Shooting in the cold starts even before you leave the house, not only with your camera kit, but with your clothing. You may think that you need to wear tons of clothing but it’s actually about having the right clothing. Rather than putting on ten pairs of socks, instead wear the right pair of socks, the right jacket, a wool base layer, and a thick pair of gloves. Good clothing will keep you not only warm, but safe.
Remember that whatever the thermometer or weather forecast says, the wind can make it seem twice as cold. And keep your water insulated; You can’t stay hydrated drinking a block of ice!
Using Your Camera and Kit
When I’m shooting skiing, I have a ‘run and gun’ style of shooting, similar to a reportage photographer; I pick one lens and put it on my Sony Alpha 1 or Sony Alpha 7R III, and I strap the camera to my shoulder strap. I ski with my friends until we find the perfect spot. Then I ski ahead, fall to my knees and shoot as they ride past. No set up, no re-tries, just get the shot and move on.
I can honestly say that I have never had a problem with the Sony cameras shooting in freezing temperatures. Both the Sony Alpha 1 and Sony Alpha 7R III perform exactly as they would in usual conditions, with the caveat that battery life is obviously a little shorter, as it is with all electronic devices. So, I always make sure that I am carrying plenty of batteries and that I keep them as warm as I can.
Getting The Shot
What I want to show in my images is the power of nature. The environment doesn’t care if you are there or not – humans don’t get to interact with it on the same level. We belong to it and bend to its will. It sounds cheesy, but the moment you try to sleep in -13°C with rough winds and just a bit of fabric and some duck feathers between you and hypothermia, you suddenly understand. So, I try to show that in my images; big nature and little humans.
To show this, I use a variety of different lenses. For documenting stories or locations, and jobs that require fast reactions, I tend to use zoom lenses such as the FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM or the FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS lens. Then, if I have a specific creative look or effect that I am after, I will use a prime lens, such as the FE 50mm f/1.4 ZA or FE 85mm f/1.4 GM.
I must choose my lens and exposure settings based on the environment and conditions that I have been given. Again, humans are so insignificant, and we have to be flexible and work with what we have.
There are days that are too cold for clouds, or there are just soft wispy clouds that hug the mountain peaks to simplify a silhouette. These can soften the light and make it easier to shoot toward the light, something I absolutely cannot seem to avoid. Snow is also the ultimate light bounce. When shooting people or tents or anything, light tends to bounce off snow in every direction. It fills in shadows whether you like it or not. This gives the photos a bright and breathable feeling.
But, then there are the days when the wind is lashing dramatically, and the cold is putting up a serious fight. The shot above was for Helsport tents, taken with the legendary Børge Ousland. It was a wild shoot and roughly -15°C with winds up to 20m/s. These are the days when you have to just accept that it’s part of the story and you cannot even pretend everyone is having a good time. With the wind kicking up the snow, it’s a chance to get a clean white background with no shapes. But the wind can also block the subject, limiting you to a wide frame shot close. It’s crazy how much the wind and cold can dictate a shoot.
One bit of advice for staying comfortable – finding the shot that will distract you from the cold. You can get so lost in focusing on the shoot that the cold doesn’t hurt so much, at least until the sun goes down, that’s when the REAL cold kicks in.
Nothing feels as cold as it does when it’s dark.
"Not too often can you get all this neatness in one location… That's called nature"