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Let me lay out my credentials: I live in Seattle. Yes, it’s a bit of a stereotype, but it’s that way for a reason. While we don’t get the torential downpours during monsoon season in some hemispheres, we are pretty good at getting out when the weather is waterlogged to take photos. I have been shooting for 20 years and, while I am surely not perfect, I have some experience with different techniques for shooting in the rain.
Before you even grab your camera out of your bag, carry it in something that keeps the water off and out. Many bags come with a rain cover and a spot to stash it. These will work wonders in keeping your gear dry while in transit to a location. If your bag doesn’t come with one, they cost all of $5 on the cheap it-will-last-one-season end to nicer covers for $20 or more to last a few years. A simple search of Amazon.com or your local sporting goods store will find you what you need. On the super cheap end, a plastic bag works if they are still availavble where you live.
One step further is to wrap your camera itself in plastic to protect it while inside a bag, especially if you have no outer cover.
Check your user’s manual to see how well your camera is sealed. Just about across the board, the more money you spend, the better the seals are on your camera. By seals I mean all those openings in the body for buttons and screens and the like. In the highest end cameras, these seals can be found everywhere and do a tremendous job of keeping out most rain, as long as the water doesn’t pool up on the equipment. But on the less expensive DSLRs meant for consumers, there are less seals to keep out water.
From a small travel umbrella to a larger golf umbrella, these tools do wonders when shooting, especially with a tripod. There are even attachments to clamp an umbrella onto a tripod leg for hands free dryness. Shooting with an umbrella takes a bit of practice, to be able to hold the pole of the umbrella under one arm while shooting. I would suggest practicing before heading out into the elements.
The problem with umbrellas is their size. Go for the largest one you can under your circumstances. Too small of an umbrella and too long of a lens leads to
Don’t have an umbrella or the more specific options listed below? Cover your camera with just about anything to keep the weather off. A coat, scarf or spare shirt. I know it seems obvious, but so often I see cameras without some simple cover when they could be covered and I cringe a little. Yes, most cameras can take a bit of drizzle, but they are costly to replace when they can’t take any more.
There are a number of options in this category, from the simple plastic bag with a hole cut in it to a more fancy folding unit. OP/Tech, for instance, has a whole line of options. I’ve tried the Tenba before and was happy with the equipment, although it often requires attaching velcro to the end of a lens hood.
Some covers only cover the camera and don’t offer a sleeve to also cover your controlling right hand. These are cheaper but speaking from experience, harder to use. All controls, easy to use on dry land, now become less tactile when covered by plastic. The options with sleeves to also cover your right hand work best but take some practice to use well.
Your camera getting dripped on or slightly damp from rain is not the biggest issue. Water falling on your lens is. With water on a lens and rain falling, it is difficult to dry off the lens to continue with clear shooting. In this case your lens hood will help a bit, especially if it is solid and not the flower petal shape. The hood will keep drops off the front element in most cases when the camera is pointed straight or slightly down.
Did you know they make housing for your DSLR that will keep the elements out? They aren’t cheap, I’ll let you know that right now. Most are gear toward SCUBA and are rated far deeper than you’ll need on land. I would suggest one of the sport housings that is only good to maybe 10m, but is perfect for use on land. If the rain is not going to let up and you are going to be in prolonged raining conditions (or close up to waterfalls) these housings can help.
I have previously reviewed one such housing here on DPS. It is the Aquatech CO-7 and was borrowed from BorrowLenses.com. It’s perfect for forgetting about the elements for a while and shooting what you like when you want, especially when having to look up often. Certain point and shoot cameras also have a housing built specific for them. Again, they can be spendy but often offer underwater protection for your next trip to the tropics.
If you don’t need your large DSLR along on all your adventures, or don’t’ want to take it out when the rain is falling, consider one of the ‘Adventure Proof’ cameras on the market today. Such as the Nikon Coolpix AW100, Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX5 or the Pentax WG-1 GPS. These cameras are good to 10m or more under water and can take the rain and mist and downpours. While not up to the same quality as a nice DSLR, they are an option for certain situations when you still want to get out and shoot.
The rain need not keep you from shooting outdoors. With a little perseverance and motivation, shooting in the rain can produce unique images fair-weather shooters will never find.
Do you have a particularly useful technique or device for shooting in the rain that might benefit others? Share it below in the comments section.
March 11, 2012 10:02 am
I bought a plastic baggie type cover at my local camera store. It was very cheap. It has a drawstring at one end to fasten around the lens. I use a lens hood and keep the lens cover on until I am ready to shoot. The cover I have will accommodate a telephoto lens too. There is room on the other end to put your hands inside to push the shutter, etc. Sometimes I use a remote shutter too. I probably would not face into the wind in a driving rain.
March 2, 2012 09:07 am
I use olympus e3 which are a bit old and possible the company is on the downslide but the weather sealed body and lens have been rinsed under the tap after a sandy beach shoot or mud splattered at a folk festival where everyone else packed their cameras away.
March 2, 2012 08:57 am
For urban or road accessible spots nothing works as well as opening the passenger side window , parking carefully at the correct angle to your subject, and simply shooting across the front seats and out the window. Choose a spot where you are least likely to be rear-ended though. In my Winnebago, with the side door open, there is room for a tripod to support the camera whilst shooting out the door. Coffee to hand on the table too.
March 2, 2012 08:23 am
Im surprised no one has mentioned Zip Lock bags, or sandwich bags.
They are water proof and with an elastic band and a small cut for the view finder, make a great ( cheap ) weather coat for your DSLR.
They come in a range of different colours to suit different lens sizes.
PLay around with them and find the way which best suits you.
