Considerations for Winter Nature Photographers … Keeping warm, equipment, and condensation


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Foggy sunrise, Washington County, Oregon


Like every year, it amazing that soon it will be 2013. I have many interesting workshops planned. One such workshop is a special trip to Cuba (don’t miss this one—

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Cold Rain in Grand Teton National Park
Ready for anything in Iceland

In preparing for my upcoming photography workshops in Grand Teton NP later this month as well as Iceland in January, there are many things to consider. Winter conditions present challenges that we don’t face during other seasons. In this article I’ll discuss these challenges and how I deal with them.

I’ll break this into two main areas: Clothing and Equipment


Traversing the Glacier, Iceland

Keeping warm—CLOTHING

There’s nothing worse than being in a beautiful location, having some great low angle light that we have during winter, a perfect landscape and there you are freezing cold because you are not prepared. Choosing the correct clothing can really make a difference. Just like basic photography, keeping it simple is the best way to deal with dressing for the cold.

You will see references to the use of wool. I like wool over synthetic products. Here are the comparisons: (You can read a great article dealing with wool vs. synthetic (base layers) here )

  • Wool is significantly better at resisting buildup of body odors than most synthetics – even the improved ones
  • Wool feels warmer and less clammy on the skin when damp
  • Wool takes approximately 50 percent longer to dry than synthetics (range 40 to 60 percent). This was consistent across the board under a large range of conditions – in lab tests of fabric swatches, whole shirts on hangers, shirts on warm bodies, and actual in-field performance of shirts wet with sweat and shirts intentionally saturated with water.
  • In our soak test, the difference in water absorption (x increase over dry weight) between wool and synthetics was less than we initially believed. Approximately 3x dry weight for synthetics versus 4x dry weight for wool.
  • Synthetic fabrics wick moisture out faster over a larger surface area. This may in part contribute to their faster drying times but also to a chilling effect in cool and especially windy conditions.
  • Synthetic fabrics are lighter than wool for comparable warmth.
  • Many synthetic garments are significantly less expensive than wool.

NOTE: Some people cannot even wear even the softest wool fabrics without breaking out in a rash, while others cannot tolerate the stench of wearing a synthetic garment for a week, and still others hate the clammy feeling of the synthetics.

We need to think about four basic areas: head, hands, feet and body. Your body loses a lot of heat through your head. Common sense is to protect your head from the elements. Because we need to look through our cameras viewfinder, I tend to look for head protection that does not have a bill. In other words in winter I avoid baseball caps. They are not warm enough and the bill gets in my way.


Blue Hen Falls, Cuyahoga National Park, Ohio


I like skullcaps and face coverings:

Here in America you might know of REI ( ) just one of many outdoor clothing retailers. In Iceland and Europe, the company 66NORTH ( ) designs some amazing products not commonly found here in America (you can buy online—products ship from a US warehouse). A skullcap they sell is one. It’s the Baser Cap, made of 100% merino wool.  . Most of the ones I see here in America are not 100% wool. Why a wool skull cap?

  • Wool has super wicking properties to keep you warm and dry.
  • It is itch free.

I use this face cover, also known as a balaclava

Outdoor Research Option balaclava is a great, lightweight layer for any cold-weather excursion.

  • Thermodynamic™ fabric features a durable nylon outer face and a moisture-wicking, looped polypropylene inner face
  • Contoured shape with light stretch and flat seam construction offers a trim fit
  • Can be rolled up to wear as a beanie when weather permits
A dusting of snow at the Portland Japanese Garden, Oregon

Don’t forget your ears. I recommend these ear warmers: The 180s Tec Fleece ear-warmers. Soft polyester fleece lining adds warmth and feels great next to skin

  • Polyester insulation keeps your ears warm on cold winter days
  • Adjustable, click-to-fit design accommodates most head sizes; 180s Tec Fleece ear-warmers collapse down small for simple storage
  • Behind-the-head design allows ear-warmers to be worn while wearing a hat, helmet or eyeglasses

Also Why not cover your neck as well. I suggest something like this: SmartWool PhD HyFi Training headband before heading out the door for cold-weather runs and hikes.

  • Nylon face is backed by soft merino wool for great comfort next to skin; fabric provides warmth and helps block wind
  • Contoured design ensures your ears are covered


There are two ways to make sure you keep your body warm. One is the obvious down jacket. The other is a layering system. The layering system takes up much less space, and weight in my suitcase or duffel bag, an important consideration if you are travelling, especially flying.  If you do decide on the jacket method, remember, there are different grades of down. Also the quality of the jacket is what makes some more expensive than others. I would look for the quality of the zipper, fabric etc. Here are two jackets to consider if you want to go this route. These are my suggestions. There are many other manufactures that make good wool and shell components.

