Being Canadian, most people around the world assume we have some innate ability to stay warm in freezing temperatures. Like it was some mutation we’ve been endowed with after living in the tundra for so long. We are thought to travel to work on dog sleds, live in igloos and own pet penguins. My usual answers to such inquiries are that “the dog sled is out of order,” “my igloo melts every summer” and “my pet penguin ran away from home and I now fear it has been eaten by the local polar bear,” but the truth is we get just as cold as anyone else.
We have just been given the opportunity to get use to it so to speak. When venturing out to the cold outdoors however, most Canadians tend to wear about six layers of clothes, a few coats, four pairs of mitts and a knit cap or two. Me? I get hired to wear pretty little dresses in the snow and sometimes even pose in a shoot in the chilly water while every so often pushing an ice chunk out of the frame that happens to float in. (See image) Needless to say, one the elements of my profession is to look comfortable while being decidedly uncomfortable.
We have all seen those photos where the contrast of snow or ice against a model gives the image a gravitas that can be found in no other way. You can use the seasons for many impacting images, but I personally find the crisp clean look of snow to be one of the most fantastic canvases that the model and the photographer can paint onto. In order to pull off such a thing safely, though, your best friend is preparation.
One particular shoot, I had been asked to pose near some small ruins in the middle of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. The temperature that day happened to dip more than expected and was now hovering at a brisk -30 degrees Fahrenheit. I had traveled to this location in order to shoot this with not one but two photographers, so there was really no easy way of rescheduling. I assured the team that I could tough it out and that I would be able to keep myself together outside in such freezing conditions.
We had spent a good amount of time preparing inside fully before driving to the location in order to, let’s say, get in and get out but as soon as I stepped outside in that dress and heels, even with a coat on, there was one thought that ran through my head: “I have made a terrible, TERRIBLE mistake.”
I braced myself for one of the coldest shoots I had ever done and still to this very day, have ever done.
At the location, we all realized just how cold the wind was and how it was borderline dangerous to be out in that wind, not just for me, but for everyone involved in the shoot. While we did push through and manage to capture a few shots that fit what we had envisioned, it didn’t take too long to relent to the elements, however, and we decided to cut the shoot short.
One of the best shots, in my opinion, was after I had already given up and was wearing my coat. By the time I managed to get myself into the warmth, I was extremely cold. I was on the border of hypothermia, I’m sure. My fingertips were tingling and I didn’t even know if I still had a nose. I’m very fortunate I had gotten inside when I did, as I didn’t realize I was so cold. That’s when I truly began to understand that the warnings that hypothermia can set in in as little as 15 minutes are true!
As I learned, one major step towards knowing if you will be at risk in the elements is having a crystal clear idea of exactly what you and the photographer are looking to achieve. The more you know exactly what he or she wants to capture and the more practiced you are at the poses you’ll be doing, the quicker you can get out.
The weather may have won that particular day, however I will not completely submit to the Canadian outdoors, even if I have learned when to say, “I can not do it.”
I still really enjoy shooting out in the snow. Snow is the one backdrop that makes me feel truly Canadian. If you can brave it, it is defiantly worth it! (And yes, I most certainly did mean DEFIANTLY!)
However plan ahead because losing a finger (or nose) to frostbite is a heavy price to pay for a “good shot.”
Photo/MUA Credit : Canada Snow Flag Thumbnail, Pole Star Photography Photo Credit (Article Image 1): Nemisis in Red River by JC Photography Photo Credit (Article Image 2): Pole Star Photography Photo Credit (Header): JC Photography