in the Snow
There’s nothing worse than having to end a shoot because the cold has gone through to your bones. Photographing in the cold, whether it be in the snow or fighting against high winds, can be tricky if you don’t come prepared. That feeling when your feet turn to ice and you can’t feel your fingers is often game over, sending you back to your car with your tail between your legs, cursing yourself that you didn’t pack proper winter gear.
We’ve all been there, and it’s true that good winter gear can be costly. But there’s a reason for that, and the phrase “buy cheap, buy twice” definitely applies here. With that in mind, here is a look at the essential kit to pack as a photographer working in cold conditions.
#1 Good winter boots
I’ve always been resistant to spending money on good winter boots. They’re never cheap, and I’m not often shooting in freezing conditions. However, this year I took the plunge and bought proper winter boots for shoots in the snow. It’s one of the best purchases I’ve made, as I used to find my feet going painfully cold from a whole day in the snow.
I thoroughly recommend the Sorel Caribou boots for those looking to work in the snow. They are rated to -40 degrees Celsius, and I can testify that they are very warm. Combined with warm socks, I have stood in the snow all day, in -20 degrees Celsius, and felt completely comfortable.
The boots have plenty of grip, support for walking long distances with heavy gear, and they’re high enough to keep the snow out of your boots. If you’re in deep snow, you should be using gaiters anyway.
They also make a women’s version of the boot, and there is also a nylon version for those that don’t want to wear leather (see here for men’s nylon version).
#2 Warm gloves
Just like your feet, if your hands get cold it can really hurt. This often happens if you have wet gloves, and that comes from using thin liner gloves that give you more dexterity for adjusting settings on your camera. Inevitably you’ll get snow on them, and that soon turns to water and freezes into your glove. When this happens, it is also game over.
I also recently acquired, and thoroughly recommend, the Sealskinz photography gloves. They both have a “removable” finger that you can pull back to allow you to adjust buttons and wheels on your camera, before replacing it. They’re very warm and I don’t use them alongside a liner at all.
Sealskinz also make very futuristic heated gloves. These are expensive, at £175, but they have three heat settings (low, medium, high – who guessed it?) that will keep you feeling toasty. Maybe a bit overkill, but they’re a nice luxury to have. I’ve tried them and they are great, but I won’t be spending that much money on gloves anytime soon.
#3 Winter equipment for your car
Something you might forget, or not even think of, but if you’re out photographing in the snow then you need to consider how you’re going to get home. It’s very easy to get stuck, especially if you don’t have a four-wheel-drive. Everyone venturing out into the snow, especially if you’re going alone where there’s no signal, should carry the essentials for their car.
I’d go as far as saying that it is naive to think you don’t need to bring this stuff with you, and you could find yourself in a serious situation if you are going anywhere remote. Perhaps snow comes in and you get caught in a white-out, and when finally getting back to your car you find that the roads have become impassable. Getting up a hill in a front-wheel-drive car is incredibly difficult when snow has compacted even a little.
Winter tyres will get you so far, but I thoroughly recommend packing the following on any winter shoot where snow is involved:
- Snow chains for your tyres. These will go a long way in helping you get out of a tricky situation, providing vital grip when things get icy.
- A sleeping bag. If you are stuck and find that you’re having to spend the night in your car, a sleeping bag will keep you warm. Sitting in a metal box gets very cold overnight when temperatures plummet (trust me, I’ve been there), and you don’t want to use up your fuel to keep the heaters running.
- A shovel and booster cables for your car battery. If you need to dig your car out, or your battery goes flat, then you’re going to be prepared with this equipment.
#4 Winter trousers
Another fantastic investment I made this year was winter trousers. I really used to do my snow shoots going against all the advice I’m giving you here. I’ve even done mountain shoots in jeans, which is incredibly stupid and not advisable, and required a lot of mind power to keep going! I found that jeans quickly turned to ice throughout the day, and things got very cold.
For those with money to burn, you can’t do much better than Arc’teryx. They produce very high-quality winter gear, but you’ll easily spend £300 on a pair of trousers. Personally, I wear Salewa winter trousers that I managed to pick up at half price at an outlet store in Italy.
#5 Merino wool thermals
The foundation to any winter gear setup, thermals are another must-have. I use merino wool thermals, for both top and bottom, which seem to be the best thermals for keeping the cold away. I’ve used a lot of different materials in the past, but merino wool is definitely the best I’ve tried so far.
Lots of brands make merino wool thermals, but one with long sleeves for your top half is a good idea.
If you’re going to be working out in the wind, then you should also bring a balaclava. I use a thin merino wool balaclava that keeps the sting out of the cold on a long snow shoot.
They are also good for stopping the cold getting underneath your clothes around your neckline. They are easily slipped on and off should you not want it constantly covering your face.
#7 Ski goggles
Not something that I carry myself… yet. A recent shoot in very high winds with snow blowing all around made me wish I had some, though. Ski goggles are great for keeping the wind and snow out of your eyes, but they’ll also help to manage glare from the sun on the snow.
I quickly find myself squinting when the sun is out and the ground is white, and that’s a real pain when it comes to spotting wildlife.
What else do you bring with you?
Do you have any top tips for gear that you should bring as a photographer working in the snow and cold? Let me know in the comments below!
Lead photo: Shutterstock.com