BEST———–Mountain Hardware Downtown coat

  • Durable Ascent Micro Herringbone™ nylon shell resists abrasion and features Dry.Q Core waterproof, breathable laminate to protect your from wind and wet weather
  • 650-fill down provides a high warmth-to-weight ratio; down is the lightest, warmest and most compressible insulation known
  • Nylon taffeta lining wicks moisture, dries quickly and glides easily over layers
  • Zip-off hood adjusts with a single-pull drawcord; laminated brim increases foul-weather protection; Micro-Chamois™-lined ching guard protects sensitive skin
  • Rib-knit collar and cuffs snug up the fit and create a cozy feel against your skin
  • Stormflap sandwiches front zipper and restricts cold-air entry; waist drawcord seals out snow and cold
  • Fleece-lined hand warmer pockets warm chilly digits; zip chest pocket and interior security pocket stow small essentials
  • Mountain Hardwear Downtown Coat also features an internal media pocket with earbud cord exit


Snowstorm on Bell Rock, Sedona, AZ

Pretty good Value——The REI Antifreeze down jacket

Durable, downproof double ripstop polyester shell surrounds lightweight, toasty warm, highly compressible 700-fill-power? goose down insulation

  • Shoulders, upper back and outer sleeves feature a fabric selected to enhance abrasion resistance; Antifreeze features a Durable Water Repellent? treatment to shed rain and snow
  • Windproof to 50 mph
  • Horizontal baffled construction keeps down from shifting and maximizes warmth-generating loft; reduced fill on sides cuts down on bulkiness
  • 2-way front zipper features an internal stormflap to thwart? the wind coming through
  • Zip-off, down-insulated hood wraps around the lower face for extra warmth; side and back adjusters provide a close fit and good peripheral visibility
  • Hem drawcord and inner fleece cuffs seal in warmth
  • Includes 2 zippered hand pockets and 1 interior pocket with a cord port
  • Stuff sack included

If you are going to go the layering route here is what I recommend. ( 4 layers)

1)    When it gets really cold, I’ll be wearing the  SmartWool Microweight Crew shirt …………….

  • Fine merino wool helps maintain a comfortable temperature whether the day is hot, cold or in between
  • Chafe-free flatlock seams enhance comfort
  • Fabric protects skin from harsh UV light with a UPF rating of 25
  • Shaped bottom hem enhances fit
  • Unlike traditional wool, SmartWool items do not itch and can be repeatedly washed and dried without shrinking
  • The formfitting SmartWool Microweight long-sleeve crew for men offers a minimalist fit

2)   On top of that will go the Smartwool, Next to Skin Base Layer

  • The SmartWool Midweight Funnel zip top is made of super-fine merino wool to help maintain comfort whether the climate is warm, cold or in-between
  • With a UPF 50+ rating, fabric provides excellent protection against harmful ultraviolet rays
  • 14.5 in. front zipper ventilates on demand; raised collar helps keep your neck warm in cold conditions
  • Flatlock stitching eliminates abrasion, increases comfort and enhances fit by reducing bulky seams
  • Shoulder panels eliminate top shoulder seams, reduce chafing and offer comfort under pack straps
  • Thumbholes secure sleeves over hands for warmth
  • The formfitting SmartWool Midweight Funnel zip top is machine washable
Frozen Pot, Snow Canyon State Park, Utah

3)  The Marmot Elementalist jacket

  • WindStopper® soft-shell fabric is windproof, highly water resistant and breathable; bonded fleece backing wicks moisture and adds thermal warmth
  • Weather-exposed areas feature a heavy-duty WindStopper fabric, while lightweight WindStopper underarm panels offer enhanced breathability
  • Hood with laminated brim and peripheral draw cord is constructed for true mountain performance
  • Marmot Elementalist jacket features rip-and-stick? adjustable cuffs and draw cord hem
  • Hand pockets are placed for easy access while wearing a pack or harness; includes exterior angled zip chest pocket and an interior zip pocket
  • Angel-Wing Movement™ sleeves allow full range of arm motion and prevent jacket from rising up when arms are raised

4) MARMONT  “Oracle” waterproof breathable

  • Marmot Oracle offers great coverage and a comfortable fit with durable stretch fabric in key movement areas; it works best when light weight is more important than durability
  • MemBrain® Strata™ 2.5 waterproof, breathable laminate reduces internal condensation to effectively increase your comfort range without weighing you down
  • Durable and fully protective, the Oracle jacket features micro stitched and seam-taped seams
  • Stiff-brimmed storm hood with Cranium Cord adjustment provides unhindered peripheral vision; hood zips off or can be rolled away into collar
  • Soft DriClime® lines the collar, cuffs and chin guard
  • PitZips™ allow excellent ventilation control
  • Battening down the hatches is easy with the elastic draw cord hem and rip-and-stick? adjustable cuffs
  • Features Mesh Pack Pockets™ and zip chest pocket
  • Stretch anatomic articulation and Angel-wing Movement®®sleeves allow comfortable, unrestricted range of motion
  • Marmot Oracle is designed to fit over fleece or soft shells

BELOW THE WAIST…. THERMAL UNDERWARE:—— Smartwool Micro weight long underwear bottoms Fine merino wool helps maintain a comfortable temperature whether the day is hot, cold or in between

