If you’re reading this right now in the Northern hemisphere, odds are better than even that it’s flippin’ cold out; if you’re reading from the Southern hemisphere, bookmark this and save it for a rainy (or rather, freezing) day and come back when you need it. Today we’re going to talk about one of the most fundamental things for cold weather photography: keeping your hands toasty, since nice gear doesn’t count for much if your digits are frostbitten.
There are quite a few options when it comes to gloves for photographers; I’ll be listing a few and discussing the pros and cons of each.
Let’s start with Thinsulate gloves. These are great when it comes to keeping your hands warm in cold weather. When it comes to shooting? Well, now, that’s something else again. Thinsulate’s great when it comes to keeping the cold out, but it can also feel like your hands have turned to sausages. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to feel the controls under your fingers, and equally difficult to finesse things like function keys and touchscreens. Even gloves that are designed with fingertips that can work with touchscreens tend to be a bit too bulky to ensure getting it right the first time, and if you’re trying to catch a skittish deer or a bird in flight, you really don’t want to miss the shot because your gloves decided you’d rather adjust your white balance than, say, your exposure settings.
Another option are gloves or mittens that allow you to remove the top portion to leave your fingertips exposed. These work fine in principle, since it leaves your fingers free to manipulate dials and buttons. Problem is, you end up either having to yank them off every time you want to shoot or change a setting, or you just say the hell with it and leave that part off, in which case you’ve got cold, numb fingers. That won’t do either.
So you can try thin leather gloves. Some are insulated, so they’re warm. They’re also thinner than many cloth gloves (though they can be stiffer in some cases), but they can still be clunky and stiff unless you’re dealing with driving gloves, which aren’t particularly practical in the cold. So leather also may not be your best bet.
What to do? There are photographer’s gloves out there, but like everything else marketed to photographers, some can be a bit pricey. Luckily, unlike some things made for photography, you’ve got good — and inexpensive — alternatives. Case in point: a pair of Hatch Specialist all-weather shooting gloves that I recently received for Christmas. They’re designed for hunters and law enforcement. It’s a different kind of shooting, but the principle’s the same when you get right down to it; you need the gloves to keep you warm, but otherwise, you need them to stay the heck out of the way. The gloves I’ve got perform pretty well in both respects. They have a degree of touch sensitivity that allows me to be a lot more confident when I’m changing settings on the fly.
Three cautionary notes about these gloves: first of all, I don’t know where they get off calling these “all-weather.” Granted, they’re water repellent (not waterproof) and warm, but not quite as warm as my bulky Thinsulate gloves or my nice Isotoners (one or the other of which stays in my jacket pocket for the times when the camera’s not out). The Neoprene material feels like it’d likely be sweaty on a hot day, though at that point you’re not likely to need gloves for photography anyway. The palm and finger surfaces of the gloves also conduct cold. The other evening, shooting in what felt like low 30’s/upper 20’s (Farenheit), my hands and fingers stayed warm enough, at least until I had to actually use my camera, or open doors; in both instances, the rubberized parts of the glove reminded me in no uncertain terms that I was gripping something cold.
Second, regardless of the type of gloves you decide to use, make sure you wear them. Cold temperatures, especially if you factor in wind and/or precipitation, can do a number on your hands. No matter how good a day’s shooting you have, it probably won’t compensate for things like frostbite or nerve damage. Third, make sure the gloves fit. If you’re doing something — like shoveling snow — that doesn’t require much dexterity, a little extra bulk or tightness isn’t a terrible thing. But when the whole point of a particular pair of gloves is to make it easier to get your digits where you want ’em, even the right glove in the wrong size isn’t going to be your best option.
Any other suggestions or input? Sound off in the comments section!
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