Picture this: ten days, five strangers, -20 degrees, one ultimate goal: explore and document one of the most adverse yet scenic environments known to man: the fairy tale like mystical landscapes of Greenland. No phone, no running water, barely any satellite connection let alone Internet.
As challenging as this might sound to the 21st century worldwide roamer, waking up to the subtle sound of howling sledge pups in the distance, icebergs only a stone throw away and untouched lands as far as the eye could see, definitely make up for the initial lack of conveniences, so to speak.
When faced with such a situation, 10 days might seem like a decade and your preparation, common sense and situational adaptability will greatly determine whether such an adventure will make or break you.
Below you can find a friendly list of essential advice on how to make the best out of a winter wonderland experience for you and your equipment, as after all, one cannot function without the other:
1# Do your research
It might be deemed as common sense, but believe me when I say that reality shows otherwise. A couple of months, weeks or days before your trip starts (be it even a simple stroll around snowy downtown) make sure you know where exactly you’re going – and I don’t mean GPS wise. Get to know your destination, alternative routings, weather and possible complications, aka what to so when things go south.
2# Be prepared
Prepare for the worst and hope for the best. This means anything but over packing. The key is to pack the correct gear and equipment for the chosen activity, from expected to unexpected situations alike: During our 8 hour dog sled crossing in complete and total whiteout, one of our group members fell into a lake and got soaked from head to toe. Four hours to go, no cell reception or clothes to change in. Yep, that was one scene to remember.
3# Keep your batteries warm
Batteries function by different chemical reactions that take place within. When the temperature drops, they work slower therefore their performance decreases resulting in a faster drainage. This is why it’s important to keep them as warm as possible, ideally in an inner pocket, in order to preserve their full potential.
4# Keep your camera cold
A well build DSLR with an adequate body will generally hold up pretty well when faced with extreme temperature conditions. Problems occur when the temperature of the environment the camera finds itself in changes too suddenly, resulting in condensation: kind of like treating the camera to its very own sauna experience. To prevent or minimize this from happening, place the camera in a sealed plastic bag. This enables the condensation to occur on outer shell of the bag, leaving your camera untouched.
5# Exposure, white balance and histogram talk
Snow is sometimes even too bright for our retina to grasp, let alone for our camera lens to accurately depict. In order to get your exposure and white balance as decent as possible, a good starting point is to shoot in RAW, as what you mess up, can generally be fixed post-production.
Secondly, use the in built white balance settings provided in your camera: the cloudy setting can provide you with some additional ease of use. If all fails, play around with the kelvin temperature. A setting of around 6000-6500 will give you that nice white neutral colour without the added grey tone.
Truth be told, I never knew what a histogram was until my Greenlandic adventure and until I realized that it actually is a very useful piece of help as it depicts tonal data such as contrast, shadows and highlights; something our eyes cannot always accurately determine. In short terms, upon overexposure, the histogram graph would be more to the right whereas an underexposure means more colours to the left. With a simple glance, you can see what is happening, and if needed, what to fix.
6# Different means unique
As with everything related to art, we all have our differences; our likes and dislikes. A horribly composed photo for one might be a work of art for another. This is where the beauty of creativity and individuality, lies as after all, it would be boring if all our photos were all the same. An overexposed shot would generally be considered as a badly executed one however, during a whiteout for example, this searched for effect can create a picturesque one of a kind atmosphere.