By Sara Goodnick
In an earlier blog I mentioned the difficulties I faced when shooting the Hashknife Pony Express pre-ride in 15°F temperatures. This prepared me for a March trip to Fairbanks, Alaska, to photograph the Aurora Borealis and a fun dog sledding ride.
The temperatures in Fairbanks were colder than usual while we were there. Some days the high temperature was -10°F, and the low was -25°F. The snow pack was around 2 feet high or even deeper. The main roads were kept free of ice, but the other ones were packed with ice or snow.
One really fun outing was a visit to one of several dog sledding companies that offers short and long tours. Fortunately, we didn’t have to drive, only sit in the basket and use our cameras as we bumped and slid along the trail.
The one night the clouds were expected to clear for the aurora, we left at 10:30 p.m., arriving about an hour later than planned at the chosen destination. The temperature was -15°F, and we were shooting from midnight until almost 3:00 a.m. It was shockingly cold, but we had a warm van to retreat into between aurora activity.
Chemical hand, foot and pocket warmers have an expiration date. Four years beyond that date is definitely way too long. They didn’t work. Even new ones need some time in relative warmth after opening to work best out in the cold. Open them up and put in your clothing a few minutes before venturing outside.
Thin wool sock liners
Electric socks-love these
Baffin boots- I think mine were the “Impact”, rated at -40°F (which is just a guide for comparison to other boots)
Chemical insole warmers
Chemical hand warmers inside the boot on top of my feet
Three sets of base layers, tops and bottoms
Heavy snow pants
Thigh length down jacket (800 fil) with a hood, zipper (that opens from bottom as well as the top) and snaps
Down cap-with chemical hand warmer in its special pocket
Balaklava covering my head, and all but my eyes
Wool cap over the balaclava and down cap
Glove liners with touch screen capability
Vallaret gloves-heavy- with chemical hand warmers
Vallaret Over-mittens-with chemical hand-warmers
And even wearing all of this, I felt cold but could function, especially after enjoying some hot chocolate.
What didn’t work:
Breathing on the camera’s screen and viewfinder-the fog froze obscuring both and had to be scraped off
My hands-everything is extremely awkward when wearing so many layers, but removing gloves for more than a few seconds risks frostbite.
My eyes-frost formed on my eyelashes making it even harder to see the frozen screen and viewfinder.
The reader glasses I wear on a string around my neck to check the screen for focus accuracy got buried somewhere in all the layers I was wearing. I couldn’t find them because of the bulky gloves and dark night conditions.
The glasses some of my friends did wear frosted over.
The expired chemical warmers.
In summary, photographing in the more extreme cold requires a lot of preparation, the right clothing and gear, and mental preparation. Each outing brings more experience smoothing the way. Tips from friends are very helpful. The beauty is out there, and it is amazing – well worth the preparation and discomfort. I can’t wait to go try it again!
Sara Goodnick is a Photo Guide with Arizona Highways PhotoScapes.