Shooting at Subzero: "It Is Literally a Different World Out There in the Winter"


Alison Gimpel, who has been taking outdoor photos in Duluth, Minnesota, for about eight years, is fascinated by the way cameras capture light. She especially loves the light this time of year, when the northern winters yield less direct sunlight and produce brilliant skies.

"Winter has to be my absolute favorite season for photography," says Gimpel. "Everything takes on a brand new life."

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Gimpel often ventures out in the cold when the temperatures drop well below zero. That's when she finds the most alluring scenes through her camera's viewfinder.

Bundled up in at least seven layers of clothing to protect against subzero temps and dangerous wind chills, Gimpel tries to walk the trails in Duluth every single day. She wears extra socks and crampons over her boots, as well as a face mask to protect her skin. Whether she's hiking up an inland hill or strolling down the lake walk, she always has her camera on hand.


"When the lake glasses up and everything freezes over, there's just this wow factor," she says. "It is literally a different world out there in the winter."

Gimpel looks for the bold colors and dreamy pastels at sunrise and sunset, positioning her subjects against the wintry palette. Her photos often feature ice, whether it's coating the landscape or forming a structure of its own.

One of her favorite places to shoot is known as "the crib," a storied concrete ruin that's submerged in Lake Superior near Canal Park. Gimpel walked out to the crib twice in the same day last year, shooting both a winter sunrise and sunset.

"I could see how the sun was hitting the crib, and the ice was just gold and white," she says. "Wow! That was a unique shot."

When the ice is fully developed, Gimpel will work her way inside natural ice caves and behind walls of ice, all in the interest of getting the shot. She can often be seen crawling under an ice formation to get a better look.

This year, after temperatures plummeted to -16, she captured a wall of ice weighing down trees along the shore of Lake Superior, just north of Duluth. Large icicles descended from the branches like stalactites deposited by violent waves.

"It was so surreal," she says.  

Jess Belwood, who lives just across the bridge in Superior, Wisconsin, says the different ice formations really make the photo.

"It creates more interest especially at sunrise and sunset," he says. "It also creates a sense of calm in the scene."

That apparent calm can be difficult to create.


"Timing is everything in photography," says Belwood, who has shot photos in wind chills of 50 below. "The biggest challenge in shooting in the winter is that conditions change quickly and you want to minimize the amount of time spent outdoors for health and safety issues."

Gimpel says she doesn't take unnecessary risks, instead she watches some of winter's fiercest storms from a distance.

She takes her inspiration for photography from her father, who let her help develop film in the darkroom in his basement when she was little. Her foray into winter photography began when she started taking daily walks to recover from a spinal injury. She still does photography on the side, before and after reporting to her day job, but it has become more than just mere recreation.

"Now it's like breathing," says Gimpel.