  • Chafe-free flatlock seams enhance comfort
  • Fabric protects skin from harsh UV light with a UPF rating of 30
  • Wide waistband enhances fit
  • Functional fly
  • Unlike traditional wool, SmartWool items do not itch and can be repeatedly washed and dried without shrinking
  • The formfitting SmartWool Microweight long underwear bottoms for men offer a minimalist fit and a natural rise


Young Big Horn Sheep, Wyoming


I wear the Mountain Hardware Dry.Q Elite…

  • The fabric’s air-permeable membrane allows air—not just moisture—to pass outward through the fabric, so you stay dry on the inside as well as the outside
  • The always-on airflow doesn’t wait for you to heat up before beginning to breathe; breathability and comfort start the minute you put on the jacket
  • Dry.Q fabric prevents clamminess and helps keep you cool and dry
  • Full-length side zippers offer great venting adjustability and easy on and off even with your boots on
  • Removable suspenders provide drop-seat functionality; adjustable waste with an integrated belt allows a personalized fit
  • Articulated knees? ensure unhindered range of motion
  • Lower leg scuff guards protect pants from abrasion; internal snow gaiters keep spindrift out
  • Mountain Hardware Hestia pants feature 2 zip hand pockets


Don’t forget Boots. For normal conditions that are many great brands of hiking boots. However if you are going to be out in very cold conditions (below zero) you will need more substantial boots. I recommend

Keen Summit County II winter boots,

-40°F comfort rating, waterproof protection and sturdy support for your wintry adventures.

  • Tough waterproofed nubuck leather offers lasting comfort, flexibility and style; high rubber shells and toe caps help protect from the elements
  • KEEN.DRY™ waterproof, breathable membranes keep feet dry and allow perspiration to dissipate before it saturates the inside of the shoe
  • 400g KEEN.WARM™ bamboo fiber/polyester insulation offers warmth and comfort down to -40°F during active use
  • Thermal heat shield footbeds feature a 3-layer design that helps prevent eat from escaping and helps keep the cold out
  • Compression-molded EVA midsoles topped with removable EVA footbeds offer shock absorption and padding for all-day comfort
  • Thermoplastic urethane shanks enhance support and stability for handling changing terrain
  • the Keen Summit County II boots sport nonmarking, dual-climate rubber outsoles with temperature-sensitive lugs that harden in cold weather to supply better traction on ice

I also recommend socks made by Smartwool.


Freezing Fog, Oregon



At very low temperatures all batteries lose power and not as efficient as in warm weather. This is a bigger problem with digital cameras that are very dependent on battery power.

Keep your camera and flash batteries as warm as you can. Carry them close to your body or under your coat.  Also, by keeping your camera protected and warm you will not take the chance that your manual shutter might stick if the lubricant freezes. Always carry spare batteries with you and keep them close to your body as well.

PHOTOGRAPHING IN THE SNOW……………Keep these things in mind:

1)    Protect your camera when I snow. There are many rain/snow covers available I recommend the ones by THINK TANK . Use this CODE when purchasing  AP351 and get a free gift ( purchases over $50.00)

2)    I actually use hefty bags in addition to cover my gear when not in use.:  you can buy them at Target or Wal Mart.

3)   Carry lint free cloths to wipe moisture off your equipment. These are absolutely the best!!! are soft, & remove finger prints etc. from lenses with scratching. If you have time order a pack from  (about 25.00 for 6 cloths)!!!

4)   You may want to carry hand and feet warmers.


Cold Morning at Bryce Canyon NP, Utah


When it’s time to come in from the cold, you will have to deal with condensation brought on by the warm air hitting your gear after being in the frigid temperatures for a time.  Your lens and the electronics inside the camera are now chilled and will be affected by the warm inside air. The moisture caused by going from cold to warm will condense on the cold surfaces of the inside and outside parts of your camera as well as your lenses. Here is how to avoid what can be costly problems. Moisture in cameras and lenses can ruin the internal electronics as that moisture attached itself to the circuitry. NOTE: Do NOT attempt to wipe the moisture off your lens—let it dry, then clean the glass will the proper cleaner and cloth.

You have to take steps to allow your gear to warm up slowly. If you can, leave it in your garage or a semi cool place for a few hours so the temperature of your gear can rise slowly to room temperature.  A better solution is to wrap your gear in a plastic bag, yes the same one you may have used to keep it dry in the field.( hefty bags: ) These bags are zip-topped and totally sealable plastic bags The water vapor  will form on the outside of the bag instead of inside your gear. I suggest placing your bag on the camera while you are still out in the cold, before you bring your gear inside. This goes for going inside a warm vehicle.

If you have a weatherproofed camera bag or backpack, you can leave your camera in it for a few hours

If you do see a condensation problem, open up your camera back, empty the battery compartment and open any other covered plug-in areas. Then let the camera dry. Remove the lens from your camera body and cover the opening so dust cannot get in.

These methods is necessary for point and shoot cameras, video cameras as well as DSLR’s

Enjoy the beautiful winter landscape, but be prepared!

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