Monday, August 29, 2011

Surviving the Wet

With hurricane (now tropical storm) Irene drenching my corner of New Hampshire, it seems an appropriate time to discuss approaches to photography in the rain. We all love getting out to shoot in bad weather, the more miserable the better, but rain water has a way of finding it's way into lens and the sensitive electronics of our high tech cameras potentially causing disastrous damage. Recently a new friend took her Canon 5D Mark II out unprotected to shoot a spectacular waterfall that was full with recent rain. Tragically the sky opened up once again and the water transformed her marvelous camera into an inert black plastic brick. It will cost over $700 to get it working again. Although I have never lost a camera, I have had my own rain related "learning experiences". So here are few tips I have learned from my own bitter experiences and some that I have acquired from others.

Get out there
First and most importantly do go out in the rain. Wet misty days can provide wonderful opportunities to capture marvelously evocative and moody images. Instead of staying home whining on Twitter about the terrible conditions, focus on finding ways to shot without major risk to your equipment.

Dressing your camera, many choices.
There are many ways to protect your camera from the elements. An obvious answer is to to shoot from under cover. A porch or car window can work well especially if you are not shooting into the wind. Umbrellas can be tricky to manage unless you have a dedicated assistant and the wind is fairly calm. There are numerous camera covers ranging from a few dollars to close to one hundred.  
Some of the solutions are really quite complex, using special materials and elaborate systems to allow camera adjustments.  
Kata E-702
Kata produces some of the sturdiest camera bags on the market and their covers are certainly toward the higher end. The Kata E-702 has hand sleeves for internal adjustments and strategically located windows. It seems to have quite positive reviews, but with the extended lens sleeve, it will set you back over $120.  Since I only infrequently shoot in the rain, I have generally gone for cheaper approaches.  I have the Opt/Tech Rainsleeve which is quite basic and only costs about $7 for a package of two. The rain sleeve is simply a clear plastic tube that attaches to the front of the lens with a draw string and a small opening held to the viewfinder by your eye cup. The tube fits rather snuggly and when the camera is on a tripod, all adjustments must be done through the plastic. I like to get underneath the cover to have a better feel for the controls so I have never really felt comfortable with this approach. My recent solution has been decidedly low tech, but cheap and effective. On my rainy shoot last week I simply cut a kitchen garbage bag to protect the gear. My approach was to slice the bag along one of its sides to allow me to easily slip the bag over the camera. I then added a lens hole on the opposite side of the bottom of the bag. I used a rubber band to attach the  opening to the lens. I then had easy access to the controls from the  
back and from below, putting my head underneath only when it was time to frame and focus. It does help to know the feel of your controls since in my case the white bag was only vaguely translucent. This worked well although I still had to use my towels to wipe off stray droplets and there was no escaping the need to constantly watch for drops on the filter protecting my lens. I don't believe this would work as well in high gusty winds, but for most situations it is quite adequate and the bags are very easy to stuff into a corner of any bag.  Just one additional point is worth mentioning. You should use a clear or translucent bag. If nervous security personal can't see under your black plastic wrap they may assume you are aiming a grenade launcher at that precious national monument. In the end there are many effective ways to cover your gear, the important thing is to do SOMETHING.

A few more thoughts.
Now that you have dressed your camera for the weather, it is time to think of your own comfort. Water resistant, breathable rain gear is a must. Since I seldom bother with rainproof pants, I usually bring a couple of large trash bags to cover the ground where I am sitting or knelling. In a gentle rain my lens hood does a good job keeping drops off the lens filter especially if I can keep the camera pointing down most of the time. But when the rain is heavy and blowing, lens cloths can get saturated very quickly. It is wise to bring several cloths on a rainy shoot. Towels are also helpful to have on hand to continually wipe off your equipment and yourself. Finally when you come home after a shoot on a cold rainy day you would be smart to place your gear in a plastic bag to avoid condensation as it warms, but if the weather is already warm a bag will only hold in the moisture and slow the drying process.

Photography in the rain opens opportunities for dramatic images and with a little forethought and planning your camera won't end up paying the price in the shop.

Galapagos Tortoise, Ecuador


  1. stunning nature photography..
    you have shown your skill with camera..
    clipping path

  2. thanks for sharing such beauty..
    you have eyes of a true photographer..
    clipping path