A regrettable reality of my life is that the best conditions for photography are the absolute worst conditions to be outside. Fortunately, I was hardened by decades of Giants games at Candlestick Park, the coldest place on Earth. As a photographer, I continue to embrace my mantra for warmth at the ‘Stick: Too much is always better than not enough.
For me, cold weather photography is all about layers: some combination of silk, wool, down, and Gore-Tex. I generally start cold winter mornings with wool socks, waterproof and insulated boots, silk long-johns, flannel- or fleece-lined pants, long-sleeve wool or silk upper base layer, wool Pendleton shirt, down jacket, gloves (I have a variety from thin to thick), and a wool hat. I add or remove layers as conditions dictate. If it’s raining or snowing, I add waterproof pants, a waterproof parka, and a wide-brim waterproof hat to keep myself dry; I use an umbrella to keep my gear dry while shooting.
The basic clothes I pack in my suitcase before each trip, but the gloves/hats/umbrella etc. are in a gym bag that is always in my car. In the car I also keep an extra pair of shoes and socks, towel, and garbage bag (to cover my camera when it’s on the tripod). With all this paraphernalia, I’m nice and toasty in whatever extremes the Sierra throw at me. And I can never use weather as an excuse for missing a shot.
While it was quite chilly the morning I captured El Capitan with a veneer of fresh (and unexpected) snow, I didn’t miss a beat. I had packed for cold, and always have wet weather gear in the car. Not only did my waterproof attire keep me warm and dry in the show, it also enabled me to traipse through the frigid Merced River to the small, rocky island that gave me the perspective I wanted. Later, back at the car, I used a towel borrowed from my hotel room (and returned!) to dry my tripod.
Of course a little bit of planning helps. For example, in Hawaii the problem isn’t cold, it’s rain. Since the temperatures in Hawaii are so comfortable, I wear as little as possible, and only clothes that dry fast. Cotton is a big no-no–instead my 24×7 wardrobe is some variation of running shorts or swimsuit, running tank top or T-shirt, and flip-flops or sandals. When it rains, I play in the rain, while the umbrella and plastic garbage bag (poor man’s waterproof camera cover) that live in my camera bag keep my gear dry.