Photographing The Maine Outdoors In Winter

Nature or scenic photography is not on any list of hazardous jobs that I know of but as a photographer in northern Maine I sometimes feel that it should be. When the weather forecast calls for bitterly cold or subzero temperatures it’s time to start taking precautions because the job of outdoor photographer all of a sudden becomes extremely hazardous. Staying indoors in front of the wood stove though inviting is not really an option since I take pictures for a living and if I stopped for the winter because of a little cold weather I’d be missing one of Maine’s best seasons for photography. I’ve learned to survive the Maine cold the same way I learned photography, on my own and through trial and error, fortunately for me I learned about dealing with cold temperatures a lot faster.

I love hiking through the woodlands and farmlands of northern Maine and enjoy all four of Maine’s unique seasons. Prior to becoming a photographer I endured Maine’s winters but never had any great love for it. These days I find myself actually looking forward to winter and it’s ever changing landscape. Taking photos under cold, harsh winter conditions poses it’s own unique challenges but nothing a little experience and common sense can’t overcome.

The two biggest challenges are always keeping myself as well as my camera at least warm enough to function. A shivering photographer rarely takes a good picture. As with many other winter outdoor activities the trick is to dress in layers, the colder it is the more layers. A good first layer is thermal underwear, followed by a heavy flannel shirt and flannel lined jeans, and sweaters or light fleeced jackets are always good. I top all of that off with a heavy winter coat, I figure I’m better off with too many layers than too few since I can always remove a layer if it gets too warm. Wearing boots that are well insulated and waterproof is also a good idea because not matter how dry and fluffy the snow may be eventually it will soak through your boots if they’re not waterproof. If it’s not too cold I’ll usually just wear a woolen bonnet on my head but in extreme cold I have this flannel hat with ear flaps that I wear under my bonnet, it’s not a pretty sight but hey I’m not in front of the camera.

Probably the hardest body part to keep warm when your taking pictures is the hands and since I’ve never been able to work with gloves on, no matter how thin, the first thing to come off when I get ready to shoot a picture is my nice warm mittens. In all the times I’ve gone out in temperatures well below zero degrees Fahrenheit I’ve only once gotten a mild case of frostbite. I now use hand warmers to keep my hands warm or to warm them up after they’ve been exposed for any length of time.

Hand warmers are also an excellent way to keep the camera warm enough to keep it functional. Even the best of batteries will stop working quickly in extreme cold so I make sure my coat pockets are large enough to hold a hand warmer, my camera, as well as my hand. I also make sure to have spare batteries with me and try to keep them in an inner pocket so my body heat will keep them from being drained by the cold. A relatively warm camera and warm hands can make for some beautiful winter photos.

My most popular photo called “Winter Blues” was taken on one of the coldest days in January of 2005, the day I got that mild case of frostbite. It always seems to me that the colder the day the clearer the air is and the better the pictures come out especially scenic views. I often get emails from people who’ve seen “Winter Blues”, or some of my other winter photos telling me how cold it looks. It makes me feel all warm inside to know that I’ve actually made someone “feel the cold” through my photos. My work can be seen at http://www.northernmainepictures.com but before you visit…dress warm.