You might think two people who live in Sunny California might not know anything at all about Winter. You’d be wrong. Did you know that “Sierra Nevada” is English for “Snowy Range”? And it didn’t come by that name by accident. The Sierra Nevada range is the proud owner of several world “snow” records. Most snow in a day – 67 inches. Most snow in a single storm – 15 ½ feet. Greatest snow depth – 37 ½ feet. And being avid skiers and photographers, we’re out in the white stuff all winter long, so we’ve picked up a thing or two about shooting photographs in the snow, the rain and the cold.
The cramped closest space inside our Van-sized RV’s can make packing for winter a challenge. For clothing, I suggest using layers. Light Merino wool sweaters pack up small, resist wrinkling and are very, very warm. I like the zippered top I got from Minus 33 so much, I quickly got on line and bought another. But before you get to the sweaters, make sure to put on a warm base layer. My current favorites are the tops and bottoms in Columbia’s new Omni-Heat line. Finally, get yourself a water-proof shell. Big bulky parkas take up a lot of space in your RV and if the day warms up, you’ll start to feel like you’re wearing a sauna, not a jacket. So again, I go for small and light, from makers like Columbia or Marmot.
Remember, when you’re photographing nature, chances are you’re going to be standing in one spot for a pretty long time. You’ll get much colder than if you were hiking or skiing, so bring lots and lots of layers. And don’t forget those socks. Again, I’d stick with Merino Wool, because not only does Merino keep your feet warm, it keeps a lot of its warmth even if it gets wet. And the better-quality wool from companies like Smartwool, Minus 33 and Icebreakers doesn’t smell bad when you take off your boots inside your little motorhome.
Being comfortable out in the weather is one thing, but being safe is really more important. That’s why we always carry our Yaktrax ice traction devices. They’re like wearing auto chains on your feet. They fold up tiny and go on in a flash.
But if the snow is fresh and deep, there’s nothing like a pair of snowshoes. And let me tell you, today’s snowshoes aren’t like the ones I learned on when I was a kid. I still have the bumps on the back of my head from those ungainly beasts.
Remember, it’s not just you that’s out in the elements. Your camera gear is out there with you. So, when you’re shopping for a camera backpack, make sure it has a rain cover. Rochelle’s new Lowepro Transit bag has an integrated cover hidden away in a pocket at the bottom of the bag. And here’s a tip for your camera bag. Don’t throw away the little silica packs that come in your shoe and electronic boxes. Toss them in your bag to reduce moisture.
And speaking of moisture and cameras. Watch out. When you’re out shooting, your camera gets really, really cold. And if you bring it in to a warm motorhome, it will attract condensation just like an icy drink on a hot day. Here’s a trick. Put that ice-cold camera in a zip lock bag and put it on the floor. The bag will attract the moisture, keeping it off the camera. And the floor will be cooler than the rest of the motorhome, so the camera can “warm up” slower.
If it’s a cold, wet day, you can use my Tribella to keep the moisture off your camera, or you can also buy an inexpensive waterproof shooting bag. Most of them are able to deal with any kind of lens including a long telephoto lens.
I don’t know about you, but when it’s cold, my hands seem the coldest. Lucky for me, Rochelle enjoys the art of knitting and she made us both pairs of fingerless gloves. But if you’re knitting challenged, don’t fret, there are lots of fingerless gloves and mittens available online.
Another item that gets crazy cold in the winter is a metal tripod. The expensive carbon-fiber tripods handle Winter temperatures because they are poor conductors for the cold. But if you’re budget doesn’t cover the extra cost, make sure your metal alloy tripod has some insulated “leg warmers”. And if all else fails, a cheap trick is to use tennis racquet grip tape. As you can see in my photo, it’s not pretty but it works.
Finally, make sure to bring lots of lens cleaning clothes. During the summer, you can use the same one for days at a time, but the winter wetness will make you wish you brought a dozen.