As the official photographer of the Iditarod for over 36 years, there are three questions I’m asked most often. The first is a question that gets asked all winter long— “Are you getting ready for the Iditarod?” The second is asked in the spring and summer: “How was the Iditarod this year?” and the third, which is asked all year long is some version on of “How do you keep your cameras working and your fingers warm in those cold temperatures?” During this year’s race, I experienced and shot in temps as low as 38 below zero. Here’s the answer to the last question: As for the cameras — I use Canon cameras and they will continue to work in sub-sub zero temperatures all day long IF I do these steps:
- There is a fresh, WARM battery at the ready to exchange for the cold and dying one. When the camera dies, it’s almost always just that the existing battery is dead or too cold to make juice. I keep several extra batteries inside my clothing as close to my body (where it’s warmer). If it’s extremely cold, or I have too many layers on to get the spare batteries in a warm place, then I’ll put chemical hand warmers with the batteries in order to keep them warm. When the existing battery charge is low or dead, I put the warm battery in its place and put the cold/dead battery in a separate, warm pocket in order to warm it up. More than likely, if that battery gets warmed up, the charge will come back and I can use that battery again.
- Once a camera and/or lens has been outside in the cold, I leave it outside all day. I don’t bring it inside until I’m ready to stop shooting for the day. If I do bring it inside, I put it into a plastic bag so as to avoid the warm air condensing on the outside (and sometimes it gets on the inside). I’ve found over the years that the more I bring a cold camera or lens into a warm room and the moisture condenses on it, the more likely I will have a problem with it down the road.
As for my hands, how do I keep them warm? Honestly, I think the adrenaline rush I get from shooting photos is what keeps me the warmest. That said, when I’m shooting I use a pair of fleece, wind-stopper gloves. Not the stretching type. I’ve found these to be the best thing to protect my hands from cold, and still be able to use the equipment. I’ve found good wind blocking gloves from Cabela’s, Black Diamond and Mountain Hardware. I get them just a tad tight and then wear them a LOT before the race in order to break them in and stretch them a bit. Once I find a pair that really work well, then I do what Joe Redington Sr. taught me… buy a half-dozen of them. Because sooner or later the company will either discontinue them or “new and improve” them to where they are no longer as good.
And, if it’s crazy cold, I’ll put chemical hand warmers in my pockets so that between shooting, I can stick my hands in my pocket, hold onto the warmer and get the fingers warm again. If I’m traveling in super cold weather on a snowmachine or some such where my hands will be exposed to cold/wind for a long time, then I’ll often times put my hands in some heavy-duty mitts.
Shot with a Canon 1DX Mark II and a Canon 70-200mm f 2.8 lens at 190mm f6.3 1/400th second ISO 400