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The Well-Dressed Photographer – Winter

by Carolyn E. Wright | November 14, 2011

© Carolyn E. WrightDon’t let winter weather prevent you from taking your best shots.

Some of the best images can be captured during the winter months, so don’t let the cold stop you. For the best photography experience, wear clothing that will keep you comfortable and safe.

Dressing in layers and choosing clothes made of suitable materials are the best ways to fight cold weather. Layers allow you to quickly add or subtract clothing to adapt to the varying climate, your activity level and tolerance to the environment. Selecting clothes made of certain materials will maximize the layers’ effectiveness.

Layering Fundamentals

It starts with a good “first layer”– the clothing next to your skin. Moisture from perspiration or precipitation will lower your body temperature, making you feel cold if left next to your skin. Appropriate first layers wick away that moisture, leaving your skin dry and warm. They are made of natural materials such as silk or wool, or synthetic materials, such as polypropylene. These materials are traded under a variety of brand names. Cabela’s has a good selection.

Thermal underwear designed specifically for the cold weather comes in three weights: light, mid and expedition weight. Choose the one that best fits your activity and tolerance. Don’t use first layers made of cotton or cotton-blend. While comfortable, they are risky to use since they don’t dry quickly, and you will get cold.

Harbor seals on glacier ice © Carolyn E. Wright

The second layer serves as the insulating layer, and holds the heat your body produces to keep you warm. It also should be made of a material that wicks and dries quickly, because the first layer will wick wetness to the second layer. The second layer is often a sweater or light jacket made of wool or synthetic materials such as fleece. REI Outlet carries many products that will fit the bill. Goose down is an effective, lightweight insulator, but it won’t keep you warm if it gets wet.

Since the second layer uses an open weave to allow moisture to evaporate and to trap the warm air, you also must use an outer layer for it to be effective. This layer – usually a jacket or parka – prevents the warmth from escaping and keeps the wind, rain or snow out. Some outer layers have insulating properties added for the coldest weather, but they are more versatile if they don’t. The best outer layers are made with a waterproof and breathable material, such as “Gore Tex” or similar fabric. Check the assortment at Sierra Trading Post.

While rubber and plastic also are waterproof, you want a breathable fabric so that the moisture wicked from the first layer through the second layer can evaporate and you don’t feel clammy. You can save a bit of money on this layer by choosing a “water resistant” instead of a waterproof jacket. Water resistant material will ward off a light rain, and since you rarely will shoot in a downpour, it should be sufficient.

Ram © Carolyn E. Wright

New technical materials, often used in “soft shell” jackets or pants, combine the insulating and wind/water resistance layers into one. Some fleece has wind resistant properties. They add convenience and eliminate bulk, but generally perform at a lower level than the prime items. Campmor carries these items.

Protect Your Head, Hands and Feet

Cold hands can be a big impediment to your photography. Glove liners are thin gloves that work like other first layers. They also protect your fingers from direct contact with the cold when you remove your bulky gloves to handle your gear. Add a second layer of gloves made of wool or synthetic materials to retain heat and resist cold and wind. If these gloves are fingerless, you will have better access to camera controls. Look for fingerless gloves with a flap that can be pulled over your fingers to keep them as warm as mittens would, which gives you the best of both worlds. You can find a pair of good fingerless gloves at Altrec.

Another important piece of gear is head protection. Although it’s no longer thought that you lose most of your heat through your head, you should still protect it. Choose something made of the materials recommended above. Like your other clothes, if you add a wind resistant layer, such as the hood from your jacket, you’ll be even warmer.

Horses running in winter snow © Carolyn E. Wright

Wet, cold feet can ruin an outing. Avoid this by using socks made of wicking material that dries quickly and retains heat when wet, similar to the materials described above. Thick socks generally will be warmer, unless they make your shoes so tight that the blood flow to your feet is constricted. Check REI for a good selection.

Many shoes/boots have a Gore Tex liner to keep water out and to let your perspiration escape. Less expensive and somewhat less effective shoes/boots have a waterproof treatment that must be reapplied after some use. This treatment, however, inhibits the breath ability of the leather. Snow boots add an insulating layer and use rubber materials to keep snow and water out. Fit your shoes/boots so that your toes have some wiggle room to keep your blood circulating.

Wolf on ice in winter © Carolyn E. Wright

In the most severe conditions, add face protection with a face mask, a baklava, or a neck gaiter. And never forget the sunscreen. Snow reflecting the sun’s rays will intensify your UV exposure, even on cloudy days.

All of these clothes retain the heat you make. Some nifty gear can add to your warmth. Place chemical packs in your gloves, a pocket, or your boots that get warm when exposed to oxygen. Also look for boots, socks and gloves that are battery heated. Check the products at Cozy Winters.

Dress Well to Enjoy Winter Shooting

Your body’s first mission is to protect its vital organs, such as your heart and lungs. If cold, your blood vessels will constrict in your arms and legs, reducing flow to them and leaving fingers and toes susceptible to frostbite. Keep all of your body parts covered with clothing designed to battle the cold. Being the well-dressed photographer will keep you shooting safely and comfortably throughout the winter season.

See Carolyn’s tips on dressing in the summer →

About the Author

Carolyn E. Wright is a full-time attorney whose practice is aimed squarely at the legal needs of photographers. Carolyn understands the special issues that confront both professional and amateur photographers alike.

A professional photographer herself, Carolyn has the legal credentials and the experience to protect your rights.Carolyn wrote the book, the "Photographer’s Legal Guide," which was released in 2006 and updated in 2010. Carolyn specializes in wildlife photography and also provides legal information for photographers for free at www.photoattorney.com.

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