Shooting in the Arctic with Hallvard Kolltveit
Hallvard Kolltveit was born and raised in the south of Norway and has kindly passed on some tips for shooting in the extreme cold.
1. Batteries - I think the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about shooting in the cold is the batteries. Batteries tend to loose quite some juice up here in the cold, so you better stock up on some before making the journey. For instance, you can say a lot of great things about mirrorless, but most tend to die before you even jump in the water. Same goes for video. I sometimes shoot some motion, and always carry three batteries for my 1DX Mark II, which is just enough for a day shoot.
2. High iso - Now this only applies to the winter months, but the Arctic is dark. Really dark. In December and parts of January, we actually have no sunlight at all, meaning you’ll bump your ISO up quite high to get the right exposure. I don’t think I was ever under 1600 in December, and usually between 4000 and 10000. Now summer is another thing, but if you come during winter months you might want to acquire some gear that can help you out - also for those sexy northern lights shots.
3. Type of gear - Last, but not least, this is where professional, expensive gear really shines. An old 7D might be enough for a sunny day in October, but on a gritty day in January you want to have a 1DX style camera for the ISO, weather sealing, focusing system and speed. Buy and bring the gear you can afford, just know that you’re heading into a bit rougher place than when you were shooting in the sticks, drinking Bintangs overlooking Uluwatu in the middle of the day.
4. Heat up slowly - After having been in the water for hours it is essential that you heat up slowly and don’t jump into a sauna, jacuzzi or hot shower. This may in the worst case (although never heard of) a heart attack then death, but usually it “just” damages your nervous system and blood flow. Put on some dry and warm clothes and start moving around or get in your car and heat up in there.
5. Keep moving - The worst days in the water in the Arctic are those where we have groundswells and above 15 seconds period. Those lulls are cutting your session in half, so it’s essential that you keep on moving. Tread water or just swim back and forth - everything goes, but don’t lie still, although the gear is plenty enough to keep you floating without any effort from your side.
6. Condensation - Now this is the life hack and the thing to nail when you come here. I’ve seen my share of sessions being ruined because of condensation - mostly on lenses and housings. The quick transition from warm to cold or vice versa means you’ll create condensation inside your gear and eventually ruin and/or damage it. Keep your car as cold as possible and try to minimise the temperature changes your camera has to endure.
7. Layer up - Shooting from land? Thick beanie, gloves, good waterproof shoes and plenty of layers is the way to go. I personally use wool, fleece and a big warm jacket from November - April. A nasty looking balaclava is also in the bag for the windier days.
8. Warm water on thermos - The oldest trick in the book, but a lifesaver, or at least a session saver. Be aware that boiled or really warm water will be way too warm for your frozen hands and feet - even if you just use it to warm up the gear before jumping in. I fill a solid thermos of averaged temperature water, which when you’re freezing will be warm enough.
9. Weather changes fast - Pack for everything, you never know what the Arctic has in store for you. The weather forecast is not too reliable and it can be sunny all day at one spot, while it’s a blizzard just an hour down the road. A good rain cover, clothing, and other things you might need should always be in the bag, no matter what the forecast says.