Frozen finger photos

For me, staying warm in frigid temps doesn’t have to be about the clothes I wear. It just depends on whether or not I have a camera in my hand.

For some reason, once I pull it out of the case and start aiming it at my surroundings, I forget I how cold it is. That’s probably true of hunters, fishermen and any other outdoor people who get really focused on what they’re doing.

The danger is that the cold hasn’t forgotten about me. Once I’ve snapped what I wanted, only then do I suddenly realize my hands are frozen chunks and I can’t move my fingers.

tug rimeToday was no different. On the way to work at 5:30 a.m., I noticed that the trees were muffled in rime from last night’s dip in temps. I mentally scheduled a photo stop along the bay on the way home, which I knew would be right around sunrise.

No one else was around when I pulled into a parking spot just across the Michigan Street Bridge and began scanning the area for shots. I was disappointed that a heavily overcast sky kept the sun from glinting off that rime, but it’s always best to appreciate what’s there and what made you stop, not what you wish were there. No one ever got a good photo from if-only.

A glance at the car thermometer had said 3 degrees. I was dressed for a drive to work, not for a photo outing. No long johns, no heavy sweater under my coat. I did have double-layer mittens, heavy boots and a hat–and a hood on my coat. Always a hood. No northerner with any sense buys a winter coat without a hood.

Bridge&RimeTreeI crunched my way toward the bay, loving the bright red of the tugs against all that white, and the way the frozen, snow-covered bay made the steel bridge look superfluous. Trees and shrubbery, heavy with rime and superimposed over a snow-mounded landscape, presented a white-on-white photographer’s challenge.

All I had with me was the Canon PowerShot Elph 510 HS, my point-and-shoot that goes with me everywhere no matter what I’m doing. The “good” camera, the Nikon D5100 DSLR that gives so much versatility, was warm and snug at home in its case, where it usually is unless I’m on a planned photo trek. But as someone–Ken Rockwell, I think–once said, the best camera for any picture you want to take is the camera you have with you.

It didn’t take me long to line up a couple shots, maneuvering to include some interesting landscape detail along with those rimed trees. It also didn’t take long for me to get my hood up to protect my face, and to pull my mittens off. Normally, I wear fingerless gloves under those mittens so that when the cold begins to bite, it can nibble only on the ends of my fingers. Today, on this unplanned excursion, I served up my entire hands to winter’s appetite for warm flesh.

Lonely benchI raised the exposure compensation on the camera by two-thirds to try to keep the white snow white (but still had to increase the white levels in my computer photo program to finish the job) and took shots for about five minutes.

Then I put the camera back in the case and turned toward the car–and suddenly realized I had no feeling in my hands. With the dexterity of a pup with big paws, I fumbled for my keys and dove into the car, enduring the sting of frozen flesh–and drove to another spot. (You didn’t really think I was going to quit there, did you?)

The walkway, once a railroad bridge, that juts out into Sturgeon Bay is perfect for photographing the bridge, the marina and the big ore boats that winter at Bay Shipbuilding. All the trees that line the path, now covered in crystaled rime, were not to be ignored.

I didn’t venture out too far. The mittens were off again, and a slight breeze–enough to send the wind chill below zero–attacked bare skin. I didn’t notice. I was too busy bending, moving, mentally composing, looking for the photo story I most wanted to tell.

That, of course, is when the camera battery died and the camera turned itself off. They always die when you least want them to, when your subject is moving off, or when the sun is just about to crest the horizon–or when your hands are nearly immobile from the cold.

RimeBoatsTHAT’S when I noticed how cold it really was. Moments ago, I had been clicking the shutter in blissful unawareness. Now, the breeze blew icy breath and the cold took another bite of my hands–but I was still determined to get that spare battery out of the case and into the camera.

Oh yes. Spare battery. No serious photographer leaves home without one. It’s better to keep the battery fully charged, of course, but I tend to forget. That spare has saved my life more than once.

I turned my back to the breeze, muttered a few choice words, and grappled with the new battery. In less than a minute, I was good to go again.

A lonely bench, the ever-enticing ore boats, shrouded trees, a curving trail–I shot them all and finally turned back to the car. Although my hands were red hunks of nearly frozen flesh, I hadn’t noticed. My feet and body were warm when they had no right to be, considering that I hadn’t dressed for this unplanned outing. The adrenaline, the excitement, the pure enjoyment of this God-gifted scenery were all the warmth I needed, I guess.

I do have a suggestion, though, for camera designers. Instead of tweaking little details that make no real difference in an attempt to lure us to buy new models that we don’t need, do something really innovative. Give us a voice-activated model. If I can take pretty decent pictures while my hands are freezing, imagine what I could do if I didn’t have to take my mittens off.


About Monica Sawyn

I'm a retired newspaper reporter/columnist, and although I still freelance, I miss the weekly column I used to write. I still "see columns" in everyday life and need a place to put them after they're written--thus, this blog. I'm Catholic, have been a Benedictine oblate since 1977, and live with my husband and our beagle in Sturgeon Bay, Wis. When I'm not writing, I'm probably reading, sewing, taking photos or walking the dog.
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6 Responses to Frozen finger photos

  1. Arthur Henry says:

    Excellent story!!  I have been there, and done that!!  I can feel those icy tingles now just remembering it.  I have “suffered” all those indignities.  And I still got the shot !!  Superb story Monica!!  I would only add, keep the spare battery in an inside (warm) pocket as the cold will sap your power mercilessly.  Even worse than your fingers.  Fabulous story!!  Many many of us can relate to this one.

    >________________________________ > From: Monica’s Pen >To: >Sent: Saturday, February 9, 2013 1:01 PM >Subject: [New post] Frozen finger photos > > > >Monica Sawyn posted: “For me, staying warm in frigid temps doesn’t have to be about the clothes I wear. It just depends on whether or not I have a camera in my hand. For some reason, once I pull it out of the case and start aiming it at my surroundings, I forget I how cold ” >

    • Monica Sawyn says:

      You’re right about the battery. I always keep it in the camera case to make sure I have it–but I wasn’t thinking of batteries when I rolled out of the car this morning. LOL! Thanks for the reminder. And glad you liked this!

  2. Eric Hollas says:

    I really enjoyed the pictures — particularly the one of the delicate bridge against the sky. Thanks for sticking to it and getting exactly what you wanted.

  3. blb1 says:

    Monica I’m going through blog bookmarks and found this! I love your photography but even more the stories.

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