Dress for the Cold. Proper dress is critical for outdoor winter photography. It will keep you warm, comfortable and dry. Winter weather can lead to frostbite and hypothermia.
The important thing to remember is to dress in layers. Layering simply means wearing a combination of clothes (in layers) to help regulate your temperature and keep you warm and dry. You can add or subtract layers to match the weather and activity. Once you have a layering plan, you can adjust your temperature control simply by removing or adding layers as needed.
There are essentially three layers to consider: base, mid, and outer. Each layer has a specific function. The base layer wicks moisture & perspiration away from your skin to keep you warm. The mid layer is for insulation and keeping you warm. The outer layer allows moisture to escape while blocking wind, and repel water.
The base layer is in contact with your skin. A tight fitting and wicking material is best to keep you warm and dry. Polypropylene, silk, polyester, Thermax, Thinsulate, and wool are all good choices Base layers come in various weights (lightweight, midweight and heavyweight). Select a weight based upon the outside temperature and your activity level. The lighter weight is better at wicking, the heavyweight has more insulation.
The Mid layer provides insulation. The insulating layer helps you retain heat by trapping air close to your body. Common material for mid layers includes down, polyester, fleece, wool and synthetic/ natural blends. Many mid layer clothing has extras such as pit zips, long front zippers, adjustable cuffs and collars.
The outer layer blocks wind and allows moisture to escape. An outer shell is an important piece in bad weather, because if wind and water are allowed to penetrate to your inner layers, you begin to feel cold. Furthermore, without proper ventilation, perspiration can’t evaporate but instead condenses on the inside of your shell. Typical outer layers include shells made of Gore-Tex or a similar material. Extras such as pit zips, ankle zippers (for pants), and a variety of ventilation options are standard. Outer layers should also be tough enough to withstand tears and abrasions. Other less high tech options may include wind resistant materials, or water resistant fabrics. I personally like a coat that has pit zips and a hood.
Avoid cotton because it traps moisture, so it stays wet and draws heat from you. Anything that can dampen your clothes, such as perspiration, rain, or falling in the water, can cause cotton to start robbing you of heat fast.
Gloves are very important for winter photography. It is hard to shoot with cold hands. The cold temperatures can also damage them. I have tried several different methods to keep my hands comfortable. There are several options.
a.) Heavy gloves are too bulky to set camera controls. If I am not shooting that much I use this method and quickly take my hand out of the glove for adjusting controls.
b.) There are gloves which split and allow quick access to thumb and finger tips. The fingers simply can be opened up temporarily so you can operate the camera or gadget directly while keeping the rest of your hand warm.
c.) I like using glove liners with and without heavy gloves. Glove liners allow access to controls. They will keep you hands a little warmer. I can also use them with a heavier glove when I am not photographing.
Footware: Waterproof and insulated Hiking boots. Socks should be layered also.
Gaiters are an essential element of your gear for winter and spring backpacking. Many backpackers and hikers also use them year round. In the winter and spring, gaiters provide extra insulation for your lower legs, particularly if you are snowshoeing. During mud season, they are also essential for keeping your socks dry. If you do a lot of bushwacking, they also provide a lot of extra leg protection. Many people will also use them in drier seasons to keep rocks and sand from getting into their boots or trail shoes. Gaiters come in different lengths called high and low gaiters. High gaiters are used for snowshoeing and mountaineering and extend to just below your knees.
Lip Balm and Sunblock. Prevent your lips from cracking in the cold and protect your face from sunburn. The sun still project UV light in the winter even on cold days.
Sunglasses are very important. The sun reflects a lot of glare of the snow even on cloudy days so protect you eyes.
Dress warm and you will be a lot more comfortable and safer which will lead to better photographs.