Aurora of Alaska

I have survived temperatures in Alaska where the snot freezes in your nose, your eyelashes freeze together, and you have to plug in your car. 30 below zero and I was out there taking photos and attempting to fly my drone. I say attempting not because the drone wouldn’t fly, but because my hands would freeze as it worked the controls. I am a gear guy from my prior life (mountaineering and adventure racing) but I learned 4 vital “survival secrets” from my Alaskan experience.

I’ve taken pictures in all sorts of lights and at all times of day. From the Aurora Borealis at 1 in the morning to dog sledding pictures at high noon to trying to capture the perfect sunset light on Denali. What kept me sane (and my equipment working) was not complex.

Plastic bags

I use 2.5 gallon plastic freezer bags. Not for my food, but for my camera gear. In cold weather, my equipment performs well (although batteries do go dead more quickly), but when I get back into a humid and warm environment, I worry about condensation. That’s what plastic bags do: they keep the condensation out of your gear. This is absolutely important for your cameras and any lenses you use. You don’t need anything fancy, I use cheap ziploc bags. I would recommend a 2.5 gallon vs a 1 gallon bag as you can’t quite get your lens and camera body into a 1 gallon.

Heavy liner gloves

Yes. Thick mitten will keep your hands warm, and you can control many of the features on your camera with mittens on. But it’s almost a certainty you are going to need to remove one or both mittens at some point. If you have a thin liner gloves, your hands will get cold quickly. Also, a new challenge is touch screen controls. Make sure your liner glove is touch-screen compatible so you don’t have to expose your finger to sub-zero temperatures. Once, I was wearing a flip up glove (not a liner glove) and I needed to check something on my phone. I didn’t get my pinky finger back into the glove quickly enough and my finger got painfully cold very quickly. I have always been a fan of products from Outdoor Research, who offers an array of gloves in different weights and thicknesses. This one still fits inside my mittens but can be used for standalone hand protection.

Hand warmers

These are just an amazing invention. Right up there with the iPhone but a heck of a lot cheaper. And absolutely essential for cold weather photography. I use them for everything… well maybe not everything but I did use them for the following:

1. Put them in a bag with my batteries. This was key to extending battery life as we dogsledded 7 hours one day. Everything else in my bag was frozen (including my toothpaste) but the camera battery bag was good to go.

2. In my pockets. It was nice to be able to wear the thinner liner gloves and shove my hands into my pockets in between shots and do a quick warm up without having to put my mittens back on.

3. In my mittens. Even when I was not wearing my mittens, I put hand warmers inside them. When it was time to put them back, it was nice to slip my hands into warm mittens.

4. In my shoes. I only needed to do this one day but I put them in between my layers of socks. I was standing a lot, but never had cold feet.

HotHands and Grabber both make warmers that will do, but I seem to find better prices on the HotHands and the last batch I had lasted YEARS and still worked well when I opened them up.

Wireless remote shutter

The final item. I am sure most of you have a remote shutter if you are shooting off a tripod, but even if you do, now is the time to get a wireless remote shutter. Honest confession. I sat in the car for one of my photo sets of the Northern Lights. Click. With the heat on. Click. It was awesome. Click. Even when it’s not from the car, it’s still good to be able to keep my hands in my pockets and snap off shots as the light changes. Also, don’t forget to bring an extra set of batteries for the remote shutter when it’s cold.

There are all types wireless remote shutters. I picked this one when I started and it works well for me: Vello FreeWave Plus So there you go.

You can make it in the cold weather. No such thing as bad weather, just bad gear.

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