Western NC, Photographing in Extreme Cold - Tommy White Photography

Tommy White Photography

As photographers, we find ourselves seeking out the best light in some of the harshest(most dramatic) conditions we can find.  While doing so can have a high degree of difficulty, it can also be dangerous.  With a solid game plan and some planning, we can lessen the danger factor and improve upon the degree of difficulty.  The end result being that we can have a safe and enjoyable experience in the backcountry while capturing some fantastic wonders of our world.


When shooting in the extreme conditions, the most important decision you have will be in your extreme weather gear. More specifically, your clothing.  Your decisions here will make or break your experience. An inexperienced person, in the wrong clothing, will most likely find themselves in peril and could lead to a life threatening situation. If you are seeking knowledge on proper gear, visit your local outfitters and a salesperson will be happy to assist you in finding the appropriate attire for you adventure. 

Roan Mountain Highlands

Winter's Grip_1

Shooting in sub-zero conditions on Round Bald, Roan Mountain, Tenn.


Here's what you will need:

*In choosing the clothing for you trip, you should include the following: Wicking Thermals(no cotton), a thin insulated piece over your thermal layer, toboggan, face mask, insulated photographers gloves, a 200 weight fleece or down insulating  layer, a W/B(waterproof-breathable) jacket or shell, Fleece lined nylon pants or fleece pants, W/B lined wind pants, gaitors, insulated boots or at a minimum a full grain leather boot with wool or hiking/trekking socks.  A more detailed post on outerwear is coming soon.

*Food is essential to keeping the body charged. You will need that extra energy to navigate in the harsh weather conditions. Eating properly will also help to keep you warm. Always bring water on your trip. Hydration is extremely important and we need it to survive. Being in the cold, you can easily forget about your ice cold water, but don't underestimate it's importance. Stop occasionally and re-hydrate yourself.

*Some type of lens cleaning towel is a good idea. I usually bring several.

*Some type of ready made cover for your camera and lens. You can purchase these at camera stores for fairly cheap, but I have found that a large ziplock, bag or even my waterproof seattle sombrero have served me quite well. Most professional grade cameras are fairly water resisitent, however, you want to be mindful about leaving them exposed in the rain or snow for extended periods as this can cause damage to your lens and your camera body itself.

*A rain cover for your pack to keep your equipment dry.

*Handwarmers. Don't underestimate the power of these little jewels. Bring several!  They work great in gloves and jacket pockets.  You can actually buy Foot warmers too.


Overcome the Obstacles!

Now that you have your proper gear and survival elements in place, let's go over a few obstacles you will have to overcome... These are small surprises that can make life a little more challenging than it needs to be.   If you're aware of them, maybe it will help your experience to be more enjoyable.

*It's no secret, there will be moisture out there and a good deal of it! Moisture on the ground, falling from the sky, coming from your nose, mouth and even your body. Some of it will inevitably reach your camera resulting in fogging of your LCD and viewfinder. If you are shooting in single digit temps or low teens, that condensation will freeze almost instantly. Here's where the cleaning towels come in handy.

*In my recent experience, high winds can not only deliver stinging cold, but can make the LCD panels on your camera slow to read and hard to navigate. It's a good idea to be familiar with your camera settings and know what buttons work certain controls so you can navigate and adjust your camera with minimal difficulty.

*When shooting below freezing, the cold temperatures will quickly drain your batteries. It's a good idea to bring extras. I usually travel with three per camera body.

*Decide on what lenses you will be using during your stay.  Mount them on your camera bodies before you leave and stick to it. Changing lenses in these conditions is not recommended. You never want moisture inside the camera body if you can help it.

*Fingerless, photographers gloves will come in handy. These come in a variety of styles for varying conditions. Check “Freehands” at B&H Photo for their assortment.

*Keep your Storage cards in a dry place that is easy to get to.  I usually keep a couple on my person in case things really light up... I'm not digging around trying to find one.

*If have to open your Camera bag.. and I usually do. It is very possible that moisture will get inside your bag. It's usually not a problem and I will open my bag when I return home to dry things out. However, I also keep a mesh pouch full of moisture capsules inside my pack. I leave it there as I find myself out in the rain quite a bit. You can pick these things up for nothing or just save them out of shipping packages.


Now your almost Ready!

*It's a good idea to tell someone where you're going. Even better if you can find a photographer friend to go with you.  When things go south, they really go.  It's always nice to have someone watching your back.

*A basic understanding of first Aid and how to treat minor injuries is a good idea.  I travel with a small First Aid kit everywhere I go.  Know where and how to find help should you need it for a major occurence.  

*Always have a cell phone with you.  Walkie Talkies are handy when moving about a vast area such as Roan Mountain or Mt. Rogers.

*Make sure you're comfortable driving in snowy/icy conditions in the dark. If you're shooting the sunrise, you become a master at this. A good white knuckle morning driving in fresh snow and ice will keep you humble.

*Don't forget your headlamp. I prefer a headlamp due to the hands free aspect of it. This can also double as your light painter should you need some additional light in your foreground.

Enjoy your shoot and be safe out there!

Rime ice on top of Grandfather Mountain, NC

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