I don't know about you, but I love a good bull sale. Every year when Denver rolls around (or Cattlemen's Congress for 2021) I get excited to see the new sires everyone is ready to promote. Shortly thereafter, I was always neck-deep in bulls to photograph for the rest of the Winter and into Spring.
While seeing great bulls and taking part in great bull sales warmed my heart, there's no doubt preparing for a spring bull sale across much of the Midwest is a real challenge. Farmers and ranchers are busy calving cows, there's a lot of extra feeding and caretaking to do, and the often frigid temperatures can put a real damper on anyone's spirits.
While there's nothing like a cold, still, sunny winter morning to get those bulls feeling good and looking their best, a lot of January and February weather isn't that cooperative for the animals, the people, or your equipment.
Here are six tips for frigid photo days...
Have extra patience. When it's cold, nothing seems to move as quickly as it should. From chutes freezing up to people feeling sore, it's going to take some time for things to get moving in the morning, so bring an extra dose of patience on those chilly winter days.
Practice good equipment management. Give your equipment time to adjust to the temperature. Don't take your camera and lens right from the hot car to the below-freezing air and vice versa. I've had a lot of phone calls from friends who were dealing with condensation issues in their equipment when they went from one extreme to another too quickly. I've never had an issue with condensation in an SD card, but I feel pretty confident it could happen, so I'm always extra cautious with them as well.
Have extra batteries. When it's cold, your batteries won't last as long. Carry extras and keep them in an interior pocket under your outer layers.
Find a way to keep your hands and feet warm. I often found the folks working the cattle would be a lot more comfortable than me on cold days, especially while videoing. They get to move around more than the photographer does and as the photographer/videographer, your fingers are always in isolated positions on the camera controls that leave your hands exposed to cold air. My best advice is to keep trying different kinds of gloves until you find something that works for you. For me, it's a pair of cotton roping gloves inside a pair of mittens that have a flap to let you get to your fingers. I have three versions of roping gloves; with fingers, without fingers and without index fingers and thumbs. It seems the older I get the more fingers I'm comfortable leaving covered!
Some people use portable heaters and I think that's a great idea, though I find I have more pain from the cold if I get warmed up in between takes.
A lot of wintertime picture pens will get bedded to make the animals look their best. A little bedding like straw or stalks under your own feet can go along way to your staying warm, dry, and comfortable all day, especially if you're stuck in a single position while filming.
Eat a light lunch. If you get to take a break at lunchtime, keep it light and fast. I always find that once you sit down and get warm, not only do you not want to go back outside, but the first hour or so in the afternoon can seem painfully cold.
Consider the "Single Digit Rule". After five or six years battling the winter weather, I instituted something I call the "Single Digit Rule." When the forecast says the high temperature for the day will be single digits, and there's no sunshine predicted either, just find something else to do that day. A still, sunny, single-digit morning can be magical, but when those temps are going to stay cold, and God-forbid the wind is going to blow pushing the windchills into the negative side of the thermometer, nobody wants to be in the picture pen; the cattle, your help, and probably not even you. After all these years of taking pictures, I've never once regretted waiting out better weather when it was a possibility.
What questions do you have about dealing with winter weather photos? Send me a message.
B.J. Eick is a writer, photographer, and filmmaker with a passion for animal agriculture. You can reach him here.
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