Some people like to put the whole camera into the bag with the lens poking out of the zip lock side, and keep it firm around the lens with an elastic band.
other prefer cuting a hole in the bottom of the bag and sliding the lens though there, and the rear of the camera at the sealable end of the bag.
both ways work
Good luck and keep shooting
March 2, 2012 05:15 am
I recently took a nine day trip into the Misty Fjords of Alaska, known for its wet and windy weather all year round. The weather was as the name implies wet and misty for almost the whole nine days. We were also camping and in kayaks. I faithfully used a rain jacket (I was trying to be more professional and take better care of my gear), rarely taking my camera out of it during photo ops. At night I made sure to dry my camera off and store it in a dry bag (with multiple silica packs) because it was so damp and sticky (salt water environment). On the last day, my camera failed completely because of condensation in the camera thanks to the rain cover. A very expensive lesson.
After taking photos in the wet, windy, salty environment of Southeast Alaska, often for days at a time, over the last 26 years, I have never had an uncovered or barely covered camera fail because of rain. And I am embarrassed to say I have soaked them on occasion. After speaking with a number of other photogs in the area, I learned several of them had had my same experience and it was because the fully enclosed environment of the rain cover encourages condensation to build up in the camera because there is no air flow. One was even told by Fuji when he sent his camera for repair, not to use a rain cover because of condensation.
I may use a rain cover again, on short jaunts, but for me, a loose plastic bag that allows airflow is my cover of choice. Now I have silica packs taped inside lens covers and I put a silica pack in the camera bay when not shooting to help keep condensation to a minimum.
March 2, 2012 04:26 am
Walmart has free plastic Umbrella bags just inside the entrance for days when Umbrellas are wet and dripping. They are perfect use once and throw away for Lens and body. The price [ free ] is definitely right.
February 26, 2012 07:05 am
I was on a guided photo shoot in Alaska. The guide uses the yellow, microfiber towels available at Costco. They are available in packs of 36. He walks around with the camera strap around his neck and the towel draped over the camera. It works well as long as you don't have driving rain. They are lint-free and soft enough to wipe any drops from your lens filter. Wash with clear detergent and tumble dry. You will have plenty to offer as stocking-stuffers for your photography friends.
February 25, 2012 11:31 pm
For use in inclement weather with longer and longer lenses, I recommend LensCoat® RainCoat Pro and Standard models. What I like about him is that they are definitely waterproof, I utilize them in Alaska while I was photographing coastal brown bears on a day that we had driving rain and they kept my camera and lens completely dry. They have Velcro straps help keep the material from flapping around in the wind and rain. There is a sleeve that you can put your hand through to utilize the controls on the camera and it does not need a separate eyepiece to attach to the camera. The standard model is for lenses 300 mm or less and the Pro model is for about 5 to 800 mm lens
February 25, 2012 02:02 pm
Peter, thanks so much for this article. Living in Vancouver means learning to deal with rain in almost everything we do. I'm fairly new to digital photography, and although there are loads of photo ops of rain and mist in the rainforests and along the coastline, I've been afraid to take my DSLR out on rainy days. I will definitely try some of your suggestions!
February 25, 2012 09:09 am
When you want advice related to rain, someone from Seattle will be one to go to. Liquid sunshine, as I recall it.
February 25, 2012 09:06 am
Top tip I've heard: Vileda chamois leather cloth.
I keep my camera wrapped in one at all times, even in its bag: when it's wet, it wicks the water off; when it's dry, it acts as padding around all the lenses rattling around in there.
February 25, 2012 05:02 am
I have not tried a housing for my DSLR yet, but I really liked this article. It is something that we were undoubtedly have to deal with at some point in our lives. It is something I should look into so that I am prepared.
As far a a point and shoot, my wife and I went to Hawaii and we bought the Olympus Stylus 6020. (They have since upgraded this camera). We absolutely loved it! We took to snorkeling with us in Hanauma Bay. Great clear pictures of fish and the video is amazing. The microphone picked up the sound of me breathing through the water. I would highly recommend this line of underwater camera.
February 25, 2012 04:19 am
It's always a good idea to be fully prepared for the possibility of shooting in the rain. Some clients don't give care whether or not you damage your equipment, they just want their photos the way they want 'em, so it's up to you have the proper protection on hand!
As for protecting clients.. I love clear bubble umbrellas. They let the light through and they have such an interesting shape! At the end of the shoot you can always ditch the umbrella and let have at it - play and get wet! Splash in puddles, etc.
Rain isn't always fun to shoot in (I like being dry, myself), but you can end up with some interesting shots that wouldn't have been possible otherwise.
February 25, 2012 02:44 am
I like ThinkTank's Hydrophobia product line. Designed specifically for a variety of lenses too.
Also, people suggest putting those silica gel packets in your pack/bags to help reduce moisture too on wet days.
I do miss having sealed camera though. Too away the worry if it was drizzly/sprinkling with rain (it's typically raining here in Vancouver lol)
Though, if you do get out in the cold/rain/snow and you just came from indoors, chances are your equipment will need to adjust else your lenses will get all fogged up :)
February 25, 2012 02:23 am
Anybody know of a small white umbrella, with a collapsing handle, from a non-photographic manufacturer, that could be used for rain protection, but in better weather, in a pinch, could act as a reflector. Everthing I see, Totes ans asian knockoffs, come in black or colors.
February 25, 2012 01:48 am
When using umbrellas for rain protection make sure you pick a neutral color. Any bright colors can do funky things to your white balance.
February 25, 2012 01:41 am
During the recent snow here in France I was determined to get a shot in the snow as it was falling.
Luckily I have a Nikon D3s which is pretty well sealed.
Nevertheless I had to make sure the snow (applies to rain as well) was not driving onto the lens which would get it really messy.
I often use an shoe box which I covered in a plastic bag and keep it over the camera until pulling it off quickly to take the shot